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Larimer SBDC Success Story - From Surviving to Thriving

Friday, May 15, 2015
Story and Photos by: Kat Rico

Some entrepreneurs wear the label of ‘serial entrepreneur’ proudly, and Diane Muno is no exception. She spent 15 years in healthcare management as part owner of a Chicago business that was successfully sold. She began looking for a business to buy when she found The Spruce House in Estes Park. “It had a cozy feel, like Grandma’s house, along with good financials.” In 2010, she celebrated the grand opening of The Spruce House and The Christmas Shoppe.

After she took ownership of these two businesses, she discovered a fellow business owner wanted to sell her retail shop, The Bean Blossom, which Diane jumped at the chance to buy and convert her vision for The White Orchid. She had a bridal store concept simmering and decided the brand provided her the perfect opportunity to expand. In 2012, The White Orchid Bridal was opened. 

This was about the time Diane had her first brush with disaster. In June of 2012, the area surrounding Estes Park was plagued by wildfires. She recalled taking delivery of inventory as the fire helicopters flew overhead, but her businesses survived. 

Diane wasn’t done with disasters yet though; in September of 2013 Estes Park was hit with flooding not seen for well over 100 years. “The flood almost bankrupted us,” Diane said, “but while I was busy worrying about how to meet payroll, my staff were dealing with not having a place to live. Seasonal employees just packed up early, but longtime residents were forced out of their homes and really struggled because there were no rentals available.” One of Diane’s businesses closed for 75 days and another for 10 days, but the impact of loss of tourism lasted longer.

Facing the difficult decision of whether to continue the businesses, Diane applied for an SBA Disaster Loan. “When I got the check, I cried. I was glad that I could continue my businesses, but afraid to take on more debt.” Through this assistance and United Way grants, her businesses were able to continue, but the tourism-based economy didn’t bounce back quickly. She continued working with the Larimer SBDC to apply for the Recover Colorado Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), which she was awarded in early 2015. “The SBDC outreach and assistance helping us get organized for the application process was crucial.”

Diane worked with the landlord of the White Orchid Bridal property when she saw businesses to the left and right of her store closing. After proposing another business venture, a wall was brought down to expand the shop for Diane’s latest brainchild: a shop with trendier items called Liz & Jo’s. The grant money allowed her to finance the expansion, purchase inventory, advertising, a website upgrade for all her shops and even shoot a commercial.

When asked about the most exciting part of owning multiple businesses Diane says, “It’s about seeing them thrive versus just surviving. Consumerism has changed; the way people has vacation has changed. The silver lining of the flood is that it forced us as a community to deal with changing competitive tourism.”

To help with ongoing economic recovery and planning, Diane contributes to several boards. The town has received an EDA grant for economic development she hopes will move the economy from seasonal to a more sustainable year-round economy. Diane is proud to help move the community forward, both as a business owner and an active individual. “Our contributions will pay off in the future.”

More information about Diane's businesses can be found online at: 
     Liz & Jo's

Hear more about Diane's story:

Fernweh Inn & Hostel

Monday, March 02, 2015


Fernweh Inn & Hostel

Owner: Kelsey Schwager

Story written by: Kat Rico
Photography by: Lifestorm Creative Media

Walking up to the Fernweh Inn & Hostel, you pass through a white picket fence into a well-kept yard with a random dog toy or two scattered about. The Fernweh immediately feels like home, which is exactly what owner and founder Kelsey Schwager envisioned. “My goal is to give guests an amazing experience so they’ll continue to stay at other hostels while traveling.  The Fernweh provides a safe, clean and comfortable environment, which is what every traveler deserves.”

Since Kelsey was 19, she’s spent as much time as she can traveling around the states and abroad, staying primarily in hostels. When she speaks about her experiences traveling, her passion is evident. She firmly believes hostels are a wonderful alternative for budget conscious travelers, but there are misconceptions about what hostels are in the United States. This sparked her dream of opening her own hostel. She pursued degrees in business, recreation and tourism, and earned an internship at a hostel in Gunnison, Colorado. Her three month internship turned in to three years of employment, as she learned the ins and outs of managing a hostel. “I knew I wanted to pull people together for a diverse social experience in a constantly changing environment.”

A combination of opportunity and hard work allowed her to purchase the Sheldon House, a designated historic landmark, with an ideal location in Old Town Fort Collins. In July 2014 she moved in, and with the help of friends and family, began the process of converting the old bed and breakfast to Fort Collins’ first hostel. Her biggest challenge before opening in October 2014 was city zoning regulations, but with persistence she received the approval she needed to realize her dream.

After she began accepting guests, Kelsey made her way to the Larimer SBDC. “When I went in, I wasn’t even sure I was a ‘real’ business yet. They’ve given me a lot of confidence and their excitement for me is inspiring.”  Through meetings with several SBDC consultants, she received assistance with accounting, marketing and background activities guests don’t see. “Sure, my guests see me cleaning and answering emails, but that’s only about 10% of what it actually takes. All the background stuff, the other 90%, is huge.”

Currently, her hostel provides amenities such as bikes for guests, full use of the kitchen, a common area complete with board games, movies, books, a piano and fireplace, and even a costume closet. “Since I have been open, I’ve surprised myself and created the space to draw exactly the crowd I wanted. It is inspiring me to dream even bigger and think of new ideas.” Showing off the outdoor space behind the hostel, she talks about the future of a food garden, hammocks and a fire pit for summer relaxation.

“I’ve spent years gaining experience in the field, and working with the SBDC this year has been crucial to my success.  The assistance and affirmations I’ve received there makes me think, ‘As a small business, who wouldn’t want this help?’”

Babette's Feast Catering & Bakery

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Written by John Feeley, Photos Courtesy Bob Wonch, LifeStorm Creative Media



“I needed help. We wanted professional advice. We were starting to grow.”
Rudy Burns,
Co-owner, Babette’s Feast Catering and Bakery
Client, Small Business Development Center
Pictured with wife and co-owner Angi Burns

What’s a CPA working as a health-care administrator to do for a second career? Follow his passion. What’s a nurse practitioner to do in her off hours? Dream up cake creations.

Rudy Burns’s passion is to feed people, and his wife, Angi, has a creative side. While living in Arkansas, Rudy attended the Arkansas Culinary School in Little Rock. They consulted with a Small Business Development Center, where they were counseled to stay away from opening a restaurant. But catering – there was the opportunity to follow his passion.

Moving to Fort Collins to follow their dream, they settled on buying an existing business – Babette’s Feast Catering and Bakery. (Yes, it’s named after the movie.)

Three years into the business, they focus on the bakery – meaning custom cakes; catering – weddings and lunches; and wholesale baking – supplying hotels and independent coffee and tea shops with quiches, croissants, sweet breads, and carrot cake and other desserts.
A year after taking over the business, they realized Rudy needed some more advice. As a CPA, he had the finance side of the business down pat. And the cakes, with Angi’s assistance, were hitting a creative sweet spot.

“We needed help,” Rudy says. “We wanted professional advice. We were starting to grow. We had no marketing background, and the business was about to take off.” The business has grown 150 percent. And it’s no longer just the two of them. They have three employees.
Says Angi, “We wanted to make sure we were realistic in our expectations.”

The Larimer Small Business Development Center helped them start down the path by giving objective advice. They met one-on-one with a business consultant, a marketing consultant and a social-media consultant (find Babette’s on Facebook, Pinterest, and the web).
Their business plan includes maintaining the fundamentals that has made Babette’s successful – things like traditional recipes and natural food and flavors – and adding a retail cake shop. Custom cakes are their speciality, but they see a niche in Fort Collins for a walk-in store. And they’re ready with a name: Daddy Cakes Bakery. That would be Rudy.

“So far, it’s been a lot of hard work,” Angi says, “and we will keep working hard to become as successful as we possibly can be.”





Cyd Springer - 'Springing' Her Art Business Forward with the Larimer SBDC

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Written by Jonh Feeley, Photos Courtesy Jafe Parsons and Mike O'Connell

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.