Statistically, the message appears to be mixed. More new businesses opened in Sandy Springs last year than the year before, but the number of startups are flat in Brookhaven and down in Dunwoody.

According to business license records from the three cities, 1,203 new businesses opened in the Perimeter area during 2014, up from 1,168 the year before. Business owners are trying all sorts of things: some cut hair or sell wigs; others teach yoga or etiquette; still others program computers.

The No. 1 category for new businesses in all three cities was for professional, scientific or technical services, such as computer programming.

The No. 2 category varied from city to city. Personal service businesses and retailers such as nail salons or dry cleaners tied with retail and health care as the second most popular categories in Sandy Springs, the most populous of the three cites. Retail sales, including online stores, were the second most popular category in Dunwoody. And businesses such as restaurants or hotels led the second category in Brookhaven.

Reporter Newspapers examined the new business license records from the three cities and talked to some of the entrepreneurs behind the startups.

Jennifer Hazelton, a former television journalist, started her new company, called Crocus, last summer. She came home to Dunwoody from Washington, D.C., to open her woman’s clothing company because she thought she’d spend less money getting started in Georgia. She offers high-end women’s clothing and sells it only online.

“I have had a desire to start my own company from a very early age,” Hazelton said. She thought about opening a clothing business in 2008, she said, but after the recession hit, she put her plans on hold. “The idea just didn’t leave me alone,” she said. “I decided to go ahead and do it. I made the decision to take the leap of faith or the plunge off the cliff, however you want to describe it. And here we are, six months in.”

These people are building new businesses from the ground floor
Erin McClendis

Erin McClendis loved flowers and always thought of herself as a creative person. But as a student at Georgia Tech, she felt everyone was telling her to follow serious pursuits rather than fleeting ones. Flowers, they seemed all to say, were not a path to success. So, after graduation, she went to work for a software company.

She still holds an office job – during the day, she consults with businesses about their insurance needs – but she’s found a way to work with flowers after all. She has started her own business, named E. Vincent Floral Design after her father, to sell floral arrangements online. She’s been at it for a while and now plans a public launch for her company this spring.

“I really wanted to be an entrepreneur,” the 26-year-old said one recent afternoon as she sat at the flower-covered kitchen table in her Sandy Springs apartment, where she does her arrangements. She promotes her arrangements, wedding decorations and event designs on social media. “I really do like brides and weddings,” she said, “but in the future, I’d like to get into the hotel and restaurant market.”

And she has a vision of how her business can really blossom. She wants to devise an app that will allow her customers to show her just how they want their floral arrangements done. It would be similar to some pizza company apps that allow customers to design their own pizzas, she said. “My goal is to make floral design easy with drag-and-drop [technology],” she said.

Lee Durham

Lee Durham claims four startups on his resume. His latest is a Sandy Springs-based marketing company called Global Mobile. It’s designed to provide advertizing through cellphones and connect businesses to nearby customers. “It’s all community based,” said the 54-year-old, who is owner and CEO of the company.

Durham began his career in marketing and sales with Atlanta media companies. Durham started his latest company Jan. 1, 2014, basing it on work he’d begun developing through another startup company that he had sold. “My wife calls it Idea No. 28,” he said.

Mobile Global works on smartphones, Durham said, but it isn’t an app. Instead, it uses text messages to deliver ads to phone users who seek information, Durham said. Customers headed to a store might check Global Mobile for any coupons available for shopping there. Or customers might ask for information on shops in the immediate area. “It works because smartphones have finally hit critical mass,” Durham said. At the same time, businesses are looking for ways to use smartphones to reach their customers. “Advertisers want to get to mobile media,” Durham said.

For now, Durham is concentrating on promoting the idea behind Global Mobile. Asked if he thought he’ll end up selling this company, too, he just smiled. “We want to build a solid business,” he said. “I think I know where this can go. It will make a lot of money for somebody bigger.”

Skip Plesnarki

After about 40 years in the corporate world, it only took Skip Plesnarski eight or nine months of retirement to realize he was bored. He itched to get back to work. He wanted a business he could own and operate that would support him comfortably. “I knew I was interested in some type of service industry,” the 63-year-old said recently. “I didn’t want anything that was overly complex.”

He examined a number of possibilities, but couldn’t find a business that caught his fancy. Then, at a seminar, he found what he was looking for: a California-based company offered franchises for upscale men’s barber shops. Plesnarski’s new business, 18/8 Fine Men’s Salon, opened in May and now pampers patrons at its location in Town Brookhaven.

He says 18/8 isn’t just any barber shop. His salon offers customers complimentary servings of beer or wine, hair coloring, shaves with straight-edge razors, manicures, scalp massages and facials. “My market is the executives, athletes, metrosexuals, who are concerned about their appearance and how they look in the marketplace,” he said. “I do not compete with low-cost, fast-cut barbershops. I get a lot of their customers. We’re in the business of fixing $10 haircuts.”

The response since he opened last May has been good enough that he’s talking about opening a second shop in Sandy Springs or Buckhead. He says he’s enjoying working with his staff and customers in his new enterprise. One thing he hasn’t had to learn yet is how to cut hair.

Lisa and Morgan Maclellan

For Morgan Maclellan, the first piece of his new business is the pizza. Your Pie was his favorite pizza place during his college days at the University of Georgia. He and his now-wife, Lisa, used to eat there regularly when they were studying for their undergraduate business degrees.

A couple of years ago, when Morgan found he was bored by his office job and looking to change careers, he considered going back to grad school. Instead, he decided to spend the money on a Your Pie franchise of his own. “It just fit so many of my passions,” the 27-year-old said one recent afternoon as workmen made final touches on his new restaurant before its formal opening this month. “It [offered] a great way to be passionate about what you do, enjoy what you do, make money at a level you want.”

“And be your own boss,” Lisa added.

The second piece of his new business is its location. He and Lisa looked over various communities in metro Atlanta and were drawn to the Perimeter area because of the numbers – 100,000-plus employees, tens of thousands of families nearby, and more people coming.

He says his Your Pie is the 21st in the country. To prepare to run it, he and Lisa learned how to toss pizza dough and properly bake pizza pies. He plans to hire 25 people, but he knows that in the beginning much of the work will fall to him. “I’ll cook. I’ll do it all,” the 27-year-old said. “I’m owner, team leader, general manager, team member … I’m all that right now.”

Click here to download a spreadsheet with new business licenses issued by Perimeter cities in 2013-2014.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.