Small Business Owners Learn From Peers at Summit

An all-star lineup of small business professionals gathered together on Nov. 16 to share ideas and stories of what has made them prosper. And not all of the stories were success stories.

Casey Crail, son of the founder of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and company field consultant, told many stories of how his parents made mistakes when starting the first chocolate store, like not having a cash register on opening day.

“They had a bumpy opening day,” he said. “By not having a cash register, they had to give a lot of product away, but they learned the importance of giving customers samples and how it helps them return and buy more. My advice to entrepreneurs is, not all bad days are bad, there is something to be learned from them.”

His father didn’t know how to make chocolate when he decided to open the business so he hired an elderly man who was an expert in the field. The expert made making small candies look easy, but when Crail tried it himself, the pieces were much larger than intended. Because they didn’t have any money or product to waste, they put the large candies in the case for sale, and were surprised when they sold easily. Now oversized portions are a mainstay of Rocky Mountain stores.

“You’re going to make mistakes, it happens and it’s ok,” he said.

Crail said it’s important to invest in talent, to learn from your errors and to have vision, which led his parents to franchising out their stores and brand.

“People saw the fun we were having and that the business concept was working and they wanted to be involved,” Crail said. “Plus, my parents could only take out one second mortgage. If they wanted to grow the company, they needed to franchise.”

Other small business owners, like Erik Borger of St. Joseph restaurants, il Lazzarone, Komatsu Ramen and Ostrea, and Greg Brandt of Nor Am Cold Storage, which has grown from its Iowa roots to St. Joseph, told their stories to the 150 people in attendance as well. They spoke during the Cup of Joe part of the event. Cup of Joe is a weekly discussion held by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs.

The half-day event featured networking, a resource fair and breakout sessions on topics like social media tips, Department of Labor regulations, money management and pros and cons of franchising. The event is held annually with the Steven L Craig School of Business and focuses on the growth and success of businesses. It is presented by the Family Investment Center, a small business of its own, and the Innovation Stockyard, which tries to grow start-ups.

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