Midlands Anchor will offer even more to the community it serves in coming months, with its founder making a career change in order to devote more time to community development.
After six years of service to a third generation family business, Tia Williams will be leaving SERVPRO of Cayce/West Columbia and Lexington to pursue her initial calling in community and economic development as Owner/Publisher of Midlands Anchor. Williams owned the company with brother Taylor Williams, together dedicating nearly a lifetime of support to the 46 year old franchise. Through a series of events and adventures, the time spent in the private business sector reaffirmed her original passion for community development in a fresh and multifaceted way.
Williams began as a consultant for the Eastern South Carolina SERVPRO Trainership in 2009, shortly after completing a Masters degree in Urban Planning and Economic Development from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Technical University. While her original plan was to gain employment in the economic development field, Williams jokes that the 2008 recession was “the best thing that could have ever happened”.
She most enjoyed leading statewide sales and marketing area meetings for the 31 associate licenses and conducting marketing feasibility studies for new and seasoned businesses.
“I simply applied many of the skills obtained while working as a graduate assistant at the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development to the local business models,” she said. “It turns out wood manufacturing operations in Southside Virginia aren’t terribly different from the day to day operations of the service industry.” Thus, a fascination in business development was formed. Especially in regards to startups and early developing companies.
During her tenure, she experimented with community marketing initiatives for the home franchise. Williams noticed a stark parallel between successful business development practices and community involvement within the SERVPRO franchise system.
“We were hit by the recession like everyone else, it just happened that our dip in revenue occurred about a year after the initial shock in 2008. Since our business already operated on a conservative budget, we looked at other ways to increase sales with minimal additional expenses,” Williams noted.
The small business, originally owned and operated by Tia and Taylor’s grandfather, Luther Williams, was well known in the tight-knit West Columbia community. “I noticed one day that our production volume had always been about 75% concentrated in Cayce/West Columbia, even though the Lexington territory was almost the same size in population. Since we were already paying for memberships at the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce and a couple leads groups in the area, I decided I could spend more of my free time after work networking and taking advantage of association gatherings”.
Being away from the Columbia area for eight years, Williams was eager to get plugged into a social routine and didn’t mind the extra time spent “working.” She soon felt very comfortable and energized in the Lexington community, eventually becoming President of Lexington Young Professionals (LYP) and later named the “Young Professional of the Year” by the Greater Lexington Chamber.
Early one morning over coffee, Williams and friend and LYP founder, Lee Pitcovich, began brainstorming a digital outlet for marketing the newly released Town of Lexington Vision Plan. Pitcovich, now COO of Celebrations, was on the steering committee for the plan and also in the process of building his newly formed business, Event Management.
Williams was excited that the plan emulated downtown Greenville, SC, an area she exhaustively researched for her Master’s thesis. While promotion of the Vision Plan was their primary objective, Williams also wanted an affordable medium to promote SERVPRO services and Pitcovich hoped for a creative way to advertise his event business.
The rest was history.
“Before I knew it, local business leaders were volunteering to host a launch party and everything was donated for the outdoor event on June 6th, 2012,” Williams remembers. Grace Outdoor CEO Hal Stevenson emailed the week of the party to let Williams know to look out for a digital billboard announcing the event on Highway 378. “That was a pleasant surprise!” she laughs.
On the Cotton Grill patio, nearly one hundred people trickled in to hear all about the new “publication.” Even long time media icon Jerry Bellune personally reached out to Williams to learn more about the venture. She notes, “I honestly couldn’t believe how fast the news spread. Here I was thinking I was launching a basic blog, and then I begin receiving calls from random strangers asking how they can submit editorials.”
Williams’ next challenge was keeping the added work to a minimum in order to prioritize operations at SERVPRO. Thankfully friend and fellow busy community member, Tom Ledbetter, pointed Williams to a MEBA representative who helped her hire Lexington High School senior Miranda Collins. “Miranda was a godsend! She picked up the work process quickly and added a lot of depth to the publication that I didn’t have time to focus on,” said Williams.
Fast forward three years and SERVPRO fortunately withstood the recession bump, even exceeding its volume goal for the Lexington territory. The business now operates at about 50% volume in both territories and has almost doubled in size since those early days in 2009.
“With the encouragement and support of some wise mentors, I decided to seriously consider my strengths and contemplate where I would be most useful in the decade to come,” Williams reflects. Perhaps inheriting the entrepreneurship bug from her late-grandfather, Williams seems to be most alive and passionate within the business development phase.
“SERVPRO will always be dear to my heart. Every single person there is like family to me. My brother has done a fabulous job managing daily operations, and I think I was most useful to the company while building and structuring the various management divisions. Now is most likely the right time to dedicate that same kind of effort and vision to Midlands Anchor.”
In the summer of 2015, on its 3rd anniversary, Lexington Anchor re-launched as Midlands Anchor at River Rat Brewery surrounded by friends and early supporters. Williams sees abundant untapped potential in the Midlands and is determined to lead efforts to ignite a collaborative, tight-knit and economically competitive region.
“I spent a year of my life studying how the Upstate overcame parochial challenges to become the booming hub and unified region that it is today. I absolutely refuse to believe the Midlands doesn’t have every opportunity to do the same. We just need to begin believing it.”