Talking Shop…Steve Kudron of Quacker Gifts
February 3, 2014
Steve Kudron, co-owner with Jennifer Brown, Quacker Gift Shop, 1034 Grand Ave, Grand Lake. 970-798-8014
How long have you been in business? We have been in Grand Lake for two years. Quacker Gift Shop has operated since 2008.
How did you get started in this business? Jennifer began making soaps as a hobby many years ago. She would work them up in our kitchen and we would sell them at craft shows. To have something for kids, we started putting a little rubber duckie into the soaps. One day, a man came up to us and asked for the duck – no soap. Jennifer took the duck out of the soap and sold it. The next show we went to, we brought a shoebox-full of ducks. The ducks sold out before the soap did. We started off at festivals and began to sell tens of thousands of cute duckies. When the demand got bigger than our tents at the shows, we opened a store. After three different Colorado towns, we have found the perfect home for Quacker Gift Shop in Grand Lake.
Business mission statement: Our mission is to provide an exceptional experience, quality products and outstanding service to our customers; to treat our customers and employees in a respectful and friendly manner; and to be a positive influence in the community.
Success in the mission: We are fortunate to have had many special customers make a trip to our store. Our employees have a great time in a fun and family-friendly environment. When someone comes into the store, almost always, the first thing that happens is the smile on their face. That makes it all worth it to us.
Challenges to the mission: We sell fun little duckies and some pretty unique items like gourmet foods, nature photography by as-of-yet undiscovered artists, bobble-heads, and of course our own soaps. In this difficult economy, some of the "fun" purchases people make are trimmed down. That trickles to us. We are dedicated to our mission. It is just a little financially challenging in a tight economy.
How do you cope with Grand County's seasonal surges? It's not easy. We are fortunate to have a vibrant online business, http://www.quackergiftshop.com, and many wholesale clients who buy our soaps all across the country. When the boardwalk is not full of visitors, we are busy on the phone and the Internet drumming up business and preparing for the high seasons.
What do you think is the biggest business barrier in Grand County? I am a strong believer that our business community, local government and the citizens all have a stake in a successful county. It takes everyone to be spokespeople whenever we are not in the county to remind anyone who will listen that there are very specials happenings in Grand County. It is time that everyone in the county get on the same page and understand that a strong business community brings jobs, taxes and security to our communities.
What do you think is your biggest business barrier on a state and/or national level? Small businesses have been beat up these past few years. Legislation that enacts more regulation discourages those who may be considering taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. Excess regulation is a burden on those who provide the greatest revenue in our country — small business. Grand County is a county full of these small business owners. This is a great place to try innovation and new ideas because the big companies stay away from our county. I'm ready for some fresh ideas and new energy in our business community.
What can government here do to help? Find the way to say yes to our business community. It's that simple. We need solid government to keep our authentic and rustic charm, certainly. That doesn't mean that every new idea is one that will bring Las Vegas lights and New York skyscrapers to town. Use your noggins — our elected officials are smart people. Find the good ideas and take a chance.
How does your business give back to the community? Since bringing our business to Grand County, we have given our time to many of the wonderful causes in the community. It is not unusual to see a fun duckie at a silent auction for Grand Angels, the Walk for a Cure, or any of a number of groups who receive our gift baskets as donations.
Give examples of how you are environmentally responsible. There isn't a box that we don't try to recycle. Some of our customers ask why the boxes are a little damaged, but we like to recycle whenever we can. Our store is heated by our lights and we work diligently to save energy at every turn.
How do you support other local businesses? We are strong believers in win-win business. We've tried to sample the food at every restaurant in town. When asked, we can offer many suggestions for food, lodging and other activities to ensure a remarkable experience in our community. I'll go to bat for another business owner in the community if I believe in their idea and will help wherever we can. One of our bath lines is called Spirit Lake. We approached our neighbor, Marjorie Cranston of Jackstraw Gallery to feature her images on our labels. A wonderful partnership has developed and her art can be seen by even more people.
How do you feel about direct competition? Competition is good. No one in town sells duckies, but there are some other wonderful gift shops. Keeping a good relationship with all of our fellow business owners is important. There is a great deal of strength when people work together. It's not hard to see through a veiled smile when people don't — and the customer sees it most.
How do you market yourself? We are a word-of-mouth business. I am hopeful that one day our giant duckie can be outside of our store in town so that when folks come into town they see our quacking bills. We have recently joined the Grand Lake Chamber and will be promoting our business in the visitors center as well as some of the other business in town who keep our cards. Tell your friends.
What's the main thing you have you learned in your years in business? A great business takes time, dedication and a strong stomach. Great ideas don't happen overnight, and the long hours and sleepless nights are just a small part of the equation. Jennifer and I (we are happily married business partners) have relied on our faith like never before. If something isn't right, it needs to be evaluated. We have a list that is just as big of great ideas that didn't work as great ideas that did. It's all a part of the process of growing and being the best you can be for yourself, your customers and your community.
Where do you go for help when you need it? We have a great group of business acquaintances and friends that provide a good ear and great advice. We have been fortunate to have been involved with some local small business incubators such as the Colorado Enterprise Fund and Accion. Both organizations have helped us with their experience and guidance.
Who is your biggest business influence/mentor? I have been blessed to have many. In my corporate career, a wise manager taught me to do your best to coach your way out of a job. This opens the doors for new adventures. I lean on that advice often. We also have four grown children who taught us that there are no bad questions and sometimes the answers are harder than you think. This applies to business too.
What do you think is the most significant economic driver in Grand County? Tourism of course. Without it, we may as well move the county seat back to Grand lake and let the gunfights return. That's my humor, ha, ha.
If you could go back in time and start up your business venture all over again, what would you do differently? I'm asked this a lot. When we started our venture, we both left corporate careers at the same time. If I had to do it all over, I would have kept some of the financial security a corporate job has. The stresses of starting a business and keeping a house together at the same time are tremendous. Be prepared.
What's the best compliment you received from a client/customer/guest? I have received pictures from all over the world and have heard stories of how our products have helped them to cope in this crazy world of ours. The most poignant came from a man who walk into the store and began to cry. When I asked why, he told me he had been by the store (in Englewood, Colo.) many times, but never came in. He had seen some of the color in the store, but because of near total blindness, he never saw it clearly. He underwent surgery to correct his vision and therapy at Craig Hospital. His first stop was our store. He had the most amazing joy when he saw what all the color really was! I'll never forget him.
What do you consider to be your biggest mistake in business? I tried to grow our business too fast. It's important to make sure you can control how you grow and have the right staff trained and in place.
What organization(s) is (are) most useful to business owners? Become involved in local community business organizations like your chamber and know what your government is up to.
How much of a role does technology play in your business? We have an online store. It takes time to keep everything up to date. We also engage our fans on Facebook and Twitter as well as a new lifestyle blog about the community. It's http://www.themountaingal.com, we think it will be great for our new community.
What are the technology challenges in your business? It's important to keep our machines working and the Internet on so we can connect with those not in the store.
What's the general key to making a customer/client/guest happy? Give them more than they are expecting. Always have your best day when the customer is in the store. You just have to put the other stuff aside. Many have said they really enjoy it when they are greeted, spoken to and treated in a friendly and authentic way.
Is there any certain trend you've noticed in consumer habits lately? Customers are more selective in their purchase.
What are some tricks such as signs or window displays that you've noticed work in attracting customers to your front door? We keep the door open as much as possible. Play some fun music (not too loud) and greet those who peak in. We also have some of our more unique ducks in the window and keep a light on at night so folks who stroll on the boardwalk see what's inside. It really works.
What are some ways to keep up staff morale? Let them be themselves. Each and every employee has a unique character. Hire people with characters that fit the business and let them be them. What are some ways you train your staff on an ongoing basis? We keep an eye on the ways they interact with the customers. When new products arrive, we give them tips so they can talk about it. We also make sure they know about the community so they can be good stewards when we are not there. I'm very proud of our staff and the fine work they do.
If you could give advice to a novice entrepreneur, what would it be? Be patient, be prepared and have Faith. Nothing goes perfect and you've got to be flexible and ready to change. Some of this I have learned the hard way. Just ask Jennifer.
Is there a better question we didn't ask? If so, what is it and how would you answer it? Whew, this was a lot. I'd just ask, "How do we find out more about your business?" Stop in anytime and visit. Jennifer and I are never afraid or ashamed to share our adventure. It has not been perfect, but it's been a ride I'd never want to take away.