Winston-Salem company goes online to raise money

Fran Daniel Winston-Salem Journal

September 8, 2013

WINSTON-SALEM (AP) — Centennial Trading Company has turned to Kickstarter to help it raise money to expand its manufacturing capabilities.

Kickstarter is a “crowdfunding” site that allows donors to give money for personal and business projects.

The apparel store is using Kickstarter to help produce its own line of clothing that will be made in the U.S.

Centennial uses three factories in North Carolina to make its products and tries to use trims and cottons produced in the state.

“People that agree with something or people that support an idea and want to see something come from concept to reality they themselves can fund it,” said Erik Stephens, co-owner of Centennial Trading.

Centennial Trading focuses on selling domestically sourced and produced products, including apparel, accessories and candles.

“For the past year, we’ve been doing some knitwear manufacturing — soft goods like T-shirts,” said Stephens. “We do a henley popover as opposed to wovens, which are heavier materials.”

But he wants to add wovens, including pants, jackets and heavier shirts.

The company’s store at 282 E. Fourth St., in the building behind Krankie’s Coffee, primarily sells apparel and accessories mostly for men but there are plans to expand its women’s fashions.

Stephens said he and his business partner, Johnny Smrdel, decided to use Kickstarter to try to pre-sell their products as a way to gauge interest in products made in North Carolina.

“We compiled a list of all the items that we were going to manufacture for our fall season and we offered them at a reduced retail price to those people who would like to pre-buy the products,” he said. “That allowed us to order in large quantities from these factories.”

A number of crowdfunding sites are available, including Crowdfunder, GoFundMe and Indiegogo.

At Kickstarter, projects include films, games, technology, music and art. Project creators set a funding goal and deadline on the site. Then people can pledge money towards the goal if they like a project. Kickstarter requires that projects reach their funding goals before receiving any money.

Kickstarter also encourages project organizers to offer incentives to donors, such as t-shirts or a credit in a movie.

Projects from local folks and businesses currently on Kickstarter include a free portable library, a pizza restaurant on Trade Street, and a bar and beer company.

Some projects have been more successful than others.

Eric Weyer, co-owner of Hoots Roller Bar and Beer Co., said he has just 18 days left for his company to raise its $20,000 goal.

As of Friday afternoon, the bar and beer company’s campaign had raised about $4,786 in its campaign to get enough money for a keg washer and its first order of grain and hops. Hoots plans to open a bar at 918 Bridge St. in early September and start brewing beer later that month.

“We’re building this business with our own hands,” Weyer said. “We don’t have any contractors. (We have) a small budget and we’re just trying to get Winston behind it.”

Weyer said that Kickstarter didn’t allow the company to give alcohol incentives such as growlers, a refillable container for beer.

Some of Hoots’ perks to backers include a Hoots T-shirt for a donation of $40 or more and a private party at Hoots for $4,000 or more.

Small Batch Beer Co. in Winston-Salem recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $35,819, which was well above its goal of $25,000.

Tim Walker, the president and co-owner of Small Batch, said that the money will be used to build a nano brewery in the former Kopper Kitchen at 241 W. Fifth St.

He believes that Centennial Trading’s idea to use Kickstarter is a good one.

“It allows you to get a feel if people really like your product and it allows you to get your name out there,” Walker said. “We love it. It’s almost like a form of advertising because we’ve gotten a lot of publicity from doing it.”

As of Friday afternoon, Centennial Trading had raised $7,356, or 91 percent, of its goal of $8,000, and had six days left in its campaign.

Stephens is excited about the support his company has received and is hopeful it will reach its campaign goal.

“We’re still going to remain a store front, but we want to be a North Carolina/Winston-Salem-based brand,” Stephens said. “Ultimately our goal is to grow our manufacturing to a point where we’re doing it all here in town.”