Success Stories

Rain Boutique

Opening Rain Boutique, a shop featuring refreshingly wearable clothing with a sprinkling of unique gifts and housewares, took a lot of guidance. That was when Kristin Mouton turned to the Larimer County Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for practical advice.

“My counselor at SBDC really kept me going and gave me a lot of reassurance, even after I had been turned down by two banks for a business loan,” said Mouton.

Mouton started with an idea and a name – Rain Boutique – first visualized while enjoying a summer shower. When a few of her favorite shops in Old Town Fort Collins closed, she started traveling to Flatiron Crossing in Broomfield to shop at stores that suited her style. While speaking to shop owners at the mall, Mouton learned that close to 40 percent of patrons at Flatiron Crossing were also traveling from northern Colorado for the same reasons.

Mouton took several classes at the SBDC, including Know Thy Numbers: Basic Bookkeeping; So You Want to Start a Business; I Need Financing, What Now?; and Credit Card Processing. Then she started working with Andrea Grant, her counselor, to build her business plan, find a location, secure financing and procure inventory.

Mouton came back from her first buyers’ fair so excited about the merchandise she saw but a little overwhelmed as well – there were 3,500 different brands and suppliers with many products not available in Fort Collins. Within a few days of returning from New York, Mouton received loan approval. She was on her way to achieving her dreams.

“Once I found the right space, I started working on store layouts, finalizing inventory and renovating the space,” said Mouton. “I found going to buy apparel complete madness, especially when I had to stick to a budget, but it was so much fun to finally see it all come together.”

Overall, Mouton says that having a great support system – through friends, family and the SBDC – really made a big difference.

Branch Out Cider

The idea for Branch Out Cider, a community orchard that produces apple wine from neighborhood trees, began with one special apple tree. When Aaron Fodge and Matt Fater sat down to discuss their business and share their story, they were quick to point out the lush, flowering apple tree in their neighborhood that started it all. “The tree was loaded, so we made cider with it!” That was the first year. The next year they bought a press and collected apples from around the neighborhood. Their first batch made more cider than they could use, and neighbors started coming by. “We made a party out of it.” Then they noticed how many trees there were and that no one was doing anything with the apples.

After four years of making cider, last summer they decided to take a sample of how many local apple trees there are and devise a plan to bring them into use. “We wanted to do something with the forgotten apple trees.” They fine tuned their cider process and began to make apple wine. During this time, they also began to write a business plan and enlisted the help of the SBDC. “We needed validation that this will work. Tree owners are actually customers. We want to create a community orchard where people’s trees contribute to the orchard.”

Matt and Aaron worked on the business plan over the summer and used GIS to map local apple trees. In November 2011 they submitted an abstract to the Monfort College of Business’ Third Annual Entrepreneurial Challenge. They presented their business idea, developed a sales pitch, and submitted their business plan. “In that month of preparation, we met with Arnie Culver with the SBDC. Arnie critiqued the plan and gave us very valuable ideas to put into the plan.” A one-hour consult turned into an hour and forty minutes of brainstorming ideas, mostly focused on secondary services. “Arnie stuck around well past that hour. He gave us 4-5 solid ideas that we have since added into the business plan. He was a straight shooter and we knew that he would tell us if this wouldn’t work.” On March 8, 2012 Matt and Aaron competed in the Challenge against four other companies and won 2nd prize and $10,000 startup capital for Branch Out Cider. The SBDC will be reviewing their plan again, and Matt and Aaron plan to continue to work with the SBDC.

Matt and Aaron share the ethic of not wanting to see things go to waste. One of their goals is to use an urban environment to promote sustainable agriculture. Branch Out Cider’s passion for bringing the community together to create a fresh, local product is clear in the enthusiasm with which Matt and Aaron share their story. “It was fun to bring a new idea to the neighborhood and see how excited people got.”
They will be signing up trees this fall, with the first batch available next spring 2013. If you have an apple tree with some extra fruit and a story to tell, Branch Out Cider is the place for you!

The Magic Bus Tours

Fort Collins has an amazing amount of things to see and do. No business, however, had offered a service as fun and forward thinking as Magic Bus Tours to create a unique and educational experience around the local activities.

“When I first started visiting Fort Collins, I loved learning about the local history, lifestyles and culture, but I couldn’t find another bus-tour service in town,” said Michael Murphy, founder and visionary behind Magic Bus Tours. “After moving to Fort Collins in 2011, my goal was to create a multimedia tour company to bring the tour to life while educating people about Fort Collins.”

His vision became a tour company with a 21-seat tour bus painted with whimsical artwork that exemplifies the culture, history, landmarks and environment of Fort Collins. Each tour features multimedia with audio, photos and video to bring a multidimensional perspective to the journey. Currently Magic Bus Tours offers a Fort Collins History Tour with a craft brew tour being added in May, a farm-to-table tour in June, and a ghost bus tour scheduled to start in September.

Murphy started the process to establish the business in May 2012, but knew it would be a big project and wanted to start it right. He turned to the Larimer County Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Fort Collins for guidance and discovered a whole lot more.

“The SBDC was an incredible resource and gave me an incredible head start,” said Murphy. “They provided education in accounting, marketing and human resources to help me get past the learning curve and start my business off on the right foot.”

In addition to education, the SBDC also provided Murphy with assistance in choosing the best form of legal entity, how to collect sales revenue, and how to successfully yet cost effectively promote the business.

“I was grateful the SBDC could provide people in the know to improve my success because there were surprising hurdles along the way, such as overcoming regulatory requirements,” said Murphy.

Overall Murphy enjoys knowing that he wakes up each day doing something he loves and making his dream a reality.

“Although it took an insane amount of time to get the ball rolling, it feels good to see this living thing take shape,” said Murphy.

As Magic Bus Tours grows, the business will continue to be local and promote local. Long-term plans for the company include creating field trips for the Poudre School District and establishing a Fort Collins Story Project, a library of local oral history designed to capture stories about Northern Colorado that have shaped people’s lives.

“My advice to others who want to start their own business is to do your homework and connect with the SBDC office,” said Murphy. “They help establish a strong foundation for your business to help ensure it will succeed.”

Magic Bus Tours offers excursions year round with the greatest number of tours offered during the summer months. Many of the tours depart from the Sports Authority parking lot on College Avenue. Private tours can also be arranged by contacting Magic Bus Tours. For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit www.themagicbustours.com.

Rodeo News

Siri Steven has a passion for life, a desire to educate, and a work ethic and determination that have made Rodeo News the successful, nationally recognized magazine it is today. “This is the culmination of all of the things I have learned in 40 years.” Good friends, life circumstances, and hard work brought Rodeo News into her life, and she has devoted herself to its success completely.

After getting her start working on the publication Fence Post, Siri moved onto Roping Newsletter in 2001. She bought the magazine that would become Rodeo News in 2002. “I had a vision of what I wanted but no idea how to get it. I lacked the business sense.” Siri turned to the SBDC for help. “I got into this from the journalism side and went to the publishing side. I needed help with the financial and business sides.” Larimer SBDC consultants helped Siri get her business plan in place, register with the State, and get the name trademarked. With the support of the SBDC, she has brought Rodeo News from a monthly publication to a national, color, glossy magazine in 10 years. “When I first started, I had a cot in my office. You have to be ready to breathe it. Be ready for the buck to start and stop with you.”

Siri has had a successful relationship with the SBDC and continues to use the support offered by staff and consultants. “There was a period of time when I was about to go under. Jim at SBDC helped me through it.” Rodeo News fills a niche; it is human interest stories cover to cover. However, the print industry is fading, and reinventing ways to encourage people with alternatives to print is challenging. The SBDC’s Leading Edge – NxLeveL class has provided Siri with the support and structure to get her ideas down on paper and re-write her business plan. With support from the SBDC in research and marketing, she is ready to take Rodeo News to the next level.

Cydney Springer Fine Art

Artist Brushes Up on Business, Social Media Skills

After 25 years in northern Colorado as a graphic artist, copywriter, and greeting card designer, Cydney Springer put down the computer mouse and took up an artist’s paintbrush. With two years of study under other artists and a lifetime of interest in painting, she set out to capture the beauty and awe of Colorado landscapes.

She works with oil paint in an Estes Park studio with windows that frame Longs Peak. It’s no wonder landscapes and nature are her forte.

Exhibitions throughout United States

Over the past 10 years, she has exhibited throughout the United States, from the American Artist Professional League Annual Show in 2006 in New York City; Nomadas del Arte exhibitions in Santa Fe, N.M., and Dallas, Texas, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art in Alabama, and seven times an artist featured in the Governor’s Invitational Show in Loveland, Colo.

Several galleries represent her work: Aspen and Evergreen Gallery in Estes Park, Elk Horn Gallery in Winter Park, Mary Williams Fine Arts in Boulder, Rich Timmons Studio and Gallery in Doylestown, Pa. And the newly opened Cydney Springer Gallery at the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.

The business side of art

Artists are entrepreneurs, of course. They are their own business. Like many artists, Cydney reached the point where she asked this question: How do I market myself?

She came to the Small Business Development Center and signed up for a course called Leading Edge for Entrepreneurs. It’s a 12-week business class. The Larimer County SBDC offered the class in Estes Park.

“The SBDC entrepreneur program is multifaceted,” Cydney says. “I learned quite a lot.”

Top-notch consultants for top-notch advice

SBDC puts clients in contact with expert consultants. Cydney worked with Nelia Harper, an entrepreneur and strategist with more than 10 years of small-business ownership, sales, marketing, and business development experience. She also worked with Adam Shake, owner of Neanderthal Productions Social Media Consulting in Estes Park, and Tony Bielat, owner of Estes Park Marketing and a certified Project Management Professional.

“We went over what I had been doing and what I can do with different products,” Cydney said. She is expanding her offerings with prints, and her card line has been successful, too. Her website is set up for sales.

And now her new venture, the Cydney Springer Gallery at the Stanley. About 75 people attended the recent opening. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

As if her painting and the new gallery aren’t enough, Cydney is organizing the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters to spend a week in Rocky Mountain National Park Sept. 17-28 as part of the park’s 100th anniversary. The gala opening is Sept. 25 at the Fall River Visitors Center. The French in the name of the association says what the artists do – they paint outdoors – in the “plein air.” So instead of being in her studio looking at the mountains, Cydney will be out in nature, her inspiration.