Success Stories

Destination DRO Real Estate Group

When it comes to real estate, relationships are everything.

At least, that’s what Heather Erb believes, and this guiding principle is what inspired her to start her own real estate company.

After more than 20 years of working as a Realtor and running real estate offices, Heather knew she was ready to launch out on her own.

“Since I had spent many years in management, I didn’t have the same questions that many others might have had in my shoes. But, when I walked into the bank with the first draft of my business plan, they laughed.”

Heather reached out to Laura at Region 9, who put her in touch with the SBDC. Mary explained that there are only a few ways to get a business loan and connected her with Bob Jagfeld, who proved to be instrumental.

“Bob’s background is in the financial industry. In just 40 minutes, he skillfully answered my questions and guided me through the sections of my business plan that needed work. His responses were nothing I could have anticipated. He told me, ‘Pick one thing and go for it. Create attainable goals, then blow them away.’”

After Heather redrafted her business plan, Bob met with her again and made a few more suggestions. “I can’t explain how much help that was. This time, I found the right loan product and walked out with the money I needed to launch my business…all because I was steered in the right direction.”

Destination DRO Real Estate Group launched in January of this year, and Heather is thoroughly enjoying the joys and challenges that come with small business ownership. The company is locally owned and operated, and all of the branding is based on life in Southwest Colorado.

“We pride ourselves on the collective belief that there is a different way to run a business. We are customer centric, value driven, and rooted in the belief that we will never compromise our core values. In our view, it’s relationships that matter.”

Destination DRO was named because the company seeks to serve people who are already here—people who have made Durango and the surrounding communities their destination and home. The real estate group serves La Plata and Montezuma Counties, including Durango, Mancos, Ignacio, and Bayfield. The company is actively growing and expects to have five Realtors by fall.

“It’s such a joyful and totally terrifying experience to open a business,” Heather says. “But there is a network of people who will help you get there, support you, and cheer you on. When you have a great plan, you can keep using it day to day. The more time you spend on it up front, the less fear and more joy you will have in the process. Thanks to the SBDC, it’s been 95% elation and 5% terrifying…without them, it would be more like 50/50.”

She encourages other entrepreneurs, “Take time to plan up front, then take the plunge—don’t let fear hold you back.”

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Three Rivers Title

When it comes to real estate transactions, experience counts.

And, that’s exactly what sets Three Rivers Title apart. Anne Alexander has more than 25 years of experience in the title business—and closings are her specialty.

That’s exactly what inspired her to open her own title company. She explained, “Often, title companies are opened by a title officer or attorney who don’t have as much experience on the closing piece. I’ve worked with most realtors in the region, and they appreciate my attention to detail and that I’m a great communicator. I strive to keep everyone up to date and am easily reached.”

The more she thought about it, the more she realized she had a unique niche and could provide a specialty service for the Four Corners.

When she got serious about starting the business, she reached out to the SBDC. “I met with Mary, who is a great resource. She gave me ideas of who to reach out to and guided me through my business plan.”

After doing some research, Anne found an organization that specializes in helping new title companies get off the ground. They helped her get her website up and running while guiding her through the launch process. “It was a great experience,” she says. “They helped me get up and running much faster than if I had tried to do it all on my own.”

Then of course, the business needed a name. In a nod to the beauty of living in Southwest Colorado, Anne named the company Three Rivers Title. With a smile, she explains, “The name came about because I cross three rivers on my way to and from work each day.”

The business has been open since July 2023, and Anne is loving it. “I provide another closing option with a more personalized approach. I’m locally and woman owned, and my expertise lends itself to closings.”

Anne has worked hard to get her name out to the local community and has joined the Durango Association of Realtors, Land Title Association of Colorado, the Durango Chamber of Commerce, a Chamber Leads Group, and the Business Improvement District (BID).

“It was a very productive and busy fall leading into winter,” Anne said. “I recently reached out to the SBDC again, just to check in. They provided support on my financials and directed me to Handshake, so I can look into getting additional help from interns in the future.” Currently, Anne has one, part-time assistant, and she is looking forward to growing and providing opportunities for college students to learn the business.

Three Rivers Title is located behind Alpine Bank, just across the street from 11th Street Station. She looks forward to continuing to build the Durango community through positive relationships with realtors, lenders, buyers, and sellers.

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Right Molecule

Annie Sewell has had a lifelong passion for healthcare.

In late 2020, she started IV hydration to optimize her own health. “I really loved it. It did a great deal for me. As an athlete, my recovery times were accelerated, and my ability to relax greatly improved.”

One day, while she was driving to Durango for treatment, she wondered why Pagosa Springs didn’t have a hydration lounge of its own…and Right Molecule was born.

But, it would be two years before her own business would launch. “It was a long process,” she explains. “Being nurse owned, I had to first establish a medical practice and find a medical director. I took a ton of continuing education classes and earned several certifications. There was a long legal process too, but through it all, I had a great team.”

At some point along the way, a friend asked her if she’d connected with the SBDC. “I’d never heard of them, but thankfully, I got in touch. They connected me with Rich Lindblad, who was amazing. He gave me tons of time and lots of excellent feedback and counsel. He helped me with my business plan and taught me how my financials worked. Best of all, he directed me to Region 9, who was super generous in giving me a loan.”

Once she secured the funding, Annie needed a location. She started working out of a chiropractor’s office, which gave her great visibility. However, soon it became apparent that she needed a space with a little more privacy. Now, she rents an office in Lush Beauty Lounge, which is working out fabulously.

“I absolutely love it! I’m also set up to do mobile visits, but so far, there hasn’t been much demand for that service. Most clients prefer to come to the office.” Currently, Right Molecule offers intravenous hydration and nutrition injectables, along with three lines of supplements.

Now that the first year is behind her, Annie’s focus for 2024 is to start reaching her financial goals. The first year of opening any business includes a lot of expenses, so year two is a great time to start focusing on profitability.

Looking forward, Annie hopes to expand her clinic to include a partnership with other practitioners. “I’m really passionate about optimizing health and finding ways to blend alternative and allopathic healthcare. I see tremendous value in the crossover—I love the idea of a blend.” She is already starting the process of establishing a health group to meet this need.

After her first year in business, Annie realizes she still has a lot of growth ahead, but she also recognizes how far she’s come. She encourages other entrepreneurs, “Really, really make sure you understand your financials before you launch. Often, we small business owners are good at doing our business, but we don’t know much about running our business. Financials are critical.”

If you’re interested in learning more about IV hydration to optimize your own health, give Annie a call. She is passionate about her work and would love to chat with you!

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Chef Safari’s African Fusion

“Passion turns perfection into art.”

This is one of Chef Safari’s guiding principles, and it shows in everything he cooks.

As the owner of Durango’s newest food truck, Chef Safari’s African Fusion, he has set out to take locals and tourists on a culinary world tour.

When he was just 10 years old, Chef Safari started working alongside his father as a chef at one of Kenya’s top resorts. A few years later, he attended the first culinary school in Africa, Kenya Utalii College in Nairobi, which launched his global career.

He represented Kenya in a showcase in Germany and was offered a scholarship by the Swedish Culinary Team to attend Umea University of Culinary Arts for four years. From there, his skills took him to Sardinia, Barcelona, and Zanzibar. He was the first African chef in the Royal Caribbean Cruise fleet, and then he came to Colorado to work at Cosmo, Telluride’s famous restaurant. He and his family eventually landed in Durango, where he worked at the historic Strater Hotel.

Over the years, Chef Safari has earned a number of recognitions and awards. These include U.S. Chocolate Fantasia Chefs’ Competition (four-time champion), Chef of the Year (2006), Kenya Sous Chefs’ Competition, and the Culinary Order of Merit.

Chef strongly believes in giving back to the community, and he founded Door to Door Better Cooking as well as several elite culinary organizations in Kenya. In Durango, he has served as an esteemed culinary instructor with Pueblo Community College’s culinary program and was named Volunteer Chef of the Year (2014) with Cooking Matters, a local youth program.

In 2015, he decided he was ready to launch his own operation, and his first stop was the SBDC.

He participated in the 12-week Leading Edge program and attended the Quickbooks workshop. He worked with Carl Malmberg and Bob Jagdfeld on cash flow, financial projections, and forming his new LLC. They set up a GoFundMe campaign, which helped him launch the food truck.

Throughout the process, he met with Mary Shepherd multiple times to discuss locations and sort out the many details involved in the project.

As Chef Safari prepared for the launch, he met with Bert Carder, who helped with sales and marketing. They tracked down customer reviews (there were a lot of happy customers who were waiting for him to re-open), determined the types of services he would offer, and brainstormed marketing and business ideas.

Chef’s vision is to host a food truck that takes guests on a culinary tour of Africa. He coined the phrase “African Fusion” to describe his cuisine….and every item on the menu exceeds expectations.

In October of 2023, the food truck finally opened its doors. Located next to Ted’s Rental on College Drive, the truck is in a prime location for attracting locals and tourists alike.

Chef Safari’s philosophy has always been, “Shoot for the moon and beyond; even if I miss the moon, I’ll land among the stars. In the course of my career, I have learned over and over that in every difficulty lies an opportunity, and in every failure, there is a lesson learned.”

Chef Safari could not be more thrilled to run his own business. He is always delighted to greet new customers and will make you feel right at home with his warm smile and African cuisine. Stop by sometime to say hello­–jambo in Swahili!

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The San Juan Angler

“Have you heard the news? We have a new owner.”

Cole Glenn was speaking with one of San Juan Angler’s regular customers. The customer looked up with apprehension. “Oh?” he said. “Do you know anything about them?”

“Yeah,” Cole replied. “It’s me.”

This has become Cole’s new favorite conversation. As the former manager of one of Durango’s iconic fly-fishing shops, he couldn’t be more proud to be the shop’s new owner.

Cole is a Fort Lewis graduate with a degree in tourism resort management. After graduation, he worked a number of local odd jobs but was soon drawn back to his lifelong passion for fly fishing. He started as a guide and worked his way into the role of shop manager.

About two years ago, the owners started talking about selling, so they could retire. They own four shops across Colorado, and Cole watched them work through the process of selling Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt to its manager. Once that sale was complete, he knew it was his turn.

“In September, I got to work. I had attended a number of SBDC workshops and met with Mary several times over the years, so she knew that this was my plan. I reached out to her, and she referred me to Carl Malmberg.”

Carl met with Cole several times, and together they worked on his cash flow projection, which allowed him to get a loan with Region 9. “Once I had the loan, I went to the owners and told them I had the money. There are a lot of little steps involved in purchasing a retail fly shop and guide service. The guide service requires licenses, permits, and registration. It took time to get that sorted out.”

By the end of November, the sale was completed. Cole’s first day as owner was December 1—just in time for Noel Night. He expects that the first six months will be quiet, as is common during winter months in the mountains. This will give him time to learn the ropes, and by June, all hands will be on deck for the busy season.

Looking forward, Cole is excited to bring fly fishing into the community. “We’ve done a lot of work with La Plata County Open Space Conservancy, and we want to get more kids and women into fishing. It’s a great family activity!” He is hoping to set up a booth at the farmer’s market and host free classes. In addition, he looks forward to partnering with local rod builders, so they can support each other.

Cole couldn’t be more thrilled to be the new owner. He says, “It’s been a long time in coming. It’s scary and daunting, but I do know the industry, store, and customers. The SBDC has been instrumental in helping me learn parts of the business that are new to me. I told myself one day I would buy the business…and here I am. It’s very rewarding.”

He encourages other entrepreneurs to seek help and advice from the many local resources that Durango has to offer. Then, prioritize. “Starting a business can be overwhelming, but once the first pieces fall into place, just keep taking a few tasks at a time. Stay patient and persistent to make your dream happen!

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