Small Business Spotlight: It’s rarely business as usual at South Hill Gallery, but Drurys say that’s OK

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Mike and Letha Drury  (Photo by Sydney Bland)

“There are very few things that get handed to you when you start a business. In order for it to succeed, you must be committed to the hard work and long hours. We used to worry if we had a slow day. We are learning now not to rest on our laurels because on that third or fourth day, we are going to get hammered.” — Mike Drury, South Hill Gallery and Photo Therapy

(First in a series)

By Terri Darr McLean
KyForward news editor

South Hill Gallery
and Photo Therapy

1401 Versailles Road, Lexington, Kentucky 40504
859-253-3885
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Closed Sunday
SouthHillGallery.com

Mike and Letha Drury are the count-your-blessings, cup-half-full kind of people. The type who, when a driver ran smack-dab in the front of their South Hill Gallery and shut them down for a few days, dug deep and found a silver lining.

“The news coverage brought us several new customers,” said Mike, who has been in the framing business since 1982. Plus, “it could have been so much worse.”

Such, perhaps, is the secret to the Drurys’ success. That and a willingness to adapt to everything from changing technology and, yes, errant drivers. Oh, and making sure they greet customers warmly when they walk (not crash) through the front door of their Versailles Road shop.

Knowledge of the products – and, more importantly, the people who buy them – is likewise key, they say.

(Photo by Rideout Photo)

(Photo by Rideout Photo)

“We enjoy talking to the customers and learning their stories,” Mike said. “That helps us better connect with the design that’s going to suit their needs. A lot of our clients become our come-over-to-dinner-type friends.” 

South Hill has been in business for 38 years, with custom framing as their core component until 2010, when the Drurys added a second piece – digital imaging and photo restoration.

“You have to be willing to adjust your business as things change,” said Letha, who joined Mike in the business 10 years ago when they were married. She had worked at the University College of Agriculture, Food and Environment for 30 years.

“We are always looking for opportunities to stay current with trends and reach a younger demographic,” Mike added. “We also participate in continuing education to provide best practices for conservation of art.”

Now, South Hill Gallery and Photo Therapy boasts 3,000 frame styles, original work from local artists, custom design services, photo “therapy,” and a brand new store front (another counted blessing). Recently, with the Breeders’ Cup excitement, they exclusively designed – and marketed – a Breeders’ Cup silk scarf.

When it comes to their positive outlook – in business and in life – Mike and Letha readily admit it’s their faith that keeps them strong. The couple met at Midway Baptist Church in Midway, continue to serve together there and carry their faith-based principles into every aspect of their business.

Letha Drury works with an original piece of art in preparation for framing. (Photo by Sydney Bland)

Letha Drury works with an original piece of art in preparation for framing. (Photo by Sydney Bland)


 

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Q. How does your work ethic make your business successful?

Mike: We are hard workers. Letha has been a nonstop hard worker since the age of 15. Her work ethic is unbelievable, whether it’s here or at church. While we are making a profit from our customers, we also love to help them tell their stories.

Letha: We are committed to taking care of the business. The deadline for Christmas time is non-negotiable. A couple of years ago, we had about 93 pieces to complete a week before Christmas, and we were still taking orders because we couldn’t bear to tell someone no. We want to satisfy any requests that come our way because we don’t want the customers to quit coming. 

Q. What is the biggest lesson you have learned from starting a business?

Mike:  It’s a bigger commitment than you think. There are very few things that get handed to you when you start a business. In order for it to succeed, you must be committed to the hard work and long hours. We used to worry if we had a slow day. We are learning now not to rest on our laurels because on that third or fourth day, we are going to get hammered. 

Letha: People who have corporate jobs romanticize about being their own bosses, but it’s really a whole different skill set and a big responsibility. It’s great if the business is good, but if it’s not, it’s still all on you. 

Q. What separates you from other similar businesses?

Mike: Our knowledge of this industry and our ongoing desire to become better at our craft. Customers hug us when they pick up their purchases. A lot of paths cross in here, and for us, that’s gold. They know they are going to the right place. 
 
Letha: The service you provide is often just the icing on the cake to your product. We just believe that you give what you get. We would never lie or cheat a client. We try to be fair, upfront and honest.

Q. How do you stay involved in the community?

Mike: We are apart of an organization called Local First Lexington. It’s a group of small businesses that try to encourage each other to up their game and encourage others to buy local. We donate cutout mat boards to art teachers and are active in the neighborhood Versailles Road Corridor association. We are very conscientious about the recyclable products we use. 

Letha: We are members of Commerce Lexington Inc., which is a representation of the businesses in the community. We support a lot of charitable events our customers are involved in, so we have a relational tie. We try to support all the organizations in our industry. 

Q. How do you market yourself?

Mike: The key is word of mouth from our customers. We’ve made such a good impression that they’re willing to tell others about us. We like being cheerleaders for other small businesses we have a good relationship with and experience. 

Letha: Our best marketing tool is our website. We do a little bit of online advertising through our Facebook page. Most people who find us tend to Google something specific.

Q. What were some of the most unusual items you were asked to frame?

Letha: We framed a 6-foot-long spear, Breeders’ Cup race blanket of flowers and several violins. We are known to frame the impossible. 

KyForward intern Sydney Bland contributed to this profile.

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