Southern Designs building being converted to storage space

Published 9:55 am Friday, November 24, 2023

NATCHEZ — After a 15-year run, Southern Designs & Gifts has closed up shop.

CEO Tance Hughes said the cost of steel used to make their product skyrocketed while there has also been a decrease in product demand shortly after purchasing the former K-Mart on John R. Junkin Drive to expand the business.

However, he and his business partners have made the most of a difficult situation by converting the property into climate-controlled storage.

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“We had to pivot what we were doing and make the best of it since our business had slowed a lot,” Hughes said. “We had the building on the market for a while, but unfortunately with the way the economy is slowing down there aren’t any buyers for a building like that.”

Southern Designs, founded in 2008 in Vidalia, Louisiana, manufactured laser-cut and powder-coated metal décor, laser-cut wood décor and custom-printed items for brands like Metal Unlimited, CutMap, Steel Roots and Carter + Main.

During its 15 years in business, the company was successful in making the Inc. 5000 list for five consecutive years beginning in 2017, which is a national ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. Southern Designs was also awarded the Lantern Award at the Louisiana governor’s mansion in 2018 after being selected for the award by one of Louisiana’s eight Regional Planning and Development Districts.

Their product could be purchased from online stores such as Amazon and Etsy and also in select Walmart stores.

In 2021, demand was high enough that the company doubled its workforce and expanded its manufacturing and shipping operation from 4894 U.S. 84 in Vidalia to the old Natchez K-Mart, which closed in 2016.

But as the global economy rapidly declined, so did the business.

“People might buy a metal sign or two but it’s not something that they buy regularly. The demand cooled for it. We shut all of that down earlier this year and had to sell off a lot of the machines,” Hughes said.

Hughes said about half of Southern Designs’ building is actively being used because it is being leased to large businesses for warehouse storage. The other half is being renovated for public storage with units that range from 5 by 10 feet to 10 by 30 feet in size.

The storage units should be ready to lease to the public by mid to late December, Hughes said.

Rental details will be posted at totalstoragenatchez.com

“It was a 15-year run and we had a good run with it,” Hughes said of Southern Designs. “One door closes and another opens.”

Hughes said that running Southern Designs for so many years has given him insight to e-commerce that he wants to share with a community of small business owners on his blog found at www.tancehughes.com.

“I want to create that community of entrepreneurs in small towns who want advice and insight on how to sell or grow their sales online,” Hughes said on his social media. “… Those who are curious about getting into e-commerce or growing in that space can learn and discuss it with me and others who are in the group.  I’ve got people from the Natchez/Vidalia in the group but I’ve also got some really talented people from all over who are excited to join us.”