Pikes Peak SBDC

Freenotes Harmony Park

By Malia Durbano


Richard and Christy Cooke are so grateful to the SW Colorado Small Business Development Center for consulting with them and putting them in touch with valuable resources to assist them in growing and expanding their business. Thanks to the help of the SW CO SBDC their company is experiencing 100% growth in 2011.

Originally, a small cottage industry business, started by Richard Cooke in 1990 in Moab, Utah, FHP was at capacity in 2009. They were working long hours, needed more employees and more production space. Cooke invented and manufactures an innovative, outdoor musical instrument that everyone can play called Freenotes. These marimba like instruments are played with mallets and are perfectly tuned so regardless of which note you hit it always sounds beautiful.

Joe Keck, their initial contact, subsequently connected them with the SBDC Business Advisor Network and Ed Morlan of Region 9 Economic Development District. Morlan assisted them in acquiring a Region 9 loan that catapulted them from a small cottage industry business selling directly to end users into a commercial manufacturer and nation-wide wholesaler of musical instruments.

Additionally, Christy Cooke, his wife and CEO, became part of the mentoring program and learned first- hand about distribution, manufacturing and sales from another wholesale manufacturing company in the program. The Cooke’s also worked with the CEO Network and received help writing their strategic business plan and learned about acquiring venture capital from other local business owners. She was then introduced to Roger Zalneraitis of the La Plata County Economic Alliance, who is helping FHP search for a larger manufacturing facility.

As a result of the assistance provided by the SW Colorado SBDC, they have totally transformed their business into one that has grown, provided additional managerial and manufacturing jobs in the community and plans to continue growing to include world-wide distribution.

Handcrafted House

Since opening its doors in mid December of 2010, Handcrafted House has seen a great response from the community thus far, says owner Sheryl Lock. Located at 1323 East 2nd Ave., the store offers sustainable finishes and interiors.

“We carry all non-toxic finishes and will be expanding into interiors: natural latex beds, rugs, shower curtains, organic bedding,” describes Lock. “We’ll also have more wall stencils and fun things like that; we’ve been adding about a product a week so far.”

The store started out vending Mythic Paint, a zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, and now carries Green Planet paint, sealers and concrete products from Eco Pro Coat, wood stains from AFM Safecoat, and American Clay, clay plasters fabricated in Albuquerque.

Clay plaster is where Sheryl started in the building world and it’s what husband Lars Erik Hansen still does with their other business, Hansen Handcrafted Finishes. “When I started out building adobe and straw bale houses in 2000, I quickly learned that the plaster is what I loved about building – I loved the color aspects of it and the material – so we started our own company doing natural plasters about six years ago,” recalls Sheryl. “Then I decided I didn’t want to be doing much physical labor anymore, so I decided to open the store, carrying all of the products to make a healthy home.”

Lock has taken course offerings at the SBDC over the years to expand her knowledge base, the most recent being the Leading Edge Entrepreneurial Training during which she wrote a comprehensive business plan for Handcrafted House.

“I have been using the services of the SBDC for a long time, for a previous business I had, and then when we started Handcrafted Finishes, we had several meetings with [SBDC director and counselor] Joe Keck. We would meet, do what we needed, then come back when we were ready to grow again and say, ‘OK, this is where we’re at, what’s the next step?’”

Lock found the Leading Edge course to be helpful because it confirmed some things she already knew and served as a good “reality check” of her idea. “Next, we plan to meet with a financial advisor, because I would like to find out more about the balance between inventory and cash, and also just to get another perspective.”

Another useful aspect of the course was the in-depth coverage of each topic, according to Lock. “Even if it’s not included in a business plan you would use, you have that knowledge for yourself or for some bankers who want those details.”

A space at the back of the store will be utilized for regular product clinics. Handcrafted House held its first event for contractors on Mythic Paint on March 19, during which contractors used the paint and obtained samples. “People need to be educated about it,” says Sheryl “There is a lot of fear about using something new. People who have been using the most toxin-filled, carcinogenic paints out there are used to them and know how they perform. A lot of people want to change and giving them an easy to learn about it helps.”

Since opening, the store has seen a wide range of people coming in to check it out. “We’ve had a really good response from the community so far,” says Sheryl, “everything from people who have chemical sensitivities to people who are just curious, wanting to support local business. So far, so good.”