Date: June 24, 2018 | Story: Tiffany Adams | Photography: Rett Peek |
Meet Kerry McCoy: An unlikely introduction to the history of American flags led this Little Rock entrepreneur on a lifetime adventure manufacturing and selling flags of every kind imaginable
Q. How did you become interested in flags?
A. Honestly, I like to say it was a series of bad luck. After a semester of college, I came back home to Little Rock and got a job as a telephone operator. I was 18, and they offered great benefits; everyone told me I had it made. But my mother could tell I was miserable. She suggested I go to fashion merchandising school in Dallas. I loved it and wanted to be a buyer when I graduated a year later. However, it was 1974 and there was a recession—meaning no jobs for buyers. I wanted to stay in Dallas, so I went to an employment office. They sent me to Betsy Ross Flag Girl, and that was my start in the flag business.
Q. But you didn’t stay in Dallas. How did you bring your flag knowledge back to The Natural State?
A. I came home to see my brother get married, and once again my mother could tell I was bummed. She suggested I come home and sell flags on my own. My father had owned his own business, so I thought, “Why not? I can do this.” With $400 and a desk in my dad’s office, I started the business. For years, I put my earnings back into it, and turned Arkansas Flag & Banner into what it is today.
Q. Do you only offer state and American flags at Arkansas Flag & Banner?
A. No, we offer any kind of flag you can imagine, from religious to historical to social to custom designs for businesses and associations. We sew the really large Arkansas flags that you often see around town here in-house, and we produce the custom designs others send us as well. We also offer flag repair, banners, pennants, bunting, poles, and tons of home and garden flag-inspired pieces.
Q. In the spirit of a true entrepreneur, you haven’t stopped with the success of the business. You recently expanded your reach with a radio show and a biannual publication where you share the stories of people around the globe and their flags.
A. I always say, “Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.” People don’t realize how creative actual business can be: You have a dream, you build it and create it, and it’s realized. I believe the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who can dream. These projects grew out of my desire to tell the stories of others and share what I have learned as an entrepreneur.
Q. For many, the summer season means decorating with American flags and bunting. Are you one to participate in this at your own residence?
A. It’s a huge thing for me! Flag season starts on Memorial Day, continues on to Flag Day on June 14 and through to July 4. If you’re really hardcore like me, you’ll leave it up until Labor Day. I do red, white, and blue yardage draped from the eaves of my house and staple full fans along the edge of my porch.
Q. Finally, it would be remiss not mention the structure that houses your business. Many know it as Dreamland Ballroom. What can you tell us about this historic place?
A. Yes, we moved in to the old Taborian Hall in 1991—only into the first floor because I couldn’t afford to renovate the second and third at that time. I couldn’t even afford heat, so we would answer the phone and then run back to the space heater, take an order and then run back to the space heater; we weren’t that productive. Eventually, we did get heat, but during those first few months I noticed a number of African-American gentlemen in the their 70s and 80s who would drop by to see the space and reminisce about its third floor, known as Dreamland Ballroom. This was their gathering place and they remembered its heyday. I realized I was entrusted with something that had a lot of history. We recently received a $500,000 grant to install an elevator, and I hope that within the next year we’ll be able to more fully tell the ballroom’s story to visitors.
Connect with Kerry at flagandbanner.com, where you’ll find links to her in-house magazine, Brave, and radio show, “Up in Your Business.”