Pikes Peak SBDC

DaLe Llama Bike Tours

Tony Martin’s business is to go downhill – fast!  His business, DaLe Llama Bike Tours (DLBT), is trending uphill, but their passion is to take people down hills and mountain sides.  DaLe is a play on words for a Spanish phrase meaning “let it rip,” and “go for it.”  Tony leads mountain bike tours to Ecuador for big descents as they ride downhill and single track.  DLBT’s purpose is to shred sick trails, stimulate local economy and share culture.

Last November Tony returned from South America as he mountain biked through Bolivia, Peru, Columbia and Ecuador for a year and a half.  Towards the end of his trip he was offered a guide position with a touring company and led two trips himself.  He came back inspired and motivated to begin his own touring business.

A friend of his recommended he contact the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Fort Lewis College (FLC) to learn how to get his business going.  Tony emailed SBDC’s Hannah Birdsong and set up an appointment with regional director Mary Shepherd.  “I met with Mary for an hour and a half.  She told me how to put a business plan together and about the process of establishing a business.  Mary was super knowledgeable.  She used to be involved in public relations and marketing for an outdoor company and offered great ideas for me to connect with others.  Mary also explained the choices I had to set up my business as an S-Corp or LLC.  An S-Corp has greater tax advantages but comes with more red tape and costs several thousand dollars to maintain.  However, she indicated if I submitted a 2553 form I can allow myself to be taxed as an S-Corp without having the specifics or paying out thousands of dollars.”  Tony also met with an SBDC advisor for financial matters.  He taught Tony how to organize the monetary side of business, highlighting topics such as cash flow and balance sheets.  “SBDC advisors also helped me learn what my hidden costs were going to be.”

As Tony worked on his business plan, he entered the FLC ‘Hawk Tank’ contest.  The Hawk Tank is a contest for FLC students and recent alumni to pitch their business in front of a board of judges.  A winner from each group (student and alumni) would be chosen for having the best business idea based on a detailed business plan and presentation.  The winner would be awarded a five-thousand-dollar prize.  “I worked on my business plan for six weeks, thirty to forty hours a week.  I saw Hannah several times.  She reviewed my business plan outline and rough drafts.  Hannah also talked to me about social media.  She’s a boss!  I created two accounts for my business using Facebook and Instagram with her help.  Mary and Hannah also let me practice my presentation in front of them.  Everything came together for me the day of the Hawk Tank presentation.”  Tony’s plan and presentation earned him first place amongst all alumni contestants on April 6th, winning five thousand dollars!  All his invested time and effort and paid off.  “I have a totally different perspective after meeting with SBDC.”

Tony led his first trip to Ecuador in May and has two more tours booked this coming month.  Tony summarized, “SBDC is the most properly allocated money the government has taken out.  You can go in anytime and talk with them for free.  They have tons of experience.  Mary and Hannah are super knowledgeable.  They helped me all along the way.  Overall, they are really good people.  All of the SBDC advisors are knowledgeable and helpful.  I totally recommend them.  Five star!”  Tony concluded, “I give SBDC a huge shout out for making my business possible and clearing a cloud of confusion from me for not knowing what needed to be done.”

Love Untamed Collective

Meg Roberts is the owner of Love Untamed Collective.  She specializes in elopement, wedding and event planning.  Meg first fell in love with the wedding industry back when she was a stylist.  During that time, Meg planned events at home, putting together parties for herself and friends.  Her husband then encouraged her to get into the wedding planning business for herself.  Meg said, “I did.  I started by marketing myself as a bridesmaid for hire.”

As her experience grew and creative ideas came to mind, Meg wanted to figure out how to make a name for herself and launch her business.  A friend told her about a unique wedding expo she recently attended.  The description gave Meg the inspiration she was looking for.  Meg envisioned an event that had mock wedding ceremonies and industry professionals (such as photographers, caterers, florists and stylists) could showcase their talents.  Meg had the big picture but didn’t know how to bring it all together.

Meg once read an article in the Durango Herald that featured Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Deputy Director Mary Shepherd.  “I remembered the article stating that SBDC helps people build their business and they make things happen.”  Meg made an appointment with Mary to discuss her wedding bazaar idea.  Meg recalled, “Mary helped brainstorm my first steps and has knowledge on a lot of things.  We tossed around ideas.  She gave me advice on who to get in my corner and how to move forward.  I did exactly what she recommended.”

Meg reached out to people who told her how an event like hers would be ran.  They shared with her the specifics about what needed to happen behind the scenes, how venders should be marketed differently to get them to participate, and how to utilize a non-profit if she wanted to serve alcohol.  The Southwest Wedding Bizarre took place April 27th at the River Bend Ranch.  It was a huge success!  There were three mock weddings.  “We had forty-five local vendors in the wedding industry and sold one hundred three tickets.  There were between one hundred fifty to two hundred people in all,” Meg said.

Recently, Meg followed up with Mary and SBDC office manager Hannah Birdsong to learn how to carry the momentum from the bazaar and channel it into her business.  She also attended the SBDC sponsored Start Your Own Business Workshop.  Meg’s takeaway from the workshop was learning how to create a roadmap to get customers and how to get her business going.  “There were so many resources there.  Lots of people are rooting for us entrepreneurs.”

Meg is very grateful to Mary and Hannah.  “There were so many great ideas that came out of brainstorming with Mary.  And Hannah, let me tell you, she has so much intel on marketing yourself on the web and with Google.  I spent three hours in her office.  I came out of there needing a nap I had so much information.”

Aspen Wall Wood

David Sitton and Sean Stafford are the owners of Aspen Wall Wood. I interviewed David for this article, who shared his story of purchasing a timber mill in 2016 and later purchased two other companies. The major factor in the acquisition process was the ability to obtain a loan. That was done with the assistance of Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Durango.

David was well established as a Vice President for Skanska, a large multi-national construction group. Ten years ago, Skanska reorganized their business and closed their Cortez office where David was located. The job required him to travel to New York City and Los Angeles on a regular basis, a tremendous amount of time away from home. Sean had worked as a supervisor at a logging mill owned by Dewayne and MaryAnne Findley. In early 2016, the Findley’s were looking to retire and offered to sell their mill to Sean and David. The Findley’s had a reputation for running a stable and good business. David viewed the opportunity as something he would like to take on and would allow him to be closer to home.

David initially contacted the executive director of Region 9, a local organization that provided loans to businesses in southwest Colorado. Region 9 referred him to the SBDC where he was set up to meet with one of the SBDC consultants located in Cortez. The SBDC consultant and David had known each other since the 1980’s having worked together on a project for the Ute Mountain tribe. Dewayne Findley was a SBDC board member. He recommended David contact the center about their programs and advisement opportunities.

David did that and met with the SBDC. David wanted the business plan to provide lenders with all the necessary information and details which would secure the loan to buy the mill. David said Joe helped him in several ways. “He was an extra set of eyes as he reviewed my business plan. The SBDC consultant asked tough questions and pointed out items I needed to reconsider.” He also utilized financial spreadsheets to highlight positive financial projections and offered direction when David filled out loan applications. When the business plan and applications were completed and submitted, David and Sean secured their loan. With David’s personal financial investment, the loan made up the difference to purchase Aspen Wood Work. The deal closed on May 23, 2016.

Aspen Wall Wood and SBDC connected again in late 2018. This time it was with a different SBDC advisor who was involved in Cortez. David had enrolled his office manager into SBDC’s Leading Edge (LE) program to get familiar with the principles of business. David took the class with her. The LE class teaches people about the facets of business and how to construct a business plan specific to their endeavor. During this time, Aspen had the opportunity to take over another property and was made an offer to purchase business in turmoil. The timing was perfect to create a business plan for this possible expansion. These acquisitions would also require financial loans. David said, “This SBDC consultant was instrumental in developing a successful plan.” That plan ultimately led to loans from SBA and First Southwest Bank. David and Sean closed on those deals on August 10, 2018. The two now owned and operated three businesses, Aspen Wall Wood, Aspen Wood Products and S & S Logging.

David’s experience with SBDC was positive. “If anyone is considering a venture, utilize the resources SBDC has. They are great. They have the experience to ask you the right questions to tune into areas of business that need to be addressed.” He added, “SBDC was particularly helpful in securing a loan. If you don’t have huge collateral, they have the experience and resources that may make it available. Their participation in the first round of acquisition helped us with the second round. SBDC has established relationships, they are successful and they have credibility. They have also reached out to me afterwards to see if I need any follow up assistance.”

Enterprise Bar & Grill

Have you heard the story about the entrepreneur who bought a business because she was looking for a job?  Seriously.  She bought a bar and grill in Rico, CO, with no previous business experience.  A year and a half into it she sought assistance from the Small Business Development Center.  This woman took a class designed for entrepreneurs, implemented the suggested practices, became business savvy, and now has a goal to buy the property her bar and grill operates on.  Let me tell you about it.

Brandy Randall wound up buying the Enterprise Bar & Grill shortly after returning to Colorado after living abroad for seven years.  Her boyfriend sent her a Craigslist ad about a bar and grill for sale when helping her find employment opportunities.  Brandy said she initially took that as a joke.  However, after two weeks of consideration and running the idea by her family, Brandy went all in.  “I took a leap of faith without planning or experience while knowing how hard the restaurant industry was.”

Her plan was to utilize the same operational structure the previous owner used and then learn from the employees the day to day stuff, such as ordering and closing out the cash register.  In time, Brandy had difficulty managing the financial side, specifically with cash flow and sales projections.  She hired professionals to do what she didn’t know what to do herself.  Brandy realized she needed to know how a business operated with a deeper level of understanding.  She contacted the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Durango and signed up for their Leading Edge (LE) class in the summer of 2018.

LE is designed for entrepreneurs with the intent to create a functional business plan by the end of class.  They do this by teaching effective and specific business practices each week.  The class was taught by two SBDC consultants and the occasional guest speaker.  Brandy said, “They all played a different role. There were three different perspectives and presentation styles, yet all of it was integrated.  Everyone was very good.  I felt a little intimidated being back in a classroom setting, but after meeting the teachers and reviewing the material, it was a confidence booster.  This was going to help me.”

Creating multiple revenue streams and marketing were the two areas Brandy benefitted the most.  There were rooms above the bar that had been rented out as apartments for employees, but she changed that and rented them out on Airbnb.  “The rooms are doing very well bringing in revenue.  In a small town, hoping people will walk in the door and spend money won’t pay the bills.  I had learned from class the importance of finding additional revenue sources other than food and drink.”

“One SBDC consultant lit a fire under me to find out if my current marketing methods worked.  He taught me I needed to bring people in and direct them to buy what I offered.  I began to host special nights like Taco Tuesday and Burger Night.  This gave reasons for people to come in.  I also learned about creating a marketing budget and track how much I was getting back from my efforts.”  Brandy realized that being in a rural town, print advertising worked better than online advertising.  “I created print ads and took them to local shops and campgrounds.  The ads had codes on them.  When people came in with the handouts, that told me who I was reaching and what people were coming for.”

The final objective of the LE class was for students to present her business plan in front of professionals in the community.  “This was great for networking.  I met bankers and loan officers.  Another reason why I took the LE class was to help me get a loan and show lenders I was organized.  I am currently implementing ways to bring down operational costs so I can eventually buy the building instead of lease it.”

The LE class brought the problem areas to the surface and showed Brandy where she needed to put her focus.  “It was a great introduction and got my brain turning on basic business principles, take time to think things through, and do what is right.  That is what needs to be done.”  Brandy had some advice for entrepreneurs too.  “Don’t be afraid of diving in.  Go for it.  Learn as you go.  I went without a goal and don’t regret it because the time invested into the business made what the class taught applicable.”

That’s Brandy’s story.  And a successful one at that!

Southwest Discovered

Southwest Discovered (SWD) is a weekly blog/mini e-magazine founded by Amy and Jim Dodson. Their passion for the Southwest, along with a ‘forever tourist’ mindset was inspiration for the website. What began as a personal blog about the region’s cuisine evolved into a business. SWD would detail their road trips and experiences, highlighting their discovery of Southwest culture, people and landscapes through art and story.

When they were transitioning away from the blog in 2015, Amy and Jim presented their vision to the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs (SCAPE). Their hope was to develop SWD under the guidance of business mentors. They were soon selected by SCAPE to go through a business start-up program. As the program commenced, they worked closely with mentors who also were advisors for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

They contacted SBDC to further explore the potential of SWD. Their first contact was Mary Shepherd, whom the couple said was a huge help. Mary provided trademark and copyright resources while also connecting them with the SBDC marketing advisor. She presented an array of pertinent and useful information. Amy and Jim cited how she taught them ways to target the right people from the planning stage and as the business grows. She also shared the importance of time management and creating a work schedule. Burning out on one’s business can happen easily when working to exhaustion, and can also stifle creativity. She was also a sounding board for helping them choose the name ‘Southwest Discovered.’

Amy and Jim took full advantage of SBDC’s advisement and resources. They broadened their business acumen, having learned terms such as value propositions and financial projections, and were taught how to merge business vocabulary with the accumulated knowledge from their artist backgrounds. There were also in-depth discussions and evaluations with advisors in one-on-one settings. Amy and Jim came prepared with a load of questions and much use of dry erase boards. As visual people, drawing and writing concepts on the boards was a useful method to process and discuss appropriate business strategy.

Amy and Jim are genuinely grateful for all SBDC provided. They believe SBDC wanted them to be successful and for them obtain their dreams. They would not hesitate to reach out to SBDC again. For entrepreneurs looking to start their own business, Amy and Jim believe writing out a mission statement is essential. The mission statement defines who you are as a business and keeps you on target as to what you want to accomplish. Having that understanding makes it easier to communicate goals to business advisors. The Dodsons also suggested entrepreneurs write down ideas as they come to mind and ask a lot of questions. No question is too insignificant. Ideas can provide great value and efficiency. There is a mental letdown when a good idea is forgotten.