By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
Small Business Spotlight | Thomas County | Region 10
I love people that make things. I love watching them take ordinary items and turn them into works of art. And Kelly and Heather Abbott have been creating works of art in Thomasville for seven years.
In 2010, the Great Recession had taken its toll on the Abbott household. One day, Heather asked Kelly to see if he could make a pair of earrings for her. Using a couple of spent bullet casings, Kelly fashioned a set of earrings that everyone oo’ed and ah’ed over.
Seeing the potential in this, the Abbotts began to make and sell earrings and other jewelry items throughout Thomasville and soon expanded throughout Southwest Georgia and Northern Florida. What started as a hobby in their spare bedroom soon became a full-fledged business and grew to the kitchen, then the garage and – eventually – to downtown Thomasville.
Friends and neighbors served as a test market for new products. Smiling, Heather commented, “It’s taken a village to raise SouthLife.”
But the Abbotts soon saw the potential of the lifestyle company that they birthed and decided they could grow the business by exhibiting their products at the Mart in Atlanta. They created a space that brought back the nostalgia of the old general store, with rough-hewn columns, wood siding and even rocking chairs on the “front porch,” inviting visitors to “sit a spell.”
Business was brisk, and soon their products were being stocked in stores throughout the Southeastern United States. But the Abbotts longed to bring their business home.
In 2016, they made the decision to open a retail space in Downtown Thomasville. The Abbotts packed up their booth at the Mart and used the materials as the bones of the new store. And the store has been a giant success. The Abbotts focused on stocking the store not only with products produced on site, but also with products that fully complement their lifestyle brand.
The product mix is simple: a family should be able to walk into the store and each person find something they want. Maybe a belt with a shotgun shell for dad, a cap for junior, a new candle for mom and locally-made candy for the daughter. And not to be left out, Rover can have his own SouthLife collar and leash.
SouthLife has grown to include high-quality leather goods, as well as a honey bar and candy bar. They also sell a tremendous line of Georgia Grown branded products and are considering adding a “belt bar,” where customers can make their own custom belt, right onsite!
SouthLife Supply Company partners with other area companies and stock custom scents of candles, made nearby in Decatur County. They also partner with White Oak Pastures and use the hides from their cattle operation in many SouthLife products. These hides, along with leather sourced from other areas, are used to make bucket bags, which have become an extremely popular item in their own right.
Sturdy Brothers, another locally-owned company, makes waxed leather goods with leather accents, is are working on a collaborative partnership called Sturdy South.
SouthLife also produces specialty products for other groups such as the Grand Ole’ Opry, where items are used for performance gifts, and provide Remington licensed products to Bass Pro Shops and Orvis.
SouthLife’s store opening in Thomasville was not the end of the journey. Kelly and Heather quickly realized that their storefront was too small to accommodate both the manufacturing of SouthLife products and the ever-growing selection of retail products. This past June, they moved once again to Broad Street into a larger store.
Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development, at (404) 877-8406 or [email protected].