Success Stories

Por Dia Preschool & Learning Center

Amy Long purchased Por Dia Preschool & Learning Center sixteen years ago. Por Dia is licensed to serve up to 60 children. They offer daily preschool, toddler care, and before/after school care. Long approached Joe Keck for help in expanding her Toddler program. Beginning in August of 2011, they worked together for six to eight months. “Joe personally came by my business to consult with me, and we met at the SBDC office at the Cortez Chamber of Commerce building, plus communicated through emails.

Since Por Dia is a for-profit business, there are not many grant opportunities available. Joe Keck put Long in touch with grant writer, Nicole Fabrey who researched grant options, but was unable to get funding. Keck also suggested she contact Carolina Perky through the Department of Human Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. This agency helped fund expanding the preschool to include toddlers, and provided funding to install ramps and new carpet in the expanded Toddler area.
“Having ramps is a State licensing requirement; therefore, I had to remodel the building,” Long explains. “My long term goal was always to utilize the whole building and make it all a school. I had to do it in steps that were the best financially.” SBDC Business Advisor, Nancy Schaufele helped to formulate the business plan and worked with Long to finalize the numbers to make sure the expansion was a sound business decision. “This expansion really increased the revenue and supported many more families in the community by providing toddler care for those in need. I am now able to take more children and serve families that have children of varying ages.”

Por Dia accepts many programs to help families afford quality child care, such as, Colorado Head Start, Navajo Nation, Colorado Pre-School, and CCAP – Colorado Child Assistance Program.

“I want to thank Joe Keck for telling me about so many resources and people who were helpful in expanding my business. I appreciate all the help he gave me to make my business a success and allow me to serve more families.

“I also want to thank Tom Comisky who constructed the cement ramps and Angel from Angel’s Flooring out of Farmington who redid the flooring for the expansion. These are just some of the people that helped me complete a much needed addition to offer affordable child care in Montezuma County. There is a great need for infant and toddler care in this community.”

Silver Sparrow Designs

By Malia Durbano

Kristi Smith took a windy road to owning her own business and creating beautiful jewelry. As a young girl, she enjoyed drawing, painting and all expressive, creative endeavors. Upon discovering beading, she began to make jewelry for everyone she knew. In a high school she took a silver-smithing class at the local community college and knew she had found her true love.

Learning that the equipment to get started was very costly, she took the conventional route and got a practical teaching degree. After four years of teaching, she had a baby and wanted to stay home with her. Miraculously, neighbors and friends and former silver-smiths gifted her with tools and a torch and so her business began. “I decided to call my business Silver Sparrow Designs because of my love of birds, sparrows in particular because they are simple and hardy, not flashy, like my jewelry.

But, shares Kristi, “I’m an artist, not a business person. Joe Keck helped me with all the details of running a business, acquiring the licenses, permits, learning about taxes and the difference between being a sole proprietor and an LLC,etc. He pointed me in the direction of lots of resources and helped me write the business plan.”

The business plan was nothing really formal, but it set me in the right direction and got me started. I took baby steps, and very slowly as I began to sell jewelry, I could buy more of what I needed.”

The most valuable information Smith received from the advice and the classes was, “Just that this was possible! I could start my own business. It wasn’t just some unobtainable dream.” Her etsy business took off right away so she didn’t have to get too involved in learning about the marketing aspect of running a business.

“Owning my own business is the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. The fact that everything falls on me is both a blessing and a curse. If something goes wrong, I’m the one to answer for it and when things go right, as they usually do, I know it’s because of my hard work.”

Fast Signs

By Christine Rasmussen

When Durango-based Fast Signs owner Laurie Sigillito asked SBDC Director Joe Keck if he could spare an hour to offer feedback on an upcoming sales presentation, Keck had a better idea: Why not have a panel of advisors from the Business Advisors Network listen to her pitch?

The Business Advisors Network (BAN) is comprised of 25 business counselors with wide and varied areas of expertise. Clients can meet individually with an advisor or request a panel of advisors to listen to pitches or presentations. Services are available in Pagosa Springs and Cortez in addition to Durango.

In June 2010 Sigillito presented to a panel of six business advisors her pitch for selling a digital signage/advertising package to the Durango-La Plata Airport.

“I cannot tell you how useful this was,” says Sigillito. “Number one, it was great exposure, and number two, it gave me a chance to really practice in front of a group of people. They were truly helpful: they went through all of my numbers and offered ideas for how I should restructure it. I would ask, ‘Do you think I should say this?’ and they would say, ‘Yes, definitely bring that up.’”

After the initial meeting with the BAN panel, Sigillito sent revisions and received a quick response from the group on how the presentation looked. She then went into the meeting with the Durango-La Plata Airport Commission with confidence in her polished presentation. A month later, the Commission awarded the contract to Fast Signs, and recently, Telluride Airport approached Fast Signs about installing a digital signage network. Next in the pipeline is a possible contract with the St. George, Utah airport.

The digital signage realm is opening new doors for Sigillito’s business and has other Fast Signs in the country calling her, asking how they can get into their local airports. The Durango-La Plata project won “Project of the Year” at the Fast Signs Franchise Conference. There are over 500 Fast Signs Centers in North America, with some Europe and Australia, all independently owned.

“It’s great because now we have a way to get revenue into Durango from outside of Durango,” says Sigillito. “And I think I’ve figured out a way to compete against [their biggest competitor].”

The Durango Airport Project was the catalyst to a Fast Signs’ niche, and the BAN panel’s feedback on Sigillito’s presentation helped get the ball rolling.

“The advisors knew Durango: when I talked about our pitch they’d say, ‘This is good – we need to show you are keeping the dollars here,’ and ‘We need to advertise Durango differently.’ They were excited about the opportunity. So they helped me simplify it quite a bit, and when I did my presentation to the Commission they did not have one question.

“I don’t think I could have gotten that kind of feedback from anybody else,” she adds. “It’s really awesome that we have that resource here, and it’s free.”

The BAN presentation was not the first time Sigillito used the resources at the SBDC. It started with a “Marketing for Smarties” class before she had any intention of opening her own business; Sigillito saw it as a good way to network among marketing circles as well. Then she found out about the Next Level Entrepreneurial Training classes through the SBDC monthly newsletter.

Through the Next Level Training Sigillito learned about the financing resources available through Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, which helped secure the initial funding for Fast Signs in late 2008/early 2009 when she could not obtain financing through local banks.

Sigillito used the Next Level class to stay focused while drafting her business plan for Fast Signs. “You systematically go through each chapter, for example, you learn all the different ways to know your competition,” she recalls. “Everything I was learning in class I could immediately apply to my business plan. The class helped me be more thorough than I would’ve been, and just having the teachers there to bounce ideas off of was really beneficial.”

The business plan was thorough and then some, because Sigillito went on to win “Best Business Plan” among the state’s 14 SBDC’s and was honored at a ceremony in Denver.

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.”