Month: February 2019

Ku Cha House of Tea

Originally from China, husband and wife entrepreneurial team, Qin Liu and Rong Pan graduated from the Leeds School of Business at Colorado University with the dream of starting their own company. The original business idea was from Qin’s Business Plan Preparation class while enrolled in CU. In 2005, they launched their business, drawing upon the 5000-year-old tradition of drinking tea.

In 2007, Qin and Rong changed the company’s original name from “The Leaf – All Things Tea” to its now widely-recognized, “Ku Cha House of Tea,” which translates to “Bitter Tea” in Chinese. Since its inception, Ku Cha has grown tremendously, now with two brick and mortar locations, one in Fort Collins, and their flagship located on the iconic Pearl Street Mall. In just over a decade, with the help of a nominal SBA loan of $2,000, Ku Cha House of tea has grown from 3 employees and one location to 23 employees who support a large warehouse and two retail shops.

Ku Cha House of Tea has certainly seen steady growth, but as with most entrepreneurial endeavors, this success has not come without challenges. Shortly after the company formation, Qin and Rong discovered the myriad of business factors for which they were now responsible. Like most founders, they wanted to see their business succeed, and in order to do that, they needed to understand inventory management, sales analysis, marketing strategy and tactics, accounting and finance, real estate, and much more. Lead SBDC Consultant, Chuck Hunker once told them, “As a small business owner, we have to be good at so many things!” He was certainly right, but as Rong and Qin have discovered, there are people and organizations like Boulder SBDC who are there to help.

Boulder SBDC has continued to help Ku Cha House of tea refine their business and their brand. As Ku Cha now embarks on their next phase of growth, SBDC consultants are waiting in the wings to assist. Ku Cha’s three main goals for 2018 are: 1) Design and implement a franchise model 2) Promote tea education throughout the community and 3) Strengthen the Ku Cha House of tea brand.

When asked what has been the biggest takeaway from their work with the SBDC, Qin said, “Ms. Sharon King has been a tremendous source of help to Ku Cha’s growth. She has connected us with quite a few very good consultants who assisted with various aspects of business operations. She is an affectionate Ku Cha advocate.”

Rong went on to share, “As a business owner and influential leader, [Sharon King] has been very inspiring to me.”

Even in the midst of expansion, Qin and Rong remain connected to the mission of their business: to bring high quality, flavorful tea to their community. In doing so, they also impart to their customers a long-standing tradition of enjoying a beverage that is not only medicinal but also builds experiences among friends and family.

InDevR

InDevR is a small, privately held biotechnology company in Boulder, CO. Founded in 2003, by Dr. Kathy Rowlen, Dr. John Birks and Dr. Laura Kuck, InDevR employs a highly motivated team of individuals dedicated to the development and commercialization of innovative technologies that will help fill gaps in the current paradigm for virus-related diagnostics.

InDevR develops advanced life science instrumentation and assays for analysis of viruses and other microorganisms. Their goal is to revolutionize microbiological analysis with affordable, easy-to-use instrumentation and assays that deliver reliable results in less time than traditional methods. InDevR’s products empower scientists with new tools to aid in their quest to extend our knowledge of viruses. Designed for application in fields ranging from vaccine research and development to the surveillance of pathogens, InDevR’s products streamline microbiological analysis.

InDevR was first introduced to the Boulder SBDC when they attended the “scaling UP” programs. These are a series of panels and workshops that the Boulder SBDC specifically developed (by Specialist Michael Minard, with support from Director Sharon King) for bioscience, aerospace, IT and cleantech companies. The “scaling UP” programs were funded in 2009 by a WIRED grant (Workforce Innovation in Regional Development,) through the Denver Metro EDC. After attending the workshops, InDevR tapped into the Boulder SBDC’s Individual Business Training program, an accelerated consulting program for science & technology businesses, also funded by the WIRED grant.
“At the time InDevR first attended the SBDC programs, we had no plans for how to do sales and marketing. We are a science company, focused on making the technology sound and reliable, without any plans for commercialization,” said Kathy.

Boulder SBDC specialist consultants Michael Minard, Jill Kenney and Sue Leenerman led the InDevR team through intensive strategic planning sessions at the SBDC, with ongoing follow up. According to Kathy, “We now have in place an excellent direct sales marketing strategy and much of the foundation came from consulting assistance from the Boulder SBDC.”

Icebox Knitting

Icebox Knitting is an outdoor lifestyle manufacturing company based out of Longmont. Icebox emerged from its parent company, Alpine knitting in 1993. Initially located on Seventh and Walnut street in Boulder, Icebox has been around for over two decades.

Icebox Knitting has two core brand lines, Dohm and Xob. Dohm is a traditional yet vibrant textile brand, made from yarn imported from Italy. Xob’s line is sustainably created from upcycled materials. Initially, to create Xob’s products, the Icebox team repurposed old wool sweaters from thrift shops. As the company grew, however, they needed more material than just what they could find in small local stores. Now the Xob brand sources its thrift material from Texas, where Icebox’s partner factory separates the old items by color and content. Once the upcycled material is shipped to Colorado, its spun into the sustainable products they currently sell.

Scott Baker, the CEO of Icebox has worked with the SBDC in order to enhance his business. According to Scott, “I came onboard with the company ten years ago, and as soon as I did we secured an SBA loan. With the SBDC, we did monthly seminars and got advice on what we should and should not be doing. We’ve had a real nice relationship with the SBDC for the past three years and got some really helpful advice.”

Scott continued, “The SBDC has generated the best results we’ve had in doing this outreach for business counseling. Compared to the various organizations who have given us counseling the SBDC has really stood out in regard to its resources and consulting.”

Scott and his team have been utilizing the Boulder SBDC’s resources since 2012, but with more frequency in the past two years. Although Icebox certainly is not a new business, times and the market are ever changing. Recently, the SBDC has worked to see what direction Scott wants to take his business. According to Scott, “We’ve been talking about our new marketing strategy and how we can deliver our end product directly to the consumer. It has been difficult to service the retail buyer with all the new competition in the textile industry. Being a small brand, it is hard to get marketing dollars to generate a big presence, especially with the increasing number of firms.

Despite the tough competition, we at the Boulder SBDC think that Icebox has great potential for growth, particularly in regards to the development of their e-commerce platform. Scott is in concurrence and explained, “We’re looking at an e-commerce platform, and how we can deliver our product directly to the end consumer at the best rate. Our current model is wholesale, so evolving from business to business to business to consumer, and brining individual orders to customers could be a great way to generate revenue.

Like all small businesses, the development of industry and changes in demand will lead to unexpected challenges. It is important to adapt to the ever-changing times, and to keep a pliable mind when looking at your businesses future. Scott and Icebox Knitting are doing just that, and we at the Boulder SBDC are excited to see what direction they take. We are happy and proud to support a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable small business, and wish Scott and his team the absolute best.

Happy Trunk

Who doesn’t like getting fun mail? The Happy Trunk is an ecommerce, subscription based company that delivers monthly “Smiles In A Box for Kids”. Vinnie Bhushan, owner, architect, and interior designer by trade, got her first inspiration for The Happy Trunk from her children. When they were in elementary school, she decided to volunteer as an Odyssey of the Mind Coach. “As an Odyssey of the Mind Coach at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont, CO, I got a first hand view of what open ended activities, questions, and projects can produce in kids,” explains Vinnie. That is what got her thinking about a home delivered, craft/project box targeted at kids ages 3-11yr.

Vinnie launched The Happy Trunk in August 2012, with the intent of inspiring creativity and curiosity in children. She offered busy parents a packaged convenient solution. Vinnie hired a professional PR firm to help her promote the website and timed the promotion effort with the approaching Christmas season. Her subscription model gave her the ability to cash flow her inventory and the orders began building rapidly. To help her keep her ideas fresh, she assembled a team of informal consultants (teachers, a child psychologist and some moms) to help her brain storm ideas for themes and open ended gender neutral crafts and projects. Her crafts and projects are all taken for a test drive by a group of kids to ensure they are box worthy. By enabling customers to provide feedback on her website, she has received valuable customer insights that have helped her continue to refine box themes and content over time. Her revenues tripled in 2013, and she is anticipating solid growth in 2014. She now employs two part time moms to assemble her “trunks” which are shipped across the US. Recently she added on online store to sell individual craft boxes for birthday party favors or “rainy day” fun.

Vinnie sees the Boulder County SBDC in partnership with the Longmont Economic Gardening Program (LEGI) as being instrumental in her success. She met with SBDC consultants early on and after her launch, she enrolled in the Leading Edge Class. Vinnie says that, “The Leading Edge class gave me a good perspective on my business and business financing. The Leading Edge consultants helped me with financing, forecasting, pricing and accounting. I discovered the amazing breadth of consultants that the Boulder County SBDC has to offer and was able to network with other businesses.” Through the LEGI program, Vinnie received market data and analysis that helped her with forecasting and developing her market strategies. She also took advantage of almost all of the LEGI sponsored SBDC classes from “Start Up Essentials” and “Social Media Marketing” to QuickBooks classes.

“I am so grateful for all the help that I received through the SBDC and the LEGI program that I want to find ways to give back,” says Ms. Bhushan. Vinnie has a lot of business wisdom to share, so look forward to hearing more from her on a future SBDC -facilitated panel. We celebrate with Vinnie that to date, The Happy Trunk has been featured on both The Today Show and Good Morning America and we all look forward to more great things to come for The Happy Trunk!

Grasshaven Outdoor

The media has called her the “Martha Stewart of Camping” and it is a title she proudly wears. Dawn Bitz, founder and majority owner of Grasshaven Outdoor is in business to bring sophistication, style and comfort into our time outdoors through stylish outdoor camping equipment, unique RV housewares and general outdoor fun products. Grasshaven Outdoor also strives to deliver a wealth of great ideas and outdoor recipes. Dawn got her inspiration when, as a busy corporate executive, she set out on a weekend family camping trip and found that she could not find the gear she needed for a family friendly adventure all in one spot. “There I was, situated in the middle of camping mecca, and what I realized was that REI has gear for the super technical (you want to climb in Nepal then REI is your spot), Cabela’s and Bass ProShops had gear for the avid sportsman (and were a little too ‘Duck Dynasty’ for me) and the other sporting goods stores, along with Walmart, had limited selections,” says Bitz. “I figured there had to be more people like me struggling to find outdoor gear with a little style and functionality.” This opened her eyes to $30B US camping and RV housewares marketspace and a growing $220B RV industry marketplace. In 2012, she quit her executive corporate job and less than a year later Grasshaven Outdoor was born.

“The very first thing I did was come to the SBDC for resources to build my ecommerce site. I got great advice and help. Not only did I get my SEO and website questions answered but I ended up hiring an SBDC consultant to build my website and ecommerce platform,” says Dawn. “I also attended the day long Colorado Emerging Ventures event and was able to network with a lot of other people who were in the same stage and place with their business. It was very motivating and helped push me forward,” says Dawn.

For the first six months, she focused on doing extensive industry and market research across the country to understand her target market, the importance of brand to her target, tested company names and different market strategies. She developed her business plan, hired help, and on January 9, 2013, www.grasshavenoutdoor.com was officially launched. The company’s commercial debut was at the Denver Colorado RV and Camping show. “Grasshaven Outdoor was the only company at the show, (and in the nation) that focused on stylish RV housewares and we were inundated,” Dawn recounts. With her e-commerce and information website launched, they continued to attend and participate in other RV and Camping shows across the country testing their concept and they listened intently to their customers. The company network of suppliers, inventory and revenues grew. “I knew I was on to something when 10 weeks post commercial launch, I had the first acquisition offer,” says Bitz. “That just spurred me forward.”

By May 2013, Grasshaven Outdoor had been featured in several national publications including Sunset magazine and the first alliance opportunity with RVC Outdoor Resorts presented itself. Grasshaven Outdoor opened a retail outlet in the RVC Garden of the Gods campground in Colorado Springs. By the end of their first year in business they were collaborating with Winnebago outfitting campers for the big trade shows and helping Transwest with their big grand opening. Grasshaven Outdoor received endorsement by Grand Designs RV, developed an affiliate marketing program with AmeriGO RV, made over 25 appearances on TV programs around the country. They opened a retail store in Gunbarrel, CO, and began selling product through a network of RV and camper dealers in Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma with on-site retail kiosks and camping ready kits. They increased their revenues by 120% over 2013.

Dawn’s advice for other business owners is to not dwell on mistakes, failures or money wasted on some marketing investment that didn’t pan out. “You are going to make a mistake or fail in some area and that is a lesson learned. You need to just move on. You will hit those dips but you will be better on the other side.” She advises fellow business owners to be flexible and agile. “We planted a lot of seeds in the beginning, watched them and reacted quickly to those that grew,” Dawn says. “We went for a strictly ecommerce play but now that is now a lessor, though very important side of our businesses plan.” When asked where she sees the company in five years she replied, “We want to continue to make the customer experience #1, to make Grasshaven Outdoor a company that is a great place to work and to give back. We’ve committed a share of our profits to getting kids unplugged and into the outdoors.” Grasshaven Outdoor will no doubt do this “in great style!”

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