Tom Byler likes helping entrepreneurs take care of business.
Byler is regional director of the Kansas Small Business Development Center based out of Pittsburg State University. He spoke about “Growing Your Own Business” Thursday at the Iola Public Library.
Savanah Flory and Cara Thomas are business owners in Allen County who have taken advantage of the center’s services. They credit the center for helping them grow their businesses and incorporate new ideas.
Both have won the KSBDC Emerging Business of the Year award. They attended Thursday’s session to share problems and triumphs.
FLORY’S mother, the late Corinna Heard, started TLC Garden Center in LaHarpe in 2000.
Flory graduated from Kansas State University in 2007 with a degree in horticulture. Flory and husband Levi came back to LaHarpe and purchased the business in 2010.
One of the first things the Florys did was switch the business from a corporation to an LLC (limited liability company.)
“Previously it was a part-time seasonal job with random hours,” Flory said. “We wanted to make it more profitable and be more steady for our customers.”
The Florys expanded their business to seven days a week, except in January and February. They also expanded the garden center with trees, shrubs and new services. Flory created a landscape division to help customers create their own oasis at home.
Since spring, summer and fall are their busiest times of the year, Flory looked for ways to expand the winter business.
“We do snow removal for small businesses around town,” she said.
Two years ago Flory added Flory’s Flowers to her resume. After a flower shop in Iola closed its doors, Flory bought the inventory and started making arrangements.
“It helps increase our winter sales and we already had the space so it wasn’t a huge investment,” she said.
Levi manages the landscape and maintenance divisions and Flory takes care of the flower shop and garden center. They split duties so employees know who to go to for a specific question.
Flory said many don’t realize how long it takes to get established in a business. Those who can make money by the fifth year “probably are doing it right.”
The Florys continue to look to the future. They are considering vegetable production in the greenhouse.
“We sell our romaine lettuce and onion to Around the Corner coffee shop and we’re looking to see if there is enough of a market,” she said.
Flory said working with family can be difficult and gave a warning. Issues can arise and cause tiffs.
“When we first started out we were working with several family members and now we’re down to none,” she said. “It’s something to keep in mind when planning.”
CARA Thomas grew up in the meat locker business. Her grandparents and parents have run their own businesses for many years. After a fire at the Moran Locker, the Bolling family began discussing its next move.
In Moran, customers would bring in animals to be butchered and packaged.
This kept the family busy, but people would come in and simply want a pound of hamburger.
The wheels began turning in Thomas’ head and Bolling’s Meat Market was created. Thomas brought the meat market to Iola in 2011.
“We asked ourselves certain questions,” Thomas said. “Do we have a unique skill? If we have a competitor, are we better?”
Other questions she asked are who is going to shop there? What is the longevity? Could she attract new customers?
“I’m selling a commodity and I don’t dictate my prices,” she said. “I also don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.”
Just like Flory, Thomas is always looking for the next step. She decided to expand her building and open a deli in 2013. She is also working to expand online sales.
“We have a website and I want people to be able to shop online, order and have it shipped to them,” she said.
Online business allows Thomas to present her product to a wider audience, she said.
Thomas advertises with the traditional media outlets like the newspaper but she also embraces social media.
“I’m always thinking of what content I can create to bring customers in my store,” she said.
Thomas and Flory also mentioned employee retention is a huge piece of the puzzle.
“Employees represent you and you don’t want them to represent you badly,” Thomas said.
KSBDC can be reached at 620-235-4920 for more information.