Spotlight on Business
How Can You Tell a Happy Pet? The Tail Waggin Knows
|She has a love for pets. With REAP’s help and funds through the SBA Microloan Program, Alison Martin turned that passion into a small business bringing joy and comfort to grateful dogs and cats across central Nebraska. Find out more at http://www.facebook.com/TheTailWaggin . Source: SBA Nebraska District Office|
Loved working with pets so much she made a career change
“I knew in my heart all along I was destined to work with pets,” said Alison, who, along with her husband, enjoys six dogs in their household. A native Nebraskan, she gave up a career in broadcasting in Denver to serve as the local Humane Society’s offsite adoptions coordinator.
But after sitting awake at night fretting over the fate of the pooches, Alison moved on to a veterinarian clinic. She eventually learned of a local pet sitter the vet would recommend to customers. “I thought that was a great job,” Alison said, “without the heartache of working in a vet clinic.”
When she and her husband moved to Grand Island in 1999, Alison got certified by a national training center in pet first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She started her own pet sitting business, which continues to this day – Two Paw Prints Pet Care. “Pretty soon I had veterinarians recommending me, and within about a year, year and a half, I was doing the pet sitting business full time,” she said.
After years of keeping her clients’ pets company, Alison realized she had gathered a wealth of knowledge on premier pet products and nutrition. She also knew how to mitigate a pet’s frustrating behavior, information she could share with a wider group of potential customers.
Turned to REAP and the SBA Microloan program for help
But how could Alison grow her pet-sitting business into something more? She came up with the idea for a mobile store so she wouldn’t compete with a national pet store chain coming into town. Alison also reached out to Dena Beck, our REAP specialist in Minden.
Dena helped shepherd a microloan for $10,000 approved in January 2011 using SBA microloan funds. With it, Alison purchased a specially-designed vehicle wrap for her SUV. She used the balance for advertising, promotion, and purchasing inventory. Now people in Grand Island, Hastings, and Kearney see the bright paw prints and graphics for The Tail Waggin up and down city streets off to the next pet appointment.
“We’re trying to get word about the business to other pet-related businesses like groomers, attend events like Weiner dog races, all to make ourselves visible in the community,” said Alison. Inspired promotions like the Buried Bone Club offer discounted purchases and a free newsletter to customers.
Says she wouldn’t have succeeded without REAP
Meantime, Two Paw Prints Pet Care has seen slow and steady growth since the end of the recent recession, and employs an independent contractor. And Alison is quick to share the credit for her success. Dena continues to check with her progress and offers constant support.
“It’s a very simple fact,” Alison said. “Without our loan from REAP we wouldn’t have been able to do this business. We wouldn’t have been able to start The Tail Waggin. We provide a valued service for people here to get expertise from someone in the pet industry to show them toys, treats, and other products which will improve their pets’ lives. It’s not only our start in this microbusiness, but it’s about helping our community and all the pets here.”
Source: A longer version of this article was originally published in the September 2012 SBA Nebraska District Office newsletter, It’s Your Business: http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/2/3129/success-stories/260381 .
The Tail Waggin
PO Box 1061
Grand Island, NE
Gobs and Gobbs of Fun
|Tara Jordan and Tracy Anderson opened their business in downtown Norfolk. Juan Sandoval, REAP Hispanic Business Center Director, helped them craft a business plan with solid business projections. He linked them with legal experts, and helped secure financing.|
Tara and Tracy contacted REAP for help. I’m based near them in Madison County. We were able to provide technical assistance, which resulted in a loan to finance the purchase of the equipment, inventory, and working capital.
Loan funds came from the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, a US Dept. of Agriculture program created to help spur rural entrepreneurship. REAP was an early grantee of the program. These funds are helping to finance Nebraska micro businesses to start and grow.
REAP also helped Tara and Tracy to develop a business plan and a set of business projections. I referred the owners to Creighton University School of Law. They helped with creating a Limited Liability Company, registering the Trade Name under the Nebraska Secretary of State, applying for a Sales Tax Number, and obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
The primary goal of Gobs and Gobbs of Fun is to provide an enjoyable experience to kids and teenagers from ages 3 to 15. The business possesses a “unique” product in an area where lots of kids have limited entertainment options.
Since the business opened, the owners have duplicated their sales and the business is thriving. Owners are looking at the opportunity to create a franchise and sell their idea to other communities in Nebraska.
Gobs and Gobbs of Fun
Tara Jordan & Tracy Anderson
501 Norfolk Ave
Norfolk, NE 68701
Young Entrepreneurs Satisfy Their Thirst
|Adam Siegfried and Tyler Ray Loop, pictured above, began the Loop Brewing Co., LLC in 2011. Tyler Ray Loop won $25,000 of seed money in the 2010 Hormel Business Plan Competition. Loop Brewing has created 30 jobs in McCook, Nebraska.|
The company was established in 2011 in McCook. But the idea started brewing in Tyler Ray’s mind back in 2008. After much research and support of family and friends, Tyler Ray won the 2010 Hormel Business Plan Competition – providing $25,000 in seed money to start the business.
With that, the Tylers studied under Master Brewer Tom Hennessey of Colorado Boy Brewery. That was a really good move, and the mentoring has been great.
The brewery is located in an historic building (once an Ice House), along railroad tracks that shaped McCook nearly 130 years ago. The unique atmosphere, fresh brick oven pizza, and smooth craft beer delight locals and travelers alike.
Loop Brewing Company pays homage to its roots through an age-old tradition of quality, handcrafted brewing. You can enjoy the fine, handcrafted beer within sight of the brewing tanks that produced it. They boast their beer is as rich as their heritage.
Beer’s not the only thing on tap. The business has created 30 jobs in McCook. Help came from the City of McCook, First Central Bank of McCook, and Nebraska Business Development Center in North Platte.
To make the project finally come together, REAP Business Specialist Dena Beck helped fine-tune the business plan. REAP was also able to help in a financing packaging that made the business a reality.
You can learn about Loop Brewing Company beers, review the menu, see some great photos of the renovated Ice House, and purchase company products here: www.loopbrewingcompany.com.
Loop Brewing Company, LLC
Tyler Ray Loop, Tyler Sue Loop & Adam Siegfried
404 West A Street
McCook, NE 69001
Find Loop Brewing on Facebook
Honey Entrepreneurs Sweeten Business
|Chandler honey is marketed all over Central Nebraska, supplying approximately 80 stores. They sell as far away as Hy-Vee in Omaha and handle all Nebraska Honey Sunday bottling and distribution.|
Back in 2007, a state Value Added Agriculture grant helped them upgrade their honey bottling facility. In 2010, they received another grant to upgrade their 70 year old honey extraction equipment. It required matching funds, and the Nebraska Rural Development Commission led them to REAP.
Working with Dena Beck, the Business Specialist for their region, Pat and Rachael prepared a business plan and cash flow to apply for financing to modernize their facility along with the equipment. Through Dena’s contacts, the Nebraska Enterprise Fund was brought in as the primary lender, together with REAP and the Custer County Revolving Loan Fund.
Rachael Chandler credits their determination and REAP’s services for making a difference in the business’s expansion. “If I would have given up, I would never have found REAP. It’s a great program and has been a great help to us. They understand the need for small businesses in rural Nebraska. My advice is to never give up on your dreams.”
With the upgraded extraction equipment and facility, the Chandlers can process honey for other growers and keep up with growing sales. The new system will cut their labor time by one-third, allowing more time to manage more hives. More hives equals more honey and more profit.
Plans are to increase their own hives from 350 to 500. The operation employs one employee besides providing full-time employment for Pat and Rachael.
Find out more about the Nebraska Enterprise Fund here.
Pat & Rachael Chandler
305 S Baxter, Anselmo NE 68813
308.880.1134 or 308.880.1733
Amigos Unidos, Inc Helps Build Growing Business Community
Ramiro Alvarez, owner of Amigos Unidos, Inc., is one of those people who inspire others. Because of his leadership in opening a business, other members of the community have begun thinking about starting a new business in South Sioux City.
A native of Mexico who moved to the U.S. in 1988, Ramiro decided to open his business in May of 2010. His experience as a supervisor at the Tyson Fresh Meat Plant in Dakota City, Nebraska, for 22 years gave him confidence that he could turn this new venture into a success.
He also knew that accessing help would be a critical move. Ramiro worked extensively with former REAP Hispanic Business Center Director Adriana Dungan. Adriana helped him to create a Business Plan, make solid business projections for the store’s future, opened doors in local banks, and steered him to the Creighton School of Law’s program to help micro businesses with their business incorporation.
REAP played a significant role helping Ramiro to qualify for a leveraged loan. To make the right choice of terms and rates for his commercial loan, Ramiro leaned on REAP for the advice he needed.
New REAP Hispanic Business Director Juan E. Sandoval says it’s wonderful to see people like Ramiro Alvarez contribute to the growing business sector of South Sioux City. Ramiro is an active member of the REAP Roundtable business group that meets monthly. He devours new knowledge that will help him on his path to success.
Ramiro’s friendly attitude and excellent customer service skills have made a big difference in retaining customers and developing strategies to reach new ones.
Amigos Unidos, Inc.
Ramiro Alvarez, owner
1313 Dakota Avenue
REAP Helps Author Meet Deadline
Several years ago Shelly Burke was ready to self-publish her third book, titled What Should I Say? The Right (and Wrong!) Words and Deeds for Life’s Sticky, Tricky, Uncomfortable Situations. She planned to get a small business loan through REAP, and had almost completed the online application when she learned about a special offer from the self-publishing company.
For a limited time, Shelly could receive her books at a lower price, allowing her to order more books for the same amount of money. The only problem – she had three days to make a deposit on the account and qualify for the special.
Shelly completed the online application and talked with Eugene Rahn, Senior Business Specialist, about her tight deadline. Gene evaluated Shelly’s loan application right away. She remembers, “It was Christmas week, and I didn’t think there was any way I could get the loan in time to make my deposit and get the extra books. However, Monica Braun met me in Columbus right after Christmas, with the loan papers ready to sign. She explained everything, and I went to the bank with my check that day and was able to order my books before the deadline!”
REAP’s detailed online application helped Shelly make a plan to market her book. She followed that plan after she received the loan. The small monthly payments and interest rate were not overwhelming, and Shelly made the last payment on her loan in January. “Thanks to REAP, I was able to fulfill my dream of self-publishing another book!” Shelly says. “It is so rewarding to hear that my books have made a difference to readers.”
As well as authoring books, Shelly is now also the Editor and Publisher of the Nebraska Family Times, a monthly newspaper with a mission “To inspire, encourage, and motivate readers in their Christian walk.”
Extending her network, she recently joined the Columbus Area REAP Roundtable. The roundtable meets monthly, with members giving programs about some aspect of being a small business owner and sharing ideas and encouragement. Shelly says, “The REAP Roundtable is very helpful to my business. Other business owners have valuable information to share, and I’ve found out about and attended workshops and meetings I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Being a REAP member offers many benefits, and I encourage any small business owner to join!”
Shelly and her husband Tim live near Genoa, NE, where Tim has a cattle business. Their son Cody attends Kansas State University, and their daughter Morgan is a junior at Lakeview High School. Shelly is active at Peace Lutheran Church and enjoys photography and being outside when the weather is warm.
Discover more: To read an excerpt of any of Shelly’s books, go to http://www.shellyburke.net. Her other books include How to Find Your Perfect Job in Nursing and Home is Where the Mom Is: A Christian Mom’s Guide to Caring for Herself, Her Family, and Her Home. For a free sample issue of the Nebraska Family Times, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Business Serves the Skate Community
North Platte, Nebraska, is seeing an increase in the number of people on skateboards. Brandon Raby, who has skateboarded for approximately 20 years, knows that a skate shop is a very important part of skate culture. He decided to launch Caravan Skate Shop in September of 2010.
Brandon’s business is the first and only skate shop the community has seen. Often, obtaining financing when a business is in the start-up phase can be a struggle, even though that’s the time a business needs money the most. Caravan Skate Shop began with a small inventory, which needed to expand to meet the demands of local skateboarders.
Reaching out to REAP Business Specialist Nancy Flock was a smart move on Brandon’s part. REAP was able to provide the financing he needed to offer his customers a nice variety in quality skateboard decks, clothing, videos and accessories.
In addition to financing, entrepreneurs face other challenges when it comes to small businesses. Brandon said “reaching the target market and convincing people to choose shopping locally instead of online” are in fact his greatest challenges. However, he is receiving great support from the community, and with challenges also come rewards.
Brandon feels proud to support the community and growing skate culture. In addition to operating Caravan Skate Shop, he plays an active role in Skate and Create, a local group that promotes getting active and is also working on fundraising to improve the local skate park. A local skate park can be a very important part of a community because it gives youth an opportunity to get active instead of spending time watching television or playing video games.
When Brandon has spare time, he enjoys spending it with his seven year old son, skateboarding and studying the music of Django Reinhiert, a pioneering virtuoso jazz guitarist and composer.
Contact Nancy Flock, REAP Hispanic Business Specialist, at 308.534.3508 or email@example.com for more information about REAP services.
Brandon Raby, Caravan Skate Shop, 107 East 5th, North Platte, Nebraska
Fire Ignites Desire to Reopen Auto Repair Shop
Edgar’s Japanese Auto Repair re-opened in Lexington, Nebraska, in May of 2002. Prior to 2002, Edgar had the same business for 12 years in the Los Angeles area. The Gutierrez’s decided to move to Nebraska so their children could have a better place to grow up and so they could have more opportunities as small business owners than the metropolitan area offered.
Despite an excellent product or service, Connie saw how these small businesses fell prey to late fees and overdraft penalties. In April 2004, after earning a degree in accounting, Connie launched Efficiency Counts, offering data management and accounting services to small businesses.
Three years later in May 2007, Connie had not attracted as many clients as she had hoped. Looking for networking opportunities, she went to the Rural Enterprise Assistance Program (REAP), a microenterprise development program of the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska.
Since then she has participated in REAP’s MarketPlace Conferences where she networks with other entrepreneurs and attends business training workshops. The conferences have not only increased her contacts and referrals, but have also increased her self-confidence.
At REAP she also realized she was not charging enough for her services to make a profit and found help with restructuring her fees. “I feel connected and more professional since working on my business with REAP,” Connie says.
In April 2009 Efficiency Counts got a technology make-over thanks to a $3000 Women and Co.® Microenterprise Boost Program award from the REAP Women’s Business Center. The award was used to buy a new desktop computer, printer, computer speakers, accounting software, a Blackberry and office supplies. The new technology helps Connie practice what she preaches about efficiency. It has given her more time to assist more clients and freed up some funds to hire a part-time assistant.
By June 2009 she brought on four more clients, boosting her profits and putting her right on track to achieve a very viable and sustainable business. “Due to the Women and Co. award I am able to move forward in obtaining more business and in providing a professional office for my assistant and myself,” says Connie.
Family Needs Met by Entrepreneurship
Maria Alvarado opened Alvarado’s Tax Services in 2006. Driven by the need for a more flexible schedule, Alvarado has built a successful business and won the Women and Company Microenterprise Boost Program award from the Center’s REAP program.
|Maria Alvarado moved her home-based business to a much more visible storefront office thanks to a $2000 Women & Company Microenterprise Boost Program award from the Center for Rural Affair's REAP program.|
Until recently, Maria’s business operated out of her home and offered help with tax preparation and translation services. As Alvarado’s Tax Services started to grow, Maria wanted to learn how to better manage her business and looked to the Center for Rural Affairs’ REAP Women’s Business Center for help.
Maria enrolled in several of REAP’s business training courses including Computer Basics, E-commerce and QuickBooks. She also met with a business specialist mentor and participates in roundtable meetings with other REAP business owner clients. “REAP has helped me a lot with advice and classes. If it had not been for this program, I don’t think that I would have all the knowledge and resources I have now,” says Maria.
Alvarado’s Tax Service made the move from Maria’s home to a much more visible and accessible storefront thanks to the $2000 Women and Company Microenterprise Boost Program award she received from REAP. The award also allowed her to expand the services she offers. She enrolled in accounting classes and plans to offer small business bookkeeping services in the near future.
The storefront is a much more professional setting for Maria’s business and has helped her attract more customers. Since making the move, she estimates her client base has increased by about 20 percent, and she anticipates increases in revenue. Since receiving the award, Maria has hired a part-time tax advisor who assists with immigration forms and provides translation services.
The award came at a perfect time for Maria. She says, “I was very excited and happy, because with that extra money I was able to keep my business growing.” In early 2009, Maria renamed her business Columbus American Services. She added full Travel Agency services and Money Transfer services.
REAP is a microenterprise development program of the Center for Rural Affairs that works with startup and existing small businesses with five or fewer employees in Nebraska on a statewide rural basis. REAP is the largest full-service microenterprise development program in Nebraska (rural or urban) and strives to serve all of the state’s rural areas.
Family Brings Tradition of Entrepreneurship to Nebraska
The Avalos family had been in the restaurant business for over a decade in Mexico, so entrepreneurship was nothing new to them. When they decided to pursue better opportunities thousands of miles away, Norma knew what she was good at. She wanted to continue what she’d been doing for more than 12 years, but this time in her new home of Lexington, Nebraska. When the Center’s REAP Hispanic Business Center expanded into Western Nebraska and offered business plan training in Spanish, Norma signed up.
In May of 2003, Taqueria Y Tortilleria Max was born. Obtaining permits and inspections for the restaurant was new to the couple, and it was a challenge at first. Building a customer base was also challenging since they were new to the area. Fortunately, Lexington’s diverse population included people who crave authentic specialties such as homemade quesadillas, gorditas and sopes, and this helped them develop loyal customers.
|Norma Avalos takes a moment to look up from her busy work at her restaurant, Taqueria Y Tortilleria Max. The Avalos family had a successful restaurant business in Mexico for over a decade.|
To further expand their market, Humberto and Norma also began to sell tortillas. They always try to offer a different food item to keep their menu interesting and keep customers coming through their doors. After Norma attended the Business Plan training, she gained valuable skills in financial administration, marketing and customer service. REAP Hispanic Business Specialist Nancy Flock also assisted the couple with technical assistance and obtaining a REAP loan for working capital. As their business grows, Humberto and Norma would like to expand their current location to offer more seating.
As most entrepreneurs know, it takes lots of time and hard work to have your own business. Likewise, the Avalos have learned that it is very rewarding. Since it is a family-operated restaurant, being able to spend time with family while making an income is probably one of their biggest rewards. Norma and Humberto have a 17 year old daughter and a 12 year old son, and when they are not at the restaurant serving up authentic food, the family enjoys going on walks together and spending time at the library.
For more information: contact Nancy Flock, firstname.lastname@example.org or 308.534.3508. Be sure to stop into Taqueria Y Tortilleria Max at 501 N. Lincoln St. when you are in Lexington, Nebraska. Their phone number is 308.324.5924.
Passion for Energy Gets Business Moving
It all started at the energy farm in Lyons, Nebraska, and visiting with people about wind and solar energy. Ed Toribio, owner of Home Energy Alternatives, decided to start his own green business by offering sales and installation services for solar electric systems and small-scale wind turbines. Ed said, “I saw a business opportunity in renewable energy for which I already had a great passion and increasing interest.”
Prior to opening his business in April 2008, Ed participated in hands-on workshops in North Carolina for residential wind turbines, one in Iowa for residential solar, and a Colorado workshop on commercial solar systems. He also went to several small training sessions to learn more about energy efficiency, inverters, safety and technical issues for wind and solar systems.
Ed worked with REAP Business Specialist Dena Beck and received a microloan to get his business off the ground. Three months later he realized a market for his company was lacking in central Nebraska. Ed said, “There was a lot of misinformation, and utilities were not very willing to cooperate with customers when installing or being approached to install a wind turbine.”
The main focus of his business today is to create awareness within the nearby communities. Ed hosts monthly workshops to educate and reach more people. He has been busy working with the Unicameral to modify laws that will allow his customers to receive fair pricing for their generated power and provide tax incentives to help cover the initial cost of their investment.
Ed spends much of his time immersed in following the Nebraska Energy Office and the Nebraska Legislature to make sure more attention is paid to key energy issues in our state. The stimulus package recently signed by President Obama will commit money for Nebraska to execute projects aimed to build/upgrade transmission lines and put more emphasis in the development of clean energy like wind and solar.
Changing his business focus is something Ed has adapted to well. He sees the lack of information and training in our state and is working to open an educational nonprofit facility, The Center for Renewable Education. It will provide installers with hands-on training to create more green jobs and enterprises. Three different wind turbines and four solar systems will be featured so that Nebraska residents can get a close look at the technologies.
Ed feels strongly that alternative energy needs to be given a chance to compete with all other forms of energy in use today. He lives with his wife, Jennifer and 2-year old daughter Natalia in Gibbon. His education includes the electrical program at Milford, and he is at work on a business degree through Bellevue University.
For more information or to suggest ideas, visit the web at www.nebraskagreenenergy.com or call 308.293.3407.
Lopez Auto Sales Expands with Help from REAP
Jose Lopez came to Nebraska from California 11 years ago looking for better working opportunities. In 2003 he opened Lopez Auto Sales, a used car dealership located on Highway 30 in North Bend, Nebraska. His target market was Hispanic people living in Schuyler and the surrounding areas. Over the years he created a solid clientele base, drawing people from as far away as Omaha and Grand Island, Nebraska; Sioux City and Denison, Iowa; Harper, Kansas; and St. Joseph, Missouri.
When he saw the opportunity to buy a building and relocate his business to the Schuyler area, Jose contacted REAP Hispanic Business Center Director Adriana Dungan to receive help working on his business plan and packaging the loan.
After several months of work, Jose was able to purchase the building, but not only that, he also decided to purchase the business located in the building, a liquor store. With a great plan in mind and using business skills acquired over 20 years working in a family-run small business in his native Guatemala, Jose went into his new business venture.
With an investment of over $200,000 he’s kept the liquor store up and running and has shown increased sales every month. The breakdown was just done to remodel the purchased building. Jose plans to open a new auto business in Schuyler, Nebraska, right behind the liquor store.
Jose resides in Schuyler with his wife and three children. He recently received the Center for Rural Affairs’ Entrepreneur Award. REAP is one of five rural programs offered by the Center for Rural Affairs.
LB Custom Chrome & Detail Finds Success
|Larry Harbour, owner of LB Custom Chrome & Detail says, “We are constantly expanding LB and are very aware of providing quality service with customer relations that are positive and consistent.”|
In 2006, Larry decided to rent a shop in downtown Broken Bow. The risk paid off. For the first year, Larry’s detailing business had a 1-2 month wait list with business clients and individual customers who appreciated the high quality work and first-class customer service. The business has grown exponentially with each passing year with little debt incurred.
The way Larry sees it “We are constantly expanding LB and are very aware of providing quality service with customer relations that are positive and consistent.” For the last year, Larry has added staff to keep up with demand and avoid clients having to wait for service.
Diversifying his businesses’ income is also important to Larry. In addition to professional car cleaning inside and out, scratch removal, hard water stain removal, 3M clear coat paint film protection, he plans to add chrome plating of vehicle parts, rims, grills, bumpers, and household items or anything else a person may want to chrome plate.
In the winter of 2007, Larry heard about REAP office hours at the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce and decided to make an appointment. After months of working on a business plan with REAP Business Specialist Dena Beck, Larry was approved by a local bank for a loan to expand his business to a new location in Broken Bow.
When Larry expressed a desire for energy efficiency and operating as “green” as possible, Dena referred him to USDA Rural Development’s Energy Efficiency program. Kelley Messenger, USDA Area Specialist worked with Larry and states, “This new geothermal system will be able to assist Larry’s business by allowing him to use a renewable energy source to help improve the operations of his business.”
The expansion will allow LB Custom Chrome and Detail to add two additional jobs. Larry credits Dena Beck for her knowledge. “Dena truly was a huge help being accessible with regular office hours (in Broken Bow). She has good connections and ideas that allowed me to assess whether my project would be worth pursuing.”
LB Custom Chrome and Detail LLC
1335 South B Street
Broken Bow, NE 68822
Quilting Hobby Transforms into Business
Your husband buys the property next door for the garage. He says, “I don’t care what you do with the house.” What would you do? Well, Phyllis Hamaker knew what she would do – open a quilt shop! That was in 2000 when they lived in Curtis, Neb. At that time, a local woman owned two shops that carried craft and quilting items, and she was ready to sell. Phyllis purchased the inventory and started her business.
Before she could open, however, much work needed to be done to the little house. They painted, cleaned, and took out a wall. She used one room for fabric and supplies, one for a classroom, one for cutting fabric, and one for displaying quilts and more fabric. Phyllis opened The Quilter’s Cottage in January, 2001. After purchasing more inventory, she found herself needing additional working capital and needing to make improvements to the store. A REAP loan was approved in 2004, and the business continued to grow. They put in a floor with patterns that looked like quilt blocks!
In September of 2007, Phyllis moved The Quilter’s Cottage to 2220 Central Avenue in downtown Kearney. She started in the front half of the building. A used furniture store was located in the back half. In February 2008 she was able to expand into half of the back, and in April 2008 she expanded into the whole level of the building. She has lots of fabric inventory, patterns, books, and supplies to sell. Phyllis realizes she has more customer base in Kearney than she had in Curtis. Also, with gas prices on the rise, she believes her location in Kearney will remain more profitable than it would have in Curtis.
Phyllis also holds many classes. She loves to teach quilting to those who don’t know how and share the joy she experiences from the art. Check out the class schedule on The Quilter’s Cottage website -- www.quilterscottage.net -- and see how busy she is. She offers mail order service on items available.
Phyllis has been a vendor at the “Threads Across Nebraska” event and the Quilt Nebraska State Convention for many years. She has exhibited and won awards at local, area, and state events. She has participated in the “Shop Hop” since 2002.
The challenge that Phyllis has been experiencing echoes what other small business owners have indicated. It is difficult to find reliable, part-time employees. To her advantage, a machine quilting business is located upstairs and a machine embroidery business is located downstairs in her building.
These complementary business owners consider themselves the “Tri-Level Mall” and do assist one another at times.
Phyllis belongs to the Kearney Downtown Association and participates in the business community promotions. She and husband Bill have two grown children. Their daughter’s family lives in Central City and their son’s family is close by in Kearney. She enjoys her grandchildren.
“My quilting started out as a hobby, then became an obsession, and now it’s my business. It’s great to have a business you love,” says Phyllis.
Karen Runkle and Lil’ Ladybug Greenhouse and Gardens
On a crisp April afternoon three years ago, Pat Runkle was hungry for a juicy, fresh tomato for his hamburger. He and his wife Karen searched high and low and couldn’t find one anywhere. It was at that moment, the Runkles say, that Lil’ Ladybug Greenhouse and Gardens was born in Hay Springs, Nebraska.
Karen Runkle’s true passion and talent is gardening, and Karen knew a customer base eager for fresh, local produce and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) existed. She had the drive, land, commitment, and determination to succeed; all she needed was a little training and some money to invest in her idea.
Karen contacted REAP and attended 15 hours of ‘Business Plan Basics’ training before she opened Lil’ Ladybug. At last year’s MarketPlace small business conference, Karen attended a Bookkeeping session and learned to keep good business records. She also networked with others and acquired new customers.
“I attended a business planning workshop put on by Jerry Terwilliger (REAP business specialist) before I started. He has been very helpful and supportive,” said Karen. “The MarketPlace seminar in Kearney was a great place to learn and rub elbows with others.”
While the classes and seminars broadened Karen’s business skills, she still struggled to gain momentum with Lil’ Ladybug. Through the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, REAP was able to offer Karen a Women and Company Microenterprise Boost Program® cash equity award of $2,000. With this, Karen purchased valuable equipment that gave her the edge she needed.
The road to successful entrepreneurship is seldom easy. In her first year, an early frost devastated Karen’s 400 tomato plants. The Runkles rolled up their sleeves, replanted, and had produce available that summer.
The following year, golf-ball-sized hailstones and 90 MPH winds destroyed the outside garden. With the assistance of neighbors, Karen filled half the greenhouse with bedding plants for customers, and, remarkably, Lil’ Ladybug realized a profit for the year.
In fact, sales for 2006 doubled, and Karen expects sales for 2007 to double again. Her CSA clients increased from seven to 30, and five more have requested to be added for 2008. Weekly sales at the Farmer’s Market are twice what they were, and the Greenhouse business has tripled.
The key to Karen’s success is her devotion to her customers. Her website, www.littleladybuggardens.com has online ordering, and she writes a weekly Lil’ Ladybug Column for the local paper. “Business,” says Karen, “is all about relationships.” Relationships, a boost, and really good tomatoes.