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Customer loyalty no empty slogan

People who are Ricky Jones’ age are in the process of graduating from college, finding that first job and starting a family.
For Jones, a 21-year old 2003 graduate from Bandys High School in Catawba, he’s focused on maximizing sales and profits at his Denver produce shop.
Jones, along with his grandfather, Gary Russell (a.k.a. “Grandpa), operate Highway 16 Produce.
“My love for agriculture started while I was in high school,” said Jones. “I had helped my uncle on his farm and when I graduated, I decided I needed a job and here I am.”
Russell, meantime, says he used to sell produce door-to-door in Charlotte in the mid-1950s.
“Back then, you could do that without getting shot,” said Russell. “We’d sell sweet potatoes and peaches by the peck. Sweet potatoes sold for 50 cents a peck, where I’d make a profit of 10 cents each peck.”
One day, Russell was driving by the old Spur gas station on N.C. 16 when he noticed it was empty.
“I talked with Ricky and we decided we were going to give (the produce stand) a try,” said Russell. “It was going to be something we’d do for fun, but it really turned into something.”
Both Russell and Jones estimate business at Highway 16 Produce has doubled the first two years.
Sooz Hufnagle lives near the store and once had some pine straw delivered to her home by Jones.
“He not only delivered it but put it around my house where I needed it to go,” said Hufnagle. “Ever since then, I’ve been a loyal customer. I love Ricky and Grandpa.”
Offerings at Highway 16 Produce depend on the seasons.
“We start with produce, then pumpkins and then Christmas trees,” said Jones.
Once most of the trees leave the lot, Jones and Russell take nearly three months off, from Dec. 23 to March 15.
“Really, there’s nothing to buy since it’s offseason,” said Jones.
During the offseason, Jones and Russell spend their time fishing on Lake Norman.
“We also plan out what we’re going to do for next season,” said Jones.
All produce that is in-season is purchased from local farmers.
“If I have to get out-of-season produce, I’ll travel to either Asheville or Greenville, S.C.,” said Russell.
Friday morning, Russell bought muscadine grapes from Bob Avery and tomatoes from Danny Ballenger, both of Lincolnton.
“I like dealing with the local farmers,” said Russell.
For Milton Mozley, local offerings and local people are two main attractions to Highway 16 Produce.
“They’re good, honest people,” he said. “It’s nice to see what you’re buying and that what you’re buying is local.”

Want to go?
Highway 16 Produce is located across from Denver Marine and next to S&B Wholesale Auto.
Hours are 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed on Sunday. For more information call Ricky Jones at (980) 722-1455 or Gary “Grandpa” Russell at (704) 560-4863
by Jon Mayhew

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