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WNC Business

Local retail helps give life to local brands

Nov 11, 2023 02:38PM ● By Randee Brown

Third-generation Asheville residents Heather and Matt Wright always desired to be “all in” for their community.They launched Provisions Mercantile, a local retail store stocking elevated gift items, in West Asheville in 2019.

Heather Wright’s grandmother operated a general store out of her basement in the 1960s less than two miles from Provisions Mercantile’s Haywood Road location. She was very close to that grandmother, and though the stores are not similar in products, they are similar in their goal of gathering the community. 

“Who she was and what she was doing for the community is the cool tie that binds us,” Heather Wright said. “I loved hearing stories of my dad and his older siblings leaving school to come home and work in the store that was a place of bringing in the community by offering necessary items. It’s definitely part of our inspiration.”

The focus of the Wrights’ business is on building relationships. They love to have tourists come in and shop, but the focus is on being an extension of the local community. Their store stocks items from 35 local vendors, making up 40% of their inventory. Matt Wright said the store also stocks several regional vendors he was drawn to during his extensive travels throughout the Southeast.

“People feel a connection with where they live,” Matt Wright said. “These local, quality products make good, creative gifts for anyone.”

Starting with a pop-up shop in Biltmore Village in 2019 to see how it would go, the Wrights began renovations on the Haywood Road store with a goal to open on March 15, 2020 — the same day that they received the federal message to close their store. They ended up opening in late May, and though they were not able to provide the relational experience they thought they would right away, they weathered and navigated through the storm and people kept coming.

The couple decided to expand their business by opening a second location in Biltmore Village in July of 2021, and they knew that they wanted to be smart and aggressive in both. 

“Being born and raised here, we knew South Asheville doesn’t come to West Asheville, and the shops cater to the quadrants a bit differently,” Matt Wright said. “The Biltmore shop is more about food, beer, and wine. It invites you to ‘sit a spell’ and provides an opportunity for people to break bread together. West Asheville has lots of amazing products and is curated incredibly well. It feels like walking into the past with a modern vibe.”

As a host to so many local product vendors, Provisions Mercantile works like an incubator for other local small businesses, and Heather Wright said she loves the attention that is getting paid to that.

“It makes a big impact on a few local families,” Heather Wright said. “We know what it’s like to get a business off the ground and running, and it feels great to offer them some real estate on a shelf or in the front of our store. It brings them recognition as well as sales in the store, driving more traffic to their brand. This gives the opportunity for expansion, both for Provisions and for other people to do the same.”

Determining which products to carry involves looking for products that connect to a great story, according to Heather Wright. She pays attention to an entrepreneurial passion and also to what her customers are seeking. Putting a lot of thought and research into local and regional products that fit what customers are looking for, shoppers can also find a couple of national chains in Provisions Mercantile. 

“We have to have sales and we have to be mindful,” Heather Wright said. “We know we can never be all Asheville-made. We have to listen to our customers while staying true to ourselves, which means we look local first, then regional, and expand from there. That part of the job fills my cup.”

Proper staffing has helped with the success of Provisions Mercantile, according to Matt Wright. He said lots of employers hire people just like them, and instead, the Wrights hire by differences in strengths. Some of their six employees are detail oriented and love to be behind the scenes while some are extroverted and love to have conversations. 

“Our staff is an extension of our family and the store is an extension of our house,” Heather Wright said. “Not all of them have a sales background, but you can teach sales. Teaching someone values is more challenging.”