maryshepherd

The Painted Playground

A few years ago, Heather Freeman started a paint party business.

She set up painting workshops in local restaurants and created an artistic experience for those in attendance. Then, about a year ago, she dove into creating her own art and realized how much she loved it. She decided to become a full-time, professional artist.

As she shifted to a new business model, she realized that she needed to learn how to sell her art. She reached out to the SBDC and was connected with Bert Carder. “He was so willing to sit down with me, and he helped me focus on the things that would make the most impact. There are so many things to do as an entrepreneur, and it’s easy to spend a lot of time trying to do them all at once. Bert helped me realize that to be successful, I needed to sell. Together, we created a plan do that.”

Based on her meetings with Bert, Heather began to focus her efforts on showing up where prospective clients were ready to buy. She set up an Etsy shop and started a Google Ad based on people searching for the type of abstract art that she makes. In just a short time, she started seeing an increase in followership.

In addition, she was able to let go of some forms of advertising that weren’t bringing in paying customers, such as social media. “After our first meeting, I got right to work,” Heather says. “At our next meeting, Bert assessed what I had done, what was working and what wasn’t, and helped me tweak a few things. At each meeting, he gave me more than I could ever have imagined.”

Looking forward, Heather still plans to make some changes to her website, and the future is bright. She’s doing all of her own artwork and feels inspired to keep creating. “I’m having such a blast painting my own stuff that I don’t want to stop! I’m really excited to make beautiful, colorful, fun art that inspires others and makes them feel good. We all deserve to be surrounded by beauty. Living in Durango, we have so much beauty around us. Everyone should be able to bring that beauty into their homes and offices as well.”

Currently, Heather sells locally out of her studio in The Smiley Building and online to people across the country.

Her tips for other aspiring artists? “As artists, we often feel we need to figure things out and do everything ourselves. My advice is to reach out and ask for support. You don’t have to be a ‘starving artist.’ A lot of people want you to succeed and can help you do that!”

Durango Car Care

After 20 years, Bryan Hill decided it was time to make his dream come true.

He’d been working as an auto mechanic in a local shop but had always dreamed of owning his own business.

When Durango Car Care came up for sale, he and his wife, Jenn, knew this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. They jumped on it. Shortly thereafter, they realized that they needed help.

They reached out to the SBDC and were connected with Bob Jagdfeld. “He was amazing,” Jenn says. “He met with us after hours and helped us hash things over. He asked very direct questions and brought his expertise from years in lending practices. We were perfect candidates for an SBA loan, but without Bob, we never would have gotten the funding.”

In addition, Bob prepared them for every step of the purchase and launch process. “He helped us get our paperwork in order without ever giving his own opinion. He taught us how to help ourselves.”

The shop has been open under its new owners for almost a month, and it has been a resounding success. Durango Car Care offers full-service automotive repair, and they already have two full-time employees. Word of mouth advertising has kept them plenty busy while they settle in.

“Bob was so instrumental in helping us get through funding; to have Region 9 and Bob behind you . . . wow! It really feels like it’s been a group effort, and we think of Bob as an ‘honorary owner.’”

As the business grows, the Hills want to be excellent owners. They see their employees as family and want to foster growth. They hope to hire a full office staff, so Bryan can work more directly with clients. In addition, they are looking into purchasing equipment that will allow them to provide full services for diesel vehicles. They’ve already set up quarterly meetings with Bob to ensure they stay on that track.

If you’ve bent thinking about purchasing a business, Bryan and Jenn offer this advice: “The SBDC is priceless; you’d be crazy not to call them . . . and it’s free! There are so many things you can get hung up on as a new business and so many hurdles to tackle; they clean it up for you. After we went there, we were stunned with all the ways they offered to help. They are invaluable. Call them!”

The Wigglin’ Pig: Where the Food Tells Its Story

After years of working in various restaurants, Ernie Padilla decided he was ready to open his own business.

Food trucks were fairly new to Cortez, and he knew they would be a hit. So, in 2018, he opened The Wigglin’ Pig.

After finding success, he was ready to grow and added a brick and mortar establishment to the mix. Both the truck and restaurant serve American BBQ food with a variety of delicious favorites ranging from gourmet mac and cheese to specialty hamburgers. The restaurant prides itself on making just about everything fresh and from scratch.

Although he had always been in management positions, Ernie faced a huge learning curve as he transitioned to the role of “the boss.” But with time, he grew to love it, and he developed a great appreciation for his staff—the ones who make the restaurant possible.

In 2022, he heard that Shiloh’s Steakhouse, a Cortez classic, was for sale. He knew his business was ready to grow again, but he needed some assistance in preparing for the loan application.

The loan officer at his bank referred him to the SBDC. He started working with Joe Keck, who proved to be a great help. “Joe helped me draw up a business plan, create a balance sheet, and get everything ready for the loan application,” Ernie says.

By summer, Ernie had been approved for the loan, and the purchase was completed in July 2022.

Ernie is thrilled to be the new owner of the steakhouse. “I was the head chef there for six years, and it’s where I met my wife. We had our wedding reception there! I want to modernize it by bringing in fresh seafood, prime cuts of meat, and some new flavors.” He’s also looking forward to making use of its beautiful patio by bringing in live music.

Included in the purchase is a location behind the steakhouse, where Ernie plans to create a food truck area with diverse food, music, games, and a patio. “I’ve traveled all over Western Colorado and have seen food truck areas going up everywhere; it’s time to bring the trend to Cortez.”

Ernie is grateful for the Cortez community, his workers, and all those who have sacrificed their time for the restaurants. “I can’t do it without them; I might be the owner and operator, but without a full staff, we wouldn’t be here.”

If you’ve been thinking of starting or growing your business, Ernie offers this encouragement: “Stick with it. Be consistent and put in all the hard work and love you have for it. I’ve seen my business grow because I’ve sacrificed and tried to be consistent with everything. Also, don’t give up. There were times I felt like I had to give up . . . especially during the pandemic. But, I kept my eyes on the bigger picture and didn’t quit.”

Pagosa Mountain Sports: Go Find Your Adventure

A community outdoor shop with a heavy focus on bikes.

Doesn’t that sound like a dream?

Jake and Janine Emmets, Amanda Gadomski, and Coquette Collins all thought so.

So, in 2015, they launched Pagosa Mountain Sports in a tiny house in Downtown Pagosa Springs. And for the past seven years, their business has continued to grow. They sell and provide rentals of stand-up paddle boards, skis, snowshoes, and of course, bikes. They also carry supplies for a myriad of outdoor activities, and in 2021, they began leading guided mountain bike tours and clinics in Archuleta County.

By 2021, the team of managers realized that they had maxed out what they could accomplish in their tiny space. They knew they needed a solution for growth, so they reached out to the SBDC.

The consultants met with them to discuss various paths for expansion. They looked at enlarging their downtown facility but couldn’t find a way to do it without shutting down during their busiest summer months.

Then, they learned that an uptown bike shop was for sale. “After crunching numbers with Rich Lindblad, it looked like purchasing the bike shop would be a good move for us,” says co-owner Amanda Gadomski. Pagosa Mountain Sports completed the acquisition in the spring of 2022.

But, moving to two separate locations has been a huge transition, and the business has had to shift how they operate. Their downtown location focuses on rentals, while their uptown location has more room for servicing and inventory.

They’ve also brought on a number of new staff members. Amanda explains, “For years, our staff consisted of the four owners and one part-time employee. We now have four full-time and 12 part-time employees. In adding new staff, we really don’t want to lose the Pagosa Mountain Sports vibe. We pride ourselves on providing excellent customer service with a community-focused feel, and we want to make sure we aren’t just super efficient at selling stuff. We want our customers to know what we care about because that’s what made us successful in the first place.”

The new location opened in May of 2022—just in time for the summer business boom. Although it’s too early to determine if the expansion has been a success, business has been steady.

So, what’s next for Pagosa Mountain Sports? First, they want to settle into this new business model and make sure they are doing it well. Then, they hope to get busy enough to keep staff on year-round. In addition, they want to continue to see their nonprofit grow, so more trails can be built in the area. They still want to be known as the one-stop shop that provides education, knowledge, and gear.

The owners of Pagosa Mountain Sports are grateful to the SBDC for all their help. “The SBDC made the sale process super simple. They helped us gather and evaluate information, which made it really easy to decide that this would be a good move for us. They also helped us evaluate the cost and determine what to pay for the purchase. They are a good resource for anything that relates to business.”

The Repair Doctor

Fabian Rajo is good at fixing electronics. From transistor radios to computers, he knows his stuff.

Last year, while working for a local computer company, he got an idea: he wanted to open a small electronics repair business in Cortez. He realized that many people need their gadgets repaired . . . from cell phones to tablets to apple watches to game consoles . . . and he knew that he had the skills to do it.

But, he didn’t have the background knowledge to launch his own business.

Then, he heard about the SBDC. He immediately signed up for the Starting Your Business Workshop. But, the morning of the class, he came down with COVID and couldn’t attend. He reached out to Allison, and she introduced him to the Leading Edge Workshop series.

Fabian applied for a scholarship and was thrilled to be approved. He attended the first classes, and after that, he hardly slept for three months. “I spent every free minute creating a business plan, researching how to manage and start my business, and more. It was a big step!” Fabian says.

At first, he didn’t think there was any way he could get the funding to launch. His personal finances were tight, but he persisted. “I spent my last $50 registering with the State of Colorado, so I could send Region 9 my Certificate of Good Standing.”

When he found out that his business proposal had been accepted, he was ecstatic.

Fabian and his wife were able to remodel a portion of their home to serve as the business storefront. They chose a 50s theme. The shop has a vinyl player, records from the 50s and 60s, and an assortment of arcade machines that customers can play while they are waiting.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I love the 50s. I just think it was a great time in our history. It was an honest time.” Back then, people didn’t just throw things away. They fixed them, which goes hand-in-hand with Fabian’s business.

Fabian is thrilled to offer his services to the residents of Cortez. And, he does so without any pushy sales tactics. “I wanted to veer away from those sales tactics that I don’t believe are honest or an honest way of living,” he says. So, when people come in for cell phone repair, that is what they get. Fabian is also bilingual, and he looks forward to serving customers who speak both English and Spanish.

Fabian’s long-term goal is to open stores all over Colorado. He loves supporting local economies and teaching repair skills to others. But, for now, he is focused on getting the first store up and running.

Repair Doctor officially opened their doors on May 23. Right now, all of their work is by appointment only. As the business grows, they will start taking walk-ins.

Throughout the process, Fabian has persisted in the face of all sorts of challenges. From activating—then having to reactivate—his account on Google My Business to facing zoning issues, he refused to give up.

For other entrepreneurs, he offers this advice: “The only obstacle you will run into is your own thoughts in your head. Continue to push forward and don’t stop at the first no you receive.

 I wasn’t a great candidate, but I had a great idea. Without persistence and all of the support I received, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”