The little big city: Wilmington a draw for small business, national franchises is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

The breakfast house and eatery, Famous Toastery, is one of several national franchises setting up shop in Wilmington. Image courtesy Famous Toastery.
The breakfast house and eatery, Famous Toastery, is one of several national franchises setting up shop in Wilmington. Image courtesy Famous Toastery.

Wilmington was recently named one of the best places in the country to start a small business, and Chris Suggs believes there is a simple reason: It’s large enough to support entrepreneurs but not so big that it doesn’t lose its small town feel.

Suggs is a small business expert with FranNet, which matches would-be franchise owners with suitable companies. He admits to being a little surprised the Port City came in at the number two spot – just under Boulder, Colorado – on NerdWallet’s top 10 list of prime U.S. locations for independent entrepreneurship.

In compiling the list, NerdWallet evaluated 183 metropolitan areas with 15,000 or more businesses and populations over 250,000, using six metrics to evaluate businesses’ success in each city and the strength of the overall economy in the surrounding areas.

Suggs’ surprise came at the study’s mention that Wilmington, which had the smallest population on the list, also had has the highest volume of businesses. The Port City has 15 for every 100 people, according to NerdWallet, with nearly 900 of those businesses located downtown.

More than likely, Suggs said, the study looked at the entire Cape Fear region – all of New Hanover County and neighboring pockets of Brunswick and Pender counties, like Leland’s Magnolia Greens commercial area and Ogden, respectively.

And, he added, the study likely added in local seasonal businesses that profit from New Hanover County’s beach destinations.

That being said, Suggs said Wilmington remains a top draw for business owners for its unique demographics and its ability to keep its Southern charm in the midst of continued growth.

“Wilmington is a small town but it still has some decent size to it,” he said. “And with seniors and college students it has some different dynamics that allow for niche business. But owners are still able to maintain that customer loyalty because it’s still small enough.”

In recent months, Suggs has seen an upswing in the number of franchisees looking to start up in Wilmington.

“Predominantly, I’m hearing from people who already live in Wilmington. They’re from there and have connections there. I think it’s important to have your business contacts and connections when you’re starting out or starting something new,” he noted.

Suggs’ take on Wilmington is something with which Josh York, owner of GYMGUYZ out of New York, would agree.  Started in 2008 at his parents’ dining room table with “one van, a laptop and a vision,” York’s mobile personal training business has since expanded into 34 locations across the country.

Lately, York said he has seen more interest in the Wilmington area. And he is equally as interested in moving into the market.

“It’s a phenomenal area,” he said. “It’s good population; it’s a dense market. That’s what we look for. Demographically, it makes sense as well. The demographics we look for, that area has it.”

Two other franchises, the breakfast house and casual eatery Famous Toastery and in-home cleaning service The Cleaning Authority, are getting set to open up locations for the first time in Wilmington.

When Joe Kloiber, a mechanical engineer with a successful business in Charlotte, decided to venture into the Famous Toastery franchise, he said Wilmington was a “no-brainer.”

“Wilmington is a high-growth area and it’s a great city. There’s a lot of younger people who vacation at Wrightsville Beach, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington has a large student population,” Kloiber said.

One reason Wilmington proves a draw for small business and franchisees, Suggs said, is because it offers a territory map that often won’t see any competition, at least among other franchises within the same company.

GYMGUYZ has a territory of 100,000 people, meaning the likelihood of opening more than one in Wilmington is slim. And Iric Wexler with The Cleaning Authority said the new Port City location, set to open in the coming weeks, will have a territory that expands all the way up to Sneads Ferry in Onslow County and down to Holden Beach in Brunswick County, near the South Carolina border.

“One franchisee can service the entire market,” Wexler said. “Wilmington really is a microcosm for so many other markets across the country. It has the college, which is great. It has industry, which is great. It has tourism, which is great. It has students, young professionals, retirees. There is always a danger in being in a market where one type of person is prevalent. But Wilmington has all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or