May 28, 2014
Lacy New captures top award for High Plains Spice Company
By Barbara Baker
Lacey New from High Plains Spice Company shows off some of the store’s best sellers during the B2C competition held at Northeastern Junior College. She was the top winner in this year’s program. (Courtesy Photo)
Eleven business owners from northeastern Colorado completed the El Pomar sponsored Business to College (B2C) program through Northeastern Junior College this spring and Tuesday evening they made their final business plan presentations before a group of judges. At stake: $25,000 in prize money. In the end, six of the businesses walked away with money for their efforts. Prize money was not only a vote of confidence in the future success of their various business enterprises, but was also meant to be a boost to help some of them do something specific to enhance their operation or advance their future plans.
It was Lacy New, co-owner of the High Plains Spice Company located on Main Street in Sterling who took the biggest prize when she was awarded $10,000. Jessica Gales of Haxtun was awarded $7,000 to help with the expansion of Jessica Gales Accounting Services; Jamie Bauder-Knox who owns the Bow Wow Barn in Sterling received $5,000; Sara Firme of Haxtun who owns Elements, an interior design service was awarded $3,000; and Susan Fuller, a jewelry maker received $1,000 for her Wishes in the Wind business.
The El Pomar Foundation, headquartered in Colorado Springs, funded the program for the third year, once again donating $25,000 in prize money. The money could go to one winner, or be split out among a number of winners. The overall intent of the program is to provide not only some incentive for new or up and coming businesses, but to support economic development in various areas of the state. The business owners and entrepreneurs had been undergoing some classroom training at Northeastern since late March with NJC’s small business expert Cyndi Vandenbark. They knew when the training came to an end, they would present their business plan--for creating a new business, or expanding an existing one--to a panel of judges with prize money on the line. Northeastern has, for many years, sought out ways to assist small business and this partnership with El Pomar has been a great example of the college’s ability to find resources and dollars to help enhance small business in this corner of Colorado.
Lacy and B.J. New opened the High Plains Spice Company last October, just going into the holiday season. With a love for grilling, cooking, baking and an interest in growing herbs, the couple spent more than a year peddling their products at craft fairs and vendor shows before taking the plunge and opening a storefront. Spices are considered a food and therefore a number of regulations surround their production and sale. A location on Main Street seemed like an ideal place for them to put in an approved kitchen and kick off a retail operation. The couple lives out between Haxtun and Holyoke, but knew they had to go where the most people are, so they operate out of Sterling. “We really think people should be more acquainted with their food,” New told the judges. “In this fast food, crazy world, there is so much you can do to make food taste great at home without a whole lot of effort if you have the right spices.”
Selling what she refers to as “cuisine enhancement products”, the High Plains Spice Company, which does online sales as well as retail sales, has come up with some best sellers. The main product lines include specialty coffees, loose leaf teas, and a whole array of seasoning blends and rubs, including the famous “Pig Tickle”, the spice that started it all. They take immense pride in the fact that they are grinding and packaging natural spices in as fresh and robust of a state as they can. Several of their signature products have made their way into some area restaurants. They sell their products in both retail and bulk sizes.
As New presented, she asked for prize money to help with the purchase of a hammer mill grinder, a mixer and dollars to do some significant website development including search engine optimization. The grinder specifically would allow them to hold their spices on site in their most natural, whole state right up to when they are ground and packaged which would further enhance their product’s quality. Having a stronger presence online will be crucial to their success as they know online sales will be where they can expect significant growth outside of the immediate market.
Jessica Gales gave a wonderful pitch for her accounting service which is gaining momentum by the day. With a burning desire to provide accurate and affordable accounting services to rural northeastern Colorado, Gales shared her vision of offering some financial education workshops through area financial institutions, bringing on an additional accountant within the next year, and becoming a Quick Books ProAdvisor for this area. She has aspirations of taking on the bricks and mortar task of buying a lot and putting a building on it from the ground up. Specifically, she asked for assistance with purchasing some high end computer equipment and software.
Jamie Bauder Knox, who hit on a great niche when she opened the Bow Wow Barn, admitted to going through a number of hard knocks with her business since opening it several years ago. The demand for her service has been way more than she expected. She is currently looking at expansion of her business in several areas. She called the training she has received through the B2C program invaluable and said it really helped her refocus on some areas of her operation. The money she won will be used to help her purchase a point of sale system.
Sara Firme’s young Elements company offers full service residential and commercial interior design services. She has been open one year and has developed clients in this area and the Nebraska Panhandle. She touts herself as providing design that is on time and on budget. She desires to work with local builders and contractors to be the go-between that helps their clients pick colors and other elements of interior design, leaving the building portion to those experts and the design part to her. “Your surroundings have a huge impact on you,” she told the judges, noting that she is happy to work on the smallest of projects or help with large, commercial construction activities. Her prize money will be used to help her buy software for space planning and to begin the process of establishing an in-home studio.
Susan Fuller gave a compelling request for a special kind of metal press that would allow her to make bracelets that now take her eight hours, in as little as two. Her Wishes in the Wind jewelry business is allowing her to turn a passion into a profit. Among her specialties are repurposing old silver forks and other keepsakes into beautiful pieces of jewelry. Up to now she has been hand filing every piece she makes. Her creations sell as quickly as she can get them displayed and she’s seeing a good demand for custom jobs from customers who have seen her work at various shows. She hopes to speed up the production process so she can make and sell items faster, eventually being able to offer her jewelry for resale at some area retailers.
The five other B2C participants who presented before the judges did so with equal zest. Some of them, already well-established in this area, had big aspirations for expansion of facilities and markets. Some were very new at what they are doing, just in the start-up phase and still a bit uncertain about how they plan to move forward. El Pomar is very clear in its expectations for the businesses that receive the prize money, looking at what their overall goal is, or has potential to be, in regard to adding jobs, and making both a social and economic impact on their communities.
Judges for this year’s competition included Julie Worley, executive director of the Phillips County Economic Development Corporation, Loretta Davison, market president of First Farm Bank, a commercial lender, Tyler Kelsch, Vice President of Administrate Services at Northeastern Junior College; and Beau Kelly, of Colorado Springs, representing the El Pomar Foundation.
The judges were pleased with the cross section of businesses participating and felt they had chosen their winners wisely, giving help to already established businesses, some start-ups, and an artisan. Laurie Jones, interim director of the Logan County Economic Development Corporation and director of the Small Business Development Center for this area, assisted with calculating the judges’ scores. She has worked with many small businesses in this area, including some of those in the B2C program this year.
“You are all winners,” she said. Even if you walk away tonight without any money, you have had the experience of doing a business plan and going through this process which is so essential to your success.” Each participant in the B2C program received an iPad that they get to keep as well as some business management training in the classroom. A small amount of grant money left over will be split equally among all participants. El Pomar plans to connect back with this year’s winners later to see how the money they won has made a difference in the operation of their businesses.