Meeting Cindy Nanez is like meeting the sun. Even through her mask, this California native turned Clayton resident shines brightly. She and her husband visited North Carolina after their best friends moved to Clayton. “We felt something in our hearts that led us here,” she said with a gleam in her eyes. Fourteen years later Cindy is the proud owner of two downtown Clayton businesses, Divine Marketing Group (DMG) and DMG Dream Center.
While studying computer systems in college to become a coder, she captured a passion for marketing. At the age of 19, her first real marketing job was at a premier gym where she very quickly became the sales and marketing manager. That job was also where her health and fitness journey began, but that’s a whole different story.
When Cindy and her husband pulled up stakes and made the cross country trek to Clayton, her dream was to start her own marketing business downtown. “I saw potential,” she remarked. Hard to believe because in 2009, when DMG was born, it was during a major recession. “I tell people now that there were tumbleweeds rolling down Main Street,” Cindy laughed.
Marketing is all about numbers and Cindy had the numbers to prove how small businesses impact their community. For example, when someone spends $100 at a big box retailer like Wal-Mart or Target only $1-$14 stays in the community. That same $100 spent at a local business keeps $60-$69 within the community. If downtown Clayton was going to survive, small businesses had to come back to Main Street, so Cindy became an advocate for local business owners.
Her goal was to bring divine intervention and help small businesses all around Clayton to “weather this storm for however long this was going to take.” Sounds euphoric and blissful. It wasn’t. Keep in mind this was just before social media began to take off. In fact, Facebook didn’t even exist yet, so Cindy and her high heels pounded the pavement, literally. She posted flyers everywhere to advertise marketing events. Again, this was during a major recession so people weren’t going out as normal. One thing Cindy could count on was that people “always had to go to the grocery store,”
So she hosted events in Food Lion parking lots turning them into straight up festivals. The business owners would have a booth to show off their products and services. She had DJs spinning tunes or a local school band would come and play to bring energy.
After sitting down with the owners and hearing their stories, Cindy said, “If I could feel and understand their stories, that’s what I needed to share.” She became a true champion of shopping locally before it was a thing, building not only relationships but friendships. “We were in the struggle together and became family.” Cindy encouraged the owners to keep going and not to give up on their dreams. She also helped with marketing for the Clayton Chamber of Commerce for about four years. “It was crazy and very special at that same time,” she recalled.
That attitude and vision allowed her to open her second Clayton downtown business in 2018, appropriately named the DMG Dream Center. Cindy wanted a place where people could come to create their dreams. The Dream Center provides a co-working space consisting of offices for meetings and video and podcast recording studios. The first of its kind in Johnston County and the area, folks from as far as Goldsboro and Cary came to the Dream Center. “We saw Wake County people doing business in Johnston County and they didn’t want to meet in a coffee shop,” she said.
Business was good and things were humming right along, until March 2020. When COVID came and closed the doors to DMG and the Dream Center, Cindy had an immediate freak out moment. Not for herself and her businesses, but for her clients. “My friends have businesses out there. I needed to figure out how I was going to help them,” she remembered.
Running on no sleep for three days, her mind raced with thoughts and ideas, writing them down on anything she could get her hands on or typing them into her computer in the middle of the night. She and her staff of six were constantly emailing one another spending countless hours brainstorming and coming up with ideas so their clients wouldn’t panic. “ We have to innovate! We have to be ahead of it!,” she exclaimed.
At that time she had approximately 15 businesses under her watchful eye including JuiceVibes, a juice bar with two locations one in Clayton, the other in Cary. Cindy said that owner Elizabeth (Liz) Layman could have looked at what was happening and could have closed one store while focusing on the other. She also could have just thrown in the towel and closed both locations. “She buckled in and made some sacrifices,” Cindy said.
With the restaurant industry getting pummeled because of COVID, the first thing Cindy and her team did was research grants that Liz could apply for. DMG and JuiceVibes also put together an online ordering system for both locations, which wasn’t available pre-COVID. A feature that ultimately saved the business from going under.
With “Innovate” as their mantra, Cindy helped Liz make one of her dreams a reality during the pandemic; a to go smoothie line. Cindy told Liz, “ No matter what happens you can ship this smoothie line to people’s homes. This is a sign it’s time.” A year in the making, they are about 80 percent done with a new website and are almost ready to launch. The line is already available in both JuiceVibes locations.
DMG also helped Preferred Living Solutions (PLS), a senior care management company in Clayton. With care managers unable to get to anyone, Cindy and her staff helped PLS create a new language and a new way to provide care management. Specifically, telecare management, helping assist loved ones who are caring for a family member. With Zoom, care managers now have the opportunity to help people all over North Carolina.
Cindy was determined to do whatever it took to help her staff and all of her clients. “I felt that weight,” she said. She knew she didn’t have time to think about herself, but had to focus on helping people. “If I help enough people get what they want, I’ll eventually get what I want.”
One of Cindy’s biggest COVID takeaways is that every business owner should take the steps to create some type of online portal or e-commerce option. That is the wave of doing business post-COVID. She said you don’t have to have a strong social media presence, but you must have strong online activity. Her advice, “Just start.” The other and more profound thing she has learned in the past 14 years living in Clayton is that “businesses in Clayton don’t give up.”