By Lura Roti for SDSU Extension iGrow.
Ruth Leines wanted to open her own business. At first the Wagner resident thought it would be a Christian bookstore and coffeeshop. But, a few weeks into SDSU Extension’s Small Business Basics she realized this idea may not succeed. So, she did some research and 18 months ago launched This That & More.
Home to several vendors and the community’s only flower shop, This That & More provides shoppers with everything from antiques, gifts and memorial items to locally built furniture, jewelry, upcycled and handmade items and home decor – most of which is on consignment from 10 local vendors. And, Leines and another vendor offer community classes where participants can pay a fee and with instruction from an expert, create with friends and neighbors.
“It’s not what I dreamed of, but I love my store. I absolutely love it,” Leines says. “God definitely had a plan. Such a plan.”
Along with her faith, Leines credits the advice, resources and guidance she received from Small Business Basics, her banker and others with This That & More’s success.
“First of all, the instructors and my classmates lifted me up. They didn’t knock my vision. And, they provided me with the information I needed, like help putting together a business plan and figuring out finances,” Leines explains.
Small Business Basics is a series of workshops designed to help entrepreneurs of all stages – just starting out, like Leines, or those who have been in business for decades.
“These workshops are customizable, content depends on what the community’s needs are,” explains Peggy Schlechter, SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist and Small Business Basics facilitator. “The workshops are designed to provide opportunities for current and potential business owners to complete or update business plans and connect them to valuable resources that will give their businesses a boost.”
A boost was just what Wagner’s Main Street business community needed when Kelsey Doom asked SDSU Extension to bring Small Business Basics to the rural community in 2016. “When I started in this job, there were a dozen buildings on Main Street vacant or for sale. Today, there are only three left,” explains Doom, who is Director of Economic Development and Executive Director for Wagner Chamber of Commerce.
Focusing resources locally, Doom says is the most effective economic development plan for Wagner. “It is rare to bring a business to town, so I knew that we should work on building and growing our own businesses,” Doom says. “Small Business Basics helped get citizens over the hump and understand enough so they felt comfortable to take that leap.”
When Leines was looking for a Main Street building to house her business, she ended up buying a building along with some inventory from a Wagner business owner ready to retire. Today, she rents a portion of her building to another local business, iFix Devices Repair.
Business opportunities created when owners reach retirement age are not uncommon, Schlechter explains. “When businesses close in rural communities, it is not always because they are failing, but because the owner is ready to retire and does not have anyone interested in taking over the business for them.”
This is one of many facts she shares with Small Business Basics classes. “I have met people who say, “I want to be a business owner, but I don’t know how to go about it.” Then, there are individuals who go through the classes and decide they do not want to own their own business after all. It is much better to figure this out ahead of time,’” Schlechter explains.
Due to the rural nature of many South Dakota towns, Small Business Basics connects participants to experts who may not be found within their own community. “I’m not the presenter, I’m the facilitator. We bring the experts to the class to present and answer questions. Participants say they appreciate the face-to-face interaction and ability to connect with experts who can answer their questions,” Schlechter says.
Connecting to resources is the reason Jason Mook enrolled in Small Business Basics after owning his own business for more than a decade. The owner of Deadwood Custom Cycles was in the midst of making some big changes to his business model, and he thought he could use some advice.
“You can’t ever sit back and think you know everything. The class surpassed my expectations. It blew me away, all the things that I didn’t know,” Mook says.
In Mook’s case, things like employee paperwork and social media. “Before, I worked with subcontractors. Now, I was hiring employees. This class was everything under one roof. Instead of talking about sales tax or labor for just a few minutes and sending us home to do our own research, the class brought in someone from the Department of Revenue to visit with us - they brought in someone to discuss how sales tax works,” Mook says.
When Mook took the class, he was in a partnership. The business was located in Spearfish. But his heart was in Deadwood. “I remember seeing the little town of Deadwood for the first time and falling in love with it. I love it so much that I got the Dead Man’s Hand tattooed on my arm.”
Shortly after he graduated from Small Business Basics, Mook became a sole proprietor and moved into a historic 1915 brick building in Deadwood. Along with customizing Harley motorcycles for enthusiasts across the nation, Mook’s business has a repair shop and “the world’s longest high-top bar.”
“It’s a place where locals and visitors can get their bikes fixed and sit and visit about bikes,” Mook explains. “The way I look at it, I also have a responsibility to South Dakota tourism. There is nothing worse than if you are a motorcycle guy and you save up for months to come to ride the Black Hills and when you get here, something goes wrong.”
Because Small Business Basics attracts a diverse group of participants, Schlechter says participants also gain a lot from networking with each other. And, because of the established confidentiality of what is discussed among participants during the course, Small Business Basics is a safe environment where entrepreneurs can air their ideas, share frustrations and ask for advice and solutions.
“The culture of Wagner has changed. It’s not Small Business Basics solely. It’s an effort made by our entire community to become more entrepreneurial and support local business,” Doom explains. “Small Business Basics is another way for Wagner to say, “if you have an idea, you can do it here. Let us help you. We are a can-do community.’”
To bring Small Business Basics to your community, contact Peggy Schlechter, SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist and Small Business Basics facilitator by email.