L&A celebrating 20 years in business

By Wendy Byerly Wood - wbyerly-wood@elkintribune.com

STATE ROAD — A niche business which sits on the corner of Poplar Springs and Country Club roads in State Road will be celebrating its 20-year anniversary with a special event Saturday.

L&A Emergency Equipment was founded in 1998 by Lanny and Angela Whitaker, who started the business in their home.

“L&A was started in 1998 from a passion I have for the fire service,” said Lanny Whitaker, who serves as chief of CC Camp Volunteer Fire Department and is a deputy for the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. “At that time, no one locally sold any fire, rescue, EMS or law enforcement products. Most of the businesses were out of state or far south and charged unreasonable prices.”

After quickly outgrowing the operation in their home, the Whitakers decided to move into part of the former Poplar Springs Grocery building, which Lanny’s parents had run for 35 years and retired from. Part of the store and garage were leased out, but a portion of the hardware store was still empty, so the Whitakers set up shop there.

“It was 9-feet wide and 22-feet long, and we stayed there and grew until 2004 when we built our current building, which is 60-by-40,” Whitaker said.

“I have been in the fire service for 37 years and in law enforcement 27 years, I have since got my instructor qualification and go out and teach fire certification classes to departments who request it,” he said.

“Early on, Angela and I set goals, first was to be able to get our own building. We worked hard and six years after our start, we moved in,” Whitaker said. “God has truly blessed us, so I give him the praise, along with our family and many friends who have sacrificed their time to help us build work and do shows.”

Another goal from the start was to reach $1 million in gross sales, which L&A reached shortly after its 10-year anniversary.

“This was when the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grants were in full swing and a bunch of area departments were able to be chosen for them. They in turn relied on us to get them the products they needed. It was a win-win for everyone,” Whitaker said.

Shows at events like the Piedmont Fire Expo in Winston-Salem helped L&A grow its business, with the Whitakers starting out doing 10 to 15 shows a year around the country. The business contacts they developed through those shows helped get the L&A name out and grew the business into the building where it is now housed, Whitaker said. “Without them and their willing hearts, we would not be here today.”

The company continues to be a two-person business with help on occasion from the Whitakers’ friends. “We are now doing four to six shows and have a large customer base that stretches from Union County to Henderson County in North Carolina and about five or six counties in southwestern Virginia,” he said.

While L&A does have a website, it is primarily for the purpose of providing phone and email information for customers to reach the company.

“I am thankful for our loyal customers who have stuck with us during the bad and sometimes struggling times,” Whitaker said. “That’s what this anniversary celebration is really about, thanking them for their years of loyalty and believing in us.

“As our 20-year anniversary rolls around, I’m sure we will be setting out to hopefully reach other goals we will set in the future,” he said.

L&A Emergency Equipment, 120 Country Club Road, State Road, will celebrate its anniversary Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with sales and food. A free gift will be provided to everyone who comes to celebrate. For more information, contact L&A at 336-526-3748 or www.laemeq.com.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

By Wendy Byerly Wood