Sanford's unique outdoor environment provides a platform for successful local entrepreneurship
With a central location near a handful of major lakes, parks and outdoor areas, Sanford's unique environment lends itself to the success of local entrepreneurs.Posted — Updated
Surrounded by the verdant green space and sparkling waters of places like San-Lee Park, Deep River and the Cape Fear River, Sanford is an epicenter for outdoor recreation.
In addition to leisure activities, the unique location of the town — both centrally and near dozens of natural areas — has long made it a first-class location for outdoor-related entrepreneurship, whether it be local marinas, outdoor excursion companies or specialty-made equipment.
Matt Cashion found success in the latter of those three arenas. Although Cashion has a Ph.D. in chemistry, after graduating in 2009, he struggled to find a fulfilling job in a relevant field, so he struck out on his own. Using ideas and experience gained from a previous job making epoxy and working with carbon fiber, Cashion started tinkering around, using his skills to craft American-made, carbon-fiber fishing rods. From there, Cashion Fishing Rods was born.
Thanks to Cashion's background, he was uniquely qualified in creating and testing the materials, focusing and refining the details on a molecular level to create sensitive, durable rods.
The business started off small, with Cashion and his team making a handful of rods at a time, performing in-house quality control to ensure that each rod was functioning at the highest possible level. As the business grew, Cashion knew he needed to find a new location that would suit their current and future needs.
"I looked in Chatham County for about two years to try to find somewhere, and eventually found the opportunity to build a facility in Sanford. I emailed Bob Joyce [the Sanford Area Growth Alliance economic development director) and said, 'What's required to start a business in Sanford?' And his response was, 'Just move in,'" Cashion recalled. "We absolutely love being in Sanford. We were connected to all the resources that we need — from machine shops to industrial suppliers — everything is here, and that's a huge advantage."
That attention to detail and local focus has been invaluable to Cashion's company. Today, Cashion Fishing Rods' equipment is used by professional anglers all across the country, and the company has grown by 35 percent every year for the past five years.
While building a business from the ground up is never easy, in Cashion's opinion, the Sanford community is largely to thank for that success.
"The representatives at the Chamber of Commerce and Sanford Area Growth Alliance have been phenomenal — just great people, incredibly industrious themselves and aggressive, which I thoroughly appreciate," Cashion mentioned. "They all will energetically look for funding opportunities, for grants, for workspace opportunities and then if you have any needs on the technology side, they will also work with you to find the right resources."
Thanks to local bodies of water like Jordan Lake and the Shearon Harris Reservoir, there are also a number of major fishing tournaments that move through Sanford, like the Top Bass Tournament Trail and Major League Fishing, both of which attract some of the biggest names in professional angling.
But Cashion Rods isn't the only local business that benefits from the presence of so many lakes, rivers and bodies of water.
Chatlee Boat & Marine has been a Sanford institution since 1967, largely created after the announcement of Jordan Lake's development promised more aquatic recreation. Started by Charles Yow, the family-owned dealership is currently operated by Charles' sons Jeff and Robbie.
Originally, Charles and his partners sold boats, motorcycles and campers, but after taking sole ownership of the business and with Jordan Lake opening just up the road, Chatlee became devoted to all things boating. Over the years, in spite of economic cycles, the Yow family has kept the faith and the company has continued to grow — and Sanford has been the perfect place to do so.
"Back in the mid-70s, I was a teenager then, and I knew everything — like most teenagers," Jeff Yow laughed. "I told my dad lots of times, 'Dad, we've got the worst location. We're not in Raleigh, we're not in Fayetteville, we're not in Greensboro. We're not in any of the big towns. We're just stuck out here in Sanford out on Highway 1.'"
"Now, our location is really a blessing, because we're in Sanford. There are good highways to get to Raleigh, to get to Fayetteville, to get to all the major cities," he finished. "By being in Sanford, we're able to have 40 or 50 acres of land and a 10-acre test and demo lake — we've got everything."
Much like Cashion Rods, Chatlee's brand recognition spreads far from its roots in Sanford. According to Yow, their customers come from every corner of the country, from the West Coast to New York to Florida, and it's their dedication to customer service that keeps them spreading the word and coming back.
"Our customers are special. We make sure that we treat them right. They're not here for us, we're here for them," Yow said. "I feel like as long as we do that there will be business and people that want to enjoy recreation."
While both companies have gained national reach, Yow and Cashion credit the Sanford area as one of the biggest reasons they've been able to achieve their success. Whether sourcing materials, employees or resources from the community, both entrepreneurs are wholly grateful and cognizant of the advantage that being in Sanford has provided.
"Sanford and Lee County provide exceptional staff," Cashion said. "Everybody that works for us has to care about what they do. There is a lot of craftsmanship involved in our process. These guys come and put their heart and soul in it like their name was on the rod. That makes all the difference in the world."
Added Yow, "Sanford's been a great home for us. I wouldn't go anywhere else. The community has been a blessing. It's still got that small-town atmosphere, yet there's room to grow. Our boat dealership is one of the largest in the nation, and we've done it all right here in Sanford."
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