Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm moving (to a new blog)

I’ve been working on moving to a new blog format over the past few weekends. Nothing crazy… just a simpler, cleaner layout and a new focus. Readers of this blog seemed to find my recommendations of Charleston firms the most helpful, and as a transplant myself (coming up on my tenth anniversary in Charleston), I remember the days when I didn’t know one neighborhood from the next and didn’t have anyone to ask for recommendations for a great hairstylist.

So, my new blog ( will marry my longtime interest in entrepreneurship with my readers’ interests in Charleston herself, or so I hope! If you’re someone who subscribes to Coastal Living and dreams about the day you can move to Charleston’s cobblestoned streets, sunny shore, or harbor-lined views… it's the place for you! Feel free to ask any question in the comments fields, and I or another reader will be happy to answer. And if you’re a budding entrepreneur or small business owner in Charleston, please make yourself comfortable there. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

I’m still working out the finer details of the new format, but in the end it should provide some much nicer, smoother functionality for all of us. Talk to you soon!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Traffic and tea

I enjoyed San Francisco... but it doesn't hold a candle to Charleston for me. I was glad to see Charleston coming into view below the clouds on my return flight.

(And for Eric, here's my promised review of my AirTran flight: consistently great service all the way through. They did lose my luggage despite a two-hour layover in Atlanta, and they were then one day late delivering it to my house, but other than that, it was pretty flawless. I actually signed up for their rewards program during this trip.)

I'll be writing about the trends I found at Web Expo 2.0 in my Small Business Charleston web column, but quickly... two new offerings of interest presented to myself and the other thousands of attendees were Dash and ZoomProspector.

The latter is still in beta and Dash doesn't have complete information for every city yet, but watch for them both! ZoomProspector helps business owners and executives decide which cities might be best for their new(est) location. Dash helps the rest of us; a small screen installs on your vehicle dashboard and alerts you to heavy traffic ahead, along with possible alternate routes. One could wish they'd retained Apple's design team--the actual item appeared a bit clunky in the presentation once mounted on the dash, sort of like a large alarm clock purchased for $7.99 at WalMart--but how handy is that! I'll probably wait a bit for the number of users to build up in Charleston, then purchase my own.

(The traffic data depends on other users in your area, as each unit is tracked by a GPS unit. On its FAQs page, the company says this: "Dash Express users will begin to see the benefits of the Dash Driver Network with only a few devices in a given market. This is all it takes for the system to start learning. And every additional device in the area just makes the network better. For an averaged sized metropolitan area it takes just a few hundred units for the Dash Driver Network to provide live up-to-the-minute data for most major roads during commute hours." Penalty points, though, for the slippery language... I don't know about you, but to me a "few"--as in "only a few devices in a given market"--means two or three, not "just a few hundred units." Try telling your significant others s/he can invite a few friends to dinner, then having 200 people show up and try to fit into your dining room.)

Now onto my latest recommendation for best firms in Charleston...

Many of you know I'm a fan of tea. (For my Forty Under 40 photo, I considered bringing some bright blue, zen-wonderful teapot for my prop, but I settled for several Compatibility decks.) Well, then, you can imagine my delight when Teavana ("heaven of tea", according to the company's website) opened its doors on King Street, just a bit south of Calhoun, a few years ago! A sort of Starbucks for tea lovers but with more of a zen vibe and a smaller footprint, the staff will whip you up a glass of your favorite concoction or send you out the door with bags of loose leaf tea from the amazing selection behind the counter. There are teapots on the shelves, samples of the teas of the day just outside the front door, and a courtyard garden in the back. Yes, these days it's more of a national company than a local firm, but it's still very welcome to this tea lover, and its roots are not far from here: its first teahouse opened in Atlanta 11 years ago.

One note: I suspect, but have no proof, that Charleston Place gets its teas from Teavana. The names are the same. High tea at Charleston Place is enjoyable, no doubt, but pricy for the amount of tea, munchies, and service delivered. Those with less time or loose change can enjoy the same flavors just a few blocks north.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Small Business Charleston... and San Francisco

Last week I found out people actually read this blog. (I'm never sure if it's just my family members who are reading it, because for whatever reason the only person who has ever commented on any post is my good brother-in-law Eric.) I guess I'd better update it more frequently!

The way I found out that people were reading it is this: on Thursday I visited my dentist, the excellent Dr. Yon, for a sudden pain in one of my teeth (which he handily diagnosed and is correcting), and found out that at least two new patients have come to him as a result of seeing my recommendation for him as Charleston's best dentist. Hoorah! I'm certain they're being treated very well and will continue to gladly enjoy Dr. Yon's services for many years to come.

So... that means I should update this blog more often, which I am happy to do since I now know it's not languishing in obscurity!

I'm actually about to embark on an e-newsletter project with several other professionals, so this blog will remain more personal and lighthearted. The professional topics I'd been storing up for it will now appear in the e-newsletter, which will come out every month and is tentatively titled Small Business Charleston. Not surprisingly given that title, it's for small businesses in Charleston specifically, with short columns of a few paragraphs each filled with practical tips you can actually use... from a local business strategy expert, local public relations expert, local small business attorney, local graphic designer (yours truly), local web designer (also yours truly), local benefits expert, and even a local parenting expert for the small business professional's "off" hours... well, as many of "off hours" as a small business pro can muster! Many or most of the columns will be about Charleston's business environment specifically, but there will also be some with national or even international reach, too, for those Charleston-based businesses who serve customers all over the nation or world.

If you'd like to sign up to receive it, shoot me an email at (It's free, of course. You can unsubscribe at any time, no one else will see your email address, and we won't share your email address with anyone else, with the exception of the email service we'll use---who will also not share your email address with anyone.) Our target launch date is the first week of May.

And if there's a particular topic you'd like to see covered, send that my way too! Nancy (Aio's newest graphic designer) and I are the founders and informal editors-in-chief of the e-newsletter, so we'll share your idea with the columnist who would be best suited to address it. But don't feel like you have to go through us; you can email each columnist directly as well, as their contact information will be included with each edition.

One last word, which I write as a person who moved to Charleston and started a business here: please know that you don't have to reside in Charleston to subscribe the newsletter. If you're located elsewhere in South Carolina or the Southeastern coast, or if you have a dream to move to Charleston and start a business, by all means, sign up! In the case of the former, much of the content will be applicable to cities and towns in this beautiful region; in the case of the latter, it can give you a head start on the Charleston market.

Upcoming events: don't miss the semi-annual Design Walk on upper King Street the evening of Thursday the 17th! I try never to miss it, and each walk has gotten better: more participating shops, more lavish hors d'oeuvres, etc. Patrick is still exclaiming over the free icy bottles of Heineken given out at the last walk. Last time I came away with a fabulously soft terrycloth robe in celery green from Nancy Koltes at Home and a couple of designer items for Monty at Three Dog Bakery... plus you already know, from my previous post, of the great steal we obtained from Leigh at Dwelling! (Unnnghh... someone at Dwelling please contact me about designing a website for you! My repeated searches on Google for your website have all come up empty. It's frustrating because you have such a beautiful store!)

Anyway, enough about that for now... for more details, scroll down to see a more complete review of the first such walk I attended.

Other upcoming events: the week after next, I'm flying out to San Francisco to attend the Web 2.0 Expo. It's next door to Silicon Valley, and it's all about the cutting edge in terms of web design, development, strategy, web-based social marketing, etc. There are people flying in from all over the world: so far I've spotted folks from Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, China, Canada, the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, Central and South America, etc. I'm already slated to hook up with several attendees, thanks to the conference's innovative CrowdVine site, and can't wait!

Strangely, so far I'm not only the only graphic/web designer from Charleston who will be attending but the only *person* from Charleston... I know of one other person in the state of South Carolina who's coming, actually, but he's from Greenville. Hopefully the other folks in our good state are simply holding out for the New York edition of the conference, which takes place later this year. I picked San Francisco because I figured that's going to be where the real action is, and so far that looks to be true!

I'll be writing about what I've picked up in the above-mentioned Small Business Charleston, and while I'm gone, Nancy and Amy will be holding down the fort. I'll be checking in with them at least once each day to answer any questions they can't, so don't worry, if this is the case when you call, they'll call you back within 24 hours with the goods. I fly out on Monday the 21st and return very early in the morning on Saturday the 26th---I'm flying AirTran overnight.

Then, first thing the following Monday morning... jury duty. Hoorah! Hopefully it will be a short case or will be dismissed. I'm tempted to plead that as a small business owner returning after a week away, my presence is pretty crucial at work, but I need to do my civic duty, and there will always be some reason not to do it, so I must keep a stiff upper lip. Bless all those people who have done jury duty in the past!

Next time... another of Charleston's best firms.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Our new office space

In the beginning of February we suddenly made a big move to a new office space. During our annual January strategic meeting, Amy and I discussed leasing a new space and decided on a move-in goal date of June. We wanted to be proactive about it and discover what's on the market these days so that we'd be prepared come early summer, so we began looking around early... and ended up winning the office lottery with West Ashley Executive Suites! The very day we called was the day the building had opened for leasing, and though we had to sign much sooner than we expected, it was well worth it.

While driving by, we had been impressed with the exterior of the building (a green Lowcountry style one-story), but hadn't been able to see in the windows due to closed plantation blinds. Once inside with the owner of the building, Dalton Mackey, as our guide, we were seriously impressed. He had spared no expense on this building, half of which also serves as his own insurance company's headquarters: high-end commercial carpet, beautiful sinks in the bathrooms, baseboard moulding throughout, every item chosen by a professional interior designer, individually controlled thermostats in each office, the best air conditioning system money can buy, and &c. Everything is included in the monthly price, too: a very advanced phone system, fax system, internet connection, janitorial services, a genuinely delightful administrative staff to answer the phone and deliver mail, shared kitchen and conference room facilities, and more.

West Ashley Executive Suites offers leases as short as three months, but we knew when we sat down with the also genuinely delightful Dalton (of whom Amy and I are already very fond) that we wanted to sign the longest lease possible. By happening along when we did, we had our pick of the eight offices available, and snagged the corner office, which had originally been intended as a conference room. Not only was it the largest, with windows on two walls, but it came with additional conference room lighting and a slightly different carpet.

Dalton and his staff, including his son, Jason, have bent over backward to welcome us into the space. Although all the offices come furnished with executive-level furniture, because we operate a design studio, we asked Dalton if it would be possible to furnish our own office. He immediately had the furniture moved into other offices (where others will benefit!) by professional movers free of charge. When my Outlook program discovered it did not agree with their firewall's virus-scanning program, Dalton and Jason immediately called in a very competent computer technician, also at no charge. When the cleaning crew accidentally locked me out of the office over the weekend, Jason quickly came to the office to let me in, and come Monday will provide me with additional keys to prevent such accidents in the future.

I'm including two quick snapshots I took of the office while working this weekend. We have Yolanda at Haverty's to thank for the exquisite yellow loveseats, which every visitor to the space have loved, and Leigh at Dwelling (see my blog several posts before this one) of upper King Street's design district to thank for the desk, actually a mahogany dining table full of character, as it cushioned the fall of a chandelier one night in the shop. The table itself was already distressed as part of the design, and we love the story! In one of the photos you can also see a bit of the filing cabinet and wall cabinet (we use it for our business stationary) crafted by Patrick Jonas, my talented husband and custom furniture designer.

We also looked at two other facilities and called about several others, just to be sure. We found West Ashley Executives Suites to be perfect for us and the best value for what we need and want. As we're hiring currently, we plan to take another of the offices soon... but for any other small business owner, especially those in upscale industries, Amy and I both highly recommend these offices. There are virtual spaces available (two of those are filled) and because it's so new on the market, if you act fast, you'll still have your pick of the remaining seven offices. They're located at 3527 Mary Ader Avenue, just off Glenn McConnell Parkway between St. Francis Hospital and all the new neighborhoods on Bees Ferry Road. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments area of this blog and I'll try to address them within one business day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The best Charleston firms (chapter two)

This week (well, this quarter, really)... just to prove that not everyone I recommend is also a client of Aio Design, I'm listing the doctors and dentists I recommend to my friends and family in Charleston. If you're new to Charleston or need a medical professional, here's the real scoop!

My pick for best OB/GYN
Dr. Kathryn Hargrove, Ashley Oaks OB/GYN
Located in the west wing of Roper St. Francis Hospital in West Ashley, a hop, skip and a jump from I-526's Ashley River Road exit. Both she and the staff are great! I've proposed some pretty outside-the-box ideas to her before, and she hasn't blinked yet. She's sensitive yet no-nonsense, she knows her stuff, and her staff is great.

My pick for best primary care physician
Dr. Curtis Haskins, Windermere Family Practice
Dr. Haskins has long been a favorite of nearly the entire staff at St. Andrew's Parks and Playground Commission, and for good reason. Not only is he a friendly and generous guy, he can empathize with his patients after surviving a major traffic accident several years ago that necessitated a painstaking recovery. His practice (across from EarthFare in West Ashley, several doors down from Starbucks) is also an urgent care facility, so you can be seen long after other doctor's offices have closed.

My pick for best dentist
Dr. Luther Yon, Complete Dentristry
With apologies to other dentists worldwide, Dr. Yon is the first dentist I've met with a sense of humor. His long-suffering (and wonderful) assistant Charlotte is wise to his habit of waiting until his patient has been thoroughly dosed with nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) before he starts in with his jokes. He'll also tell you the real scoop about anything tooth-related, and you'd be amazed at his encyclopedic knowledge. Just about everyone I know goes to Dr. Yon now, and they're all huge fans. And for dental wimps everywhere, Dr. Yon's your man... he requests nitrous oxide when he gets his own teeth cleaned. (Cleaned!) Though it sounds from his name as though Dr. Yon is Oriental, he isn't... I think he might have some predominantly Italian ancestry. He's located on Folly Road just south of the drawbridge and just north of Harbor View Road.

My pick for best chiropractor
Dr. Michael Tillman, HealthSource (formerly East Coast Chiropractic)
When I first moved to Charleston in 1998, I began experiencing intense headaches. My primary care physician at the time ran me through every kind of test you could think of, including a CT Scan, with no results. After several weeks she notified me that she could find no cause and had given up. (Great!) Around that time, I was attending a women's expo with a friend and spotted a lonely chiropractor and his assistant standing all alone and forlorn at a booth. I felt bad for them so I stopped and filled out their questionnaire. Lo, it turned out that my headache symptoms almost perfectly matched the questionnaire! I came by for the free consultation offered and in less than three weeks of seeing Dr. Tillman, the headaches that had been plaguing me so long were history. Sold! Since then, Dr. Tillman has also cured a mysterious knee problem of my husband's and shown me that pressing a certain muscle in one's back can exactly mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. (I don't have carpal tunnel syndrome, I just go to him to maintain the healthy curvature of my neck to avoid a return of the headaches, and this came up during a visit one time.) The good doctor is a wonder, and he's friendly and down-to-earth as well. He can add "adventurer" or at least "crisis medic" to the list, too, as he has even been known to assist the injured at auto accidents taking place in the dicey St. Andrews Blvd/Sycamore intersection just outside his practice in West Ashley... well, at least an auto accident involving an old co-worker of mine, years ago.

My recommendations are getting longer and longer, so I'd better sign off before it turns out I've written a whole book. Stay well!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The best Charleston firms (chapter one)

I've been meaning for a while to intersperse a list of my favorite Charleston firms with my regular blogs. (This assumes, of course, that I actually write some regular blogs, a challenge lately since business is still--happily--booming! I know, excuses... )

Rather than put it off any longer, I'm going to take the plunge and name my first favorite firm. I should note that the favorite firms won't be listed in any particular order.

It will be no surprise to those who know me that Stella Nova Spa Salon comes in at number one in the salon category. Before any of those people start groaning too loudly, let me assure one and all that they'd genuinely be number one on my salon list whether I did any work for Stella Nova or not... and you'll see why in a moment. (Those who know me also know I'm honest, maybe too much so! I'm not going to recommend every client I have here; I'll only recommend the ones I've used as a customer and have truly enjoyed.)

I've always gone to reputable salons, and I've had some lovely stylists. Unfortunately, though, perhaps because I'd always pre-reserve my appointments on Saturdays, as time went on I almost inevitably would arrive on time for my appointment only to find that someone had booked my stylist as the sole service provider for an entire wedding party... during my appointment. If I was lucky, she'd only be trying to do one other person at the same time as me, but from spring to fall I was often shunted aside or stuck under a dryer in a corner with a magazine to read, hoping I would be remembered before my (processing) hair started falling out. My stylist would always be kindly apologetic and completely stressed.

Then I had my first appointment at Stella Nova's West Ashley location, one of its newest. I walked in, and rather than being shunted off to a waiting area I was whisked to my stylist's chair, where I was the sole focus of his attention for the duration of my visit. About 20 minutes into my appointment, the stylist next to us offered me some wine, and when I accepted (hardly believing my luck), delivered my order with panache. I was not charged for this, nor would I have been for the hot tea, chilled water, or snacks waiting invitingly next to a vase bursting with fresh roses in the waiting area. As I sipped, my stylist highlighted my hair exactly as I had asked while offering me tips on the best way to care for my hair after my visit, and other stylists took interest as well, discussing the best colors for my complexion. The salon area was bright, clean, streamlined, and perfectly balanced in terms of design; club music pulsed with energy in the background; and the sunny view (every wall is filled with windows from floor to ceiling) was green and lovely.

My stylist, Marty Proctor, later moved to Birmingham (alas!), though the stylist who offered me wine, Jack Duane, is still there and regularly gives my husband the best haircuts he has ever had. I've since had my hair done regularly by both Kate Grabowski and Tasha Mattox, and both have been absolutely lovely. Tasha is always on the cutting edge of fashion, and Kate is thoroughly experienced, having owned her own salon in the past. Kate makes me want to melt during every appointment at the shampoo bowl; after she works shampoo through my hair, she uses the warm water and suds to wonderful effect as she delivers the perfect neck massage. Aaaahh.

From harried stylists and dark, forgotten corners to wine and neck massages... I can never go back to the old days! Stella Nova has definitely earned its spot on my favorites list.

If you're thinking of partaking in the same delights, don't be afraid to ask Lisa Rickel, the extraordinary manager at the West Ashley location, who would be the best stylist for you. It's very difficult to go wrong with any stylist there, but each one truly excels in different areas. Lisa is unfailingly honest about their individual areas of excellence.

If you're closer to downtown, ask Kalena Doo for the best stylist for you; if you're closer to Mount Pleasant, ask Lesli Antley; and if you're closer to Summerville, ask Margie Sutton. If you can't reach one of them, the customer care specialists who staff the front desk usually have a good handle on this as well; just ask to speak to the most senior customer care specialist present. You can find phone numbers, directions, and addresses (and can usually find my latest ad handiwork on the home page) by clicking on the "contact us" link at

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Wine Awhile: I *did* feel better

Patrick and I attended the "soft" opening of new wine shop Wine Awhile last night, and we did not come away disappointed!

Located in a fairly swanky new shopping center just off Highway 71 on Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant, the smallish store was full of good company and delightful surprises, from the two modern yet highly comfortable easy chairs to the clean, zingy interior design that was a delight to this designer's eye. (Kudos, by the way, to designer Steven Lacoursiere for everything from the logo and store sign to the business cards and retail tags, all very well done.) Patrick was immediately drawn to the specialty beer section---he came away with a devilish three-pack of Belgian ale, made by monks, called "Satan"---and owner and chief wine taster Anthony Pugh was on hand with personalized wine advice.

I asked for a jammy Cabernet/Shiraz mix, the likes of which I've been trying to find since dining with friends and family at a jazzy Omaha seafood restaurant nearly a decade ago, accompanied by three bottles of the same. I came away with a bottle of Padthaway Parson's Flat, a Shiraz/Cabernet blend from Australia priced just under $20 that I'm eager to try.

Other highlights, besides the truly delicious catering: a silver tabletop wine rack with a distinctly Scandinavian flavor (tempting...), a sake section (even more tempting...), and three clever herb/spice blends designed to heighten your food and wine pairings; rub the chive-dappled, peppery Cabernet blend, for instance, into beef.

This was just the "soft" opening so I imagine the next time Patrick and I stop by there will be even more to browse and savor. A new table will adorn the space between the two comfortable chairs, and Anthony plans to boost the shop's educational offerings, so you'll be able to find out even more about that wine you're contemplating. I'd love to see the wine racks supplemented with a few decanters too, but no matter what type of new items arrive, it's clear from Anthony and Co.'s taste that it will be a good thing.