Two Places at Once

Categories: Cup of Joe

In my final days at the Denver Metro Chamber, I am attempting to defy that fundamental rule of matter: “A solid object cannot occupy two places at once.”

I have had a couple of amazing visits with my new constituency: The students, faculty and staff of Colorado State University. I traveled to the Pueblo campus early in June, followed closely by several visits to Fort Collins.

 I hope to spend much time in both places in the coming months. When I first came to the Chamber, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the members on their home turf, learning about their businesses, their challenges and their goals.

I plan to have that same experience during my time at CSU.

This week, I have spent three days with the CSU Board, planning the coming year and talking about expectations and aspirations that we all have for this university.

Tonight, I will attend a community goodbye at the Denver Botanic Gardens, sponsored by a number of very generous members at the Chamber.

Irish politician of the late 1700’s Boyle Roche asked, “How can I be in two places at once, unless I were a bird?”

Right now, I feel like I have wings, and am traveling between two places: My world at the Chamber and my world at CSU. I am enjoying the flight, but I will be ready to settle come July 1.


Meeting with former Rocky reporters brings smiles, lessons

Categories: Cup of Joe

Today, there was a lunch at the Chamber for former business reporters of the Rocky Mountain News and, while I wasn’t there, it sounds like I missed a great meal and some remarkable stories.

There was a spirited discussion around the story of the “mystery company” – that would eventually be revealed as ConocoPhillips – and its purchase of the StorageTek campus. The Rocky – admittedly having little knowledge about the situation, risked and ran a headline that said “Mystery Company” – a first, no doubt, for them.

Rob Reuteman and Gil Rudawsky, former editors of the Rocky, were in the room and it was great to listen to them reminisce about stories they loved covering and the stories that gave them heartburn.

Reuteman had thoughtful words about the nascent green movement in Colorado and the United States, and suggested that more “critical coverage” was needed to uncover the challenges that may lie within the various facets of said movement.

Few cities have enjoyed the luxury of two newspapers for as long as Denver did. In fact, Dean Singleton (owner of The Denver Post) reported to the Denver Metro Chamber Board of Directors last month that only Washington, D.C. has more newspaper subscribers per capita than Denver.

Even those who were not subscribers to the Rocky felt the loss of the paper and understood the important depth and balance it brought to news in Colorado. We are truly lucky to have enjoyed the fruits of the Rocky reporters’ labor, and they are deeply missed.


Business awards were missed by me!

Categories: Cup of Joe

I missed Tuesday’s small business awards (27th annual, which is hard to believe), because I was in Washington, D.C. meeting with Senators Bennet and Udall on the Employee Free Choice Act.

I understand one of the highlights of the show was Gregg Moss, business reporter for 9News, who has served as emcee for our business awards show for years and apparently takes great delight in the role—evidenced by the fair bit of artistic license he took while videotaping the audience for his morning show on 9News.

From reports I received from staffer Rob Rose, the awardees were celebrated with hoots and hollers—the likes of which we have never heard before at this event.

I also hear that the red carpet was literally rolled out for our attendees, who could take a stroll reminiscent of Hollywood’s walk of fame, with stars for each of our finalists lining the carpeted walkway.

“Sparks” also flew when Carolyn Terrell, the 2009 winner of the David E. Bailey Small Business Advocate of the Year Award issued an idle threat to her nominator, our own Tameka Montgomery of the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center here at the Chamber.

 “I’ll get you, Tameka,” she reportedly crowed.

Really, one can’t blame our Tameka for nominating Terrell for the prestigious award. Terrell, the lead business development specialist of the SBA’s Colorado District Office, is well-known in the small business community as an advocate for small businesses.

“I think she really embodies this award is all about,” Tameka said in the nomination. “If she were awarded this honor, there would be no question in the small business community that she was worthy of this award.”

Sounds like I missed another great event in the name of a bad piece of public policy legislation.

Congratulations to the winners of the awards. Their achievements are remarkable, and their recognition is well deserved.


Green is good

Categories: Cup of Joe

Earth Day was yesterday and, while I spent some of it driving around in my car in Denver (sorry about that), I was given to thinking about how “green” business has to be right now.

By “green” I mean effective, efficient and financially savvy. In today’s roller coaster economy, businesses big and small cannot waste a dime or a moment being inefficient or ineffectual. Customers give you one shot at earning their reluctantly given “green” (here I mean money, of course), and business must get right to the point of their customers’ needs, or risk losing them to a competitor.

It reminds me of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) work. They build rockets, and they only get one launch to get the satellite in the right place, or they could end up with a very angry customer who just spent a lot of money to send something into space that didn’t end up there.

We must get it right. And ULA does do it right.

Next week we will celebrate great business achievements at the 2009 Business Awards event, held at the Hyatt Regency. You can sign up on the Chamber Web site at  – of course, if you are reading this blog, then you know your way there.


Ten years later, Columbine still fresh in our minds

Categories: Cup of Joe

I am going to step out of my business shoes for a moment and write about history. Ten years ago this week a terrible tragedy was visited on the students, parents and faculty and friends of Columbine High School. It was a gray April day, and I remember it well. The faces of the 15 people killed in that horrific event are still clear in my mind. Among them were: Kyle Velasquez, the “gentle giant”; Lauren Townsend, the talented artist; the bespectacled straight-A sophomore Daniel Mauser and dedicated teacher Dave Sanders who gave his life to protect his students.

Since that time, there have been a dozen incidents of school violence across the United States and around the globe. While all of them are infamous and notable, the word “Columbine” still evokes a shiver among folks who remember April 20, 1999 as though it were yesterday.

For a generation of Colorado students, this event marks time they way the assassination of John F. Kennedy did for their parents. Every person knows where he or she was when they heard first of “a school shooting at Columbine High,” followed by reports of a potential hostage situation and video of children fleeing what should have been the safest of havens.

Today, school violence happens with alarming frequency. Still, our schools continue to be bastions of hope, optimism and learning—the place our future is nurtured and our country’s best commodity is found. The principal of Columbine High School that day was Frank DeAngelis – and he continues to steward Columbine every day, knowing that one event does not define his school, regardless of how tragic it was.


In an economic downturn, it’s “to market, to market”

Categories: Cup of Joe

The Great Depression evokes images of families waiting in bread lines blocks long, and not necessarily memories of many great business successes.

Nonetheless, there were survivors of those worst hard times. For business owners and patrons alike, we are reminded to heed those lessons learned by the survivors of the 1920s and 1930s era.

One such lesson, according to our own Denver Metro Small Business Development Center Counselor Jim Olp, may go against the instinct of businesses struggling today, but it’s a rule that is imperative to remember: “The moral of the story is: Contrary to what small businesses typically do, they should be maintaining or increasing their marketing dollars [in an economic downturn],” he said.

Statistics prove Olp correct.

Law Week Colorado reported in early February that a Roland S. Vaile study of 200 companies affected by the late-20s economic crisis found that those with the highest sales were those that advertised the most.

Research by McGraw Hill shows similar findings during the 1981-1982 crisis, in which advertising resulted in increased sales by an order of 275 percent by 1985.

Denver Metro SBDC counselors are now booked solid for weeks and months in advance. To meet the current needs of small business clients, the Denver Metro SBDC added a new marketing specialist to its ranks to help clients develop creative marketing strategies amid the downturn.

Olp encouraged businesses who even think they might struggle in the near future to seek help at the Denver Metro SBDC.

“Don’t wait until it’s too late,” he said, advising those entrepreneurial spirits, emblazoned with an “I can do it myself” attitude, to be willing to ask for help.

To contact a Denver Metro SBDC representative, go to:


Rose-colored glasses OK at Denver flower shop

Categories: Cup of Joe

A love of flowers led Jil Schlisner to buy an existing flower shop in 2006, rename it and build her business by creating inspirational, beautiful atmospheres for clients.

She believes people should wear flowers more often, in the form of corsages and boutonnieres—and on ordinary Wednesdays, not only proms or weddings.

Moss Pink Flora & Botanicals, located on E. 23rd and Dexter streets in Denver, provides clients with beautiful shopping environment, as well as personal attention.

“Getting to know my clients on a name-by-name basis creates a much-appreciated personal touch that seems so old-world in our culture these days,” said Schlisner. “A friendly familiarity in a business that deals much with intimate and emotional events and situations really goes a long way.”

In the current economy, Schlisner and her staff are also looking for ways to offer their clients “simple luxuries” like May Day baskets for less than $20, as well as other “promotions that focus on the positivity of life without going to excess.”

Their goal is to build business based on positive customer experiences shared by word-of-mouth, in addition to attracting new clients with Web and e-mail marketing.

Schlisner credits the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center and Counselor Jim Olp for “giving her hope.”

“I had no idea how to go about buying a business. [Jim] gave me the straight facts and helped guide me through the process,” she said.


Small Business is quacktastic at Englewood rubber duck emporium

Categories: Cup of Joe

Jennifer Brown and Steve Kudron are preening their business for what they hope to be a year of flying high.

The pair specializes in rubber ducks of all feathers – from devils, to referees to monkey and cow ducks – at their soap shop-turned duck dealership, the Quacker Gift Shop, in Englewood.

In December, they moved their business and thousands of ducks out of the basement of their home and into the 3,000-square-foot warehouse and storefront, following a year that saw more than $95,000 in sales.

Kudron and Brown started their business – formerly called The Soapbox Co. – in 2005, selling homemade soaps, some of which contained loofahs and rubber ducks.

When customers began asking to purchase the ducks, sans soap, the idea for the Quacker Gift Shop was hatched.

The couple got help from Jim Olp at the Metro Denver Small Business Development Center, who they say has helped them every step of the way, to push their fledgling idea out of the nest.

“We’ve got our ducks in a row,” the couple said.


Metro Frame Works makes business an art form

Categories: Cup of Joe

In late 1999, ignoring the rampaging fears of millennial catastrophe, Melanie Lunsford signed a lease at 44th and Tennyson and opened her own frame shop called Metro Frame Works.

A woodworker by trade, she had just left a furniture restoration job to apprentice in a framing store and then decided she wanted to go out on her own. She found the financial capital in the place many entrepreneurs do—within her own family.

An inheritance had allowed her to purchase a home, renovate it and flip it for a considerable profit. That profit allowed her to make the key investments in the lease for her store and tools and feel comfortable for a year. A few years working at FirstBank didn’t hurt her financial acumen, either.

Her advice to individuals who want to work for themselves: Make sure you understand your financial tools as well as you understand your core business.

Her knowledge of credit, audits, taxes and accounting have enabled her to grow to three times the size she was in 1999, add staff and become very successful as both a frame shop and an art gallery.

Melanie also stays on top of the technology in her field, ensuring that she can work with clients in as many ways as possible. Today, a client can e-mail her an image of a piece of art to frame, and she can provide proofs of the image framed in a number of different ways. The client chooses a style, couriers the art, and Melanie frames and couriers it back.

Convenience for her clients keeps her ahead of the competition. Today’s economy has hurt the entire art community and Metro Frame Works is no exception. Melanie and her team are managing by using their existing inventory of frames, cutting hours, but not personnel and continuing to participating in community events like First Friday Art nights to bring new people into the store. Art has been important part of humanity for thousands of years—and Melanie plans on being around for at least the next several decades to frame great pieces of work.


Video company focuses on ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

Categories: Cup of Joe

Robin Vissar thought she was going to spend her life in broadcasting.

As it is wont to do, life intervened and soon she found herself married with children and not wanting to be on the journalistic treadmill with its 70-hour work week and its less than family-friendly lifestyle.

She wanted to be home, while remaining involved in the business world, so she did what more and more stay-at-home mothers are doing: She became an entrepreneur. Creative Touch Video ( ) provides commercial marketing video production, as well as with wedding videography, and safety and compliance videos for a host of clients.

Vissar started in the wedding video business by accident. Often enlisted to video her friends’ weddings, she soon found herself with six part- and full-time staffers who edited videos out of their own homes—many of them stay-at-home mothers just like herself.

When asked about business today, Vissar said she and her team had to think hard about what their clients really needed and decided to cut the cost of a 30-second Web commercial from $1,500 to $500.

Vissar says that the team is working much harder to close sales with their corporate clients because organizations are reluctant to book to far in advance in this unpredictable economic climate.

In addition to the market challenges, Vissar reports that access to working capital is an issue. She says that, at least for today, she has only cut hours – not positions – and she and her team are looking for ways to spend smarter and get more bang for their buck.

All in all, Vissar’s advice is pretty straightforward: “Spend wisely, support your colleagues and remember that recession is a puddle, not a cave, and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

That’s pretty good advice.