A Small Country Store
In February of 1961, Carlie C and Joyce McLamb opened a small country store in Johnston County on Highway 242. Right from the start, they understood the challenges that lay ahead of them. They knew that it would be hard work, but neither one of them had ever been afraid of working hard for what they wanted. The store quickly became known for its quality meats, fair prices, and customer service.
Carlie C had acquired the store from Otis McLamb. They had been running the store for a little over a year when the landlord would not renew their lease. At about the same time, Mr. Floyd Altman, who owned a grocery store on Highway 301 between Dunn and Benson, approached Carlie C and Joyce about operating the store he was running. Mr. Altman was ready to retire and felt that the store needed a younger couple to come and operate it.
They started operating the new store in March of 1962. Carlie C focused on the overall operations while becoming familiar with the meat department. Joyce operated the front end and the stocking, and together they served the community well. Carlie C and Joyce were friendly and cared about their customers and their lives. Many customers were farmers, and Carlie and Joyce would charge their orders or “write them down” until the farmers sold their crops and could return to pay their bills. After two years of getting to know and serving the community, the business was doing quite well.
A Little Help from Our Friends
Mr. Altman had a change of heart and decided not to renew the lease for Carlie C and Joyce after two years. During the last six months of the lease, Carlie C went to the bank and borrowed money to build a new store across the street. For six months, he ran the existing store while managing the construction of a new store, and within those six months, they had the store finished. Customers lent their trucks to Carlie C and Joyce to move all of the inventory and equipment from the old store to the new store. Customers even helped them pack up the inventory into banana boxes. Carlie C said that when he moved, he never even took the money out of the cash drawer. He just unplugged it, put it in his truck, carried it over to the new store and plugged it back in with the money and change still in it.
Carlie C and Joyce were incredibly grateful to the community for supporting them and helping them during this difficult time. The new store opened in 1965 and operated there until 1971 when they doubled the size of the store.
By 1978, the meat portion of the business had grown so much that the meat facilities were enlarged substantially to keep up with the demand for country ham and dry sausage.
In 1979, Carlie C and Joyce enlisted the help of Joyce’s brother M.T. Strickland to open and manage a second store in the town of Coats, NC. This store would be called Coat’s IGA. This was followed by a location in Erwin in 1983, managed by Carlie C’s brother Jerry McLamb.
In 1984, the home store on Highway 301 was destroyed by a fire. The business was uninsured, but Carlie and Joyce would not be deterred. Everyone was devastated by the fire, but Carlie C immediately drew up plans and arrangements to build the store back up again.
Many of the employees, friends, and neighbors would come on their days off from other jobs to help with the construction of the new store. In fact, all of the employees returned to work at the replacement store when it reopened, though many of them had taken jobs elsewhere while the store had been closed.
In their first week in the grocery business, Carlie C and Joyce made $892. Carlie C had indicated that he hoped he could one day make $10,000 in a week. In the decades since the opening of that first country store, Carlie C’s has continued to grow, with the opening of many more stores in several counties across North Carolina.
A Mission of Service
Carlie C and Joyce believe that customers are the most valuable asset of a business, that it does not cost anything to be friendly, and that the reward for being friendly is great. The cost of not being friendly, on the other hand, is very high. It is extremely important to make customers feel welcomed and at home in your business. The first and last contact should be friendly and courteous. One of the most important responses we can give our customers is “yes, we have that item” or “yes, we will get it for you.” For us, “no” is not sufficient. We strive to accommodate our customers with the products and services they ask for. We offer unique signature items that are not available at other retailers. We aspire to have items available for sale throughout the entire promotional time frame. We seek to offer the best possible product, at the best possible price, in a clean store with plenty of help and friendly service.
The second most valuable asset of a business is the staff of employees. The staff needs to be well informed of activities inside the business. They must be well trained and motivated. Carlie C’s always does it best to hire and nurture staff members who enjoy their work and strive to be more efficient. As an independent operator, we can be flexible to accommodate the needs of our staff. Our staff must have faith in the products that we offer. We are constantly striving to obtain products at the best possible cost so that we can, in turn, sell them at the best possible price.
The history of Carlie C’s speaks to a deep-rooted love for community, friends, and family. Today our primary purpose is to love and bless the communities with which we serve. It is the history of our company, and it is our reason for being in business.