Thursday, May 5, 2016

How one rural small business stayed true to company values and continues to grow

Advisor helps family keep business true to their values

By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC

WAUCONDA, Wash. – John and Tree Kiesecker had quit their day jobs, he as an orchardist and she as a nurse, and were scrambling to make ends meet when they heard about the free business advising services of the Washington Small Business Development Center. They made an appointment to talk with Lew Blakeney, the SBDC advisor in Okanogan County.

The Washington SBDC is supported by Washington State University and the U.S. Small Business Administration and receives additional support from other institutions of higher education and economic development. Blakeney’s work in Okanogan is supported by the Economic Alliance of Okanogan County.

The Kieseckers
The Kieseckers explained that they wanted to be in business for themselves but weren’t sure what that business would be.

Valuing family, quality, sustainability

 “What’s your goal?” Blakeney asked them.

To make $50 a week for groceries, work hard, be as self-sufficient as possible and be masters of their own fate, they replied. They were still in the “trying things out” stage, Tree said, with John raising 40 cattle on their 560-acre ranch and doing forestry and ranch work while she made jams, jellies, lotions, soaps and other gift items that she sold at farmer’s markets and local stores.

Blakeney suggested they write a business plan – even while their plan was still evolving – and make a list of values they wanted their new business venture to embody. When you look for new opportunities, he said, make sure they align with your values.

Their list of values included caring for their family, working as a team, taking pride in high-quality work, being honest in their dealings, working outdoors, preserving and restoring things of value, creating sustainability, communicating clearly and consistently, being creative and earning financial rewards.

That’s when they came up with Plain-N-Simple (

Over the next several years the Kieseckers continued working at a variety of different jobs, Tree said, but yard work and pruning jobs turned into landscaping and then the landscaping jobs got bigger.

They discovered that creating beautiful gardens or landscapes for their clients was satisfying work that matched their core values. They particularly enjoy shining up neglected gems or rescuing entire gardens.

Growing business – and business plan

Terraced and rooftop gardens by Plain-N-Simple.
As the landscape projects got bigger, they realized they needed a new business plan – and business systems and procedures that would keep them on track.
“Lew helped us put together a contract for services for use with landscaping customers,” Tree said, “and boy, oh boy, has that saved us.” Blakeney also worked with them on how to bid jobs, introduced them to “change orders” and talked them through filing a lien for non-payment of services.

“He even worked with us on how to talk to customers,” Tree said, “He coached us to say, ‘That may seem like more than you expected, but we owe it to our customers and ourselves to stay in business.’”

Blakeney encouraged the Kieseckers to do more advertising, but Tree said she and her husband prefer to get most of their jobs by word of mouth. By working mostly through referrals, she said, they are more likely to work with clients who know their work and appreciate their way of doing business.

“We choose our clients as carefully as we choose our employees,” Tree said. Though she and John do most of the work themselves, they do hire additional people for bigger jobs.

Setting, achieving greater goals

In a letter to Blakeney earlier this year, Tree wrote that in reviewing the past 10 years, “we can’t help but see all the pitfalls that would have most likely taken out our company” if not for Blakeney’s advising.

In our own small corner of the county, she wrote to Blakeney, “you have benefitted a number of families, including ours.”

From those early days when Tree set a goal of making $50 a week, the Kieseckers have been able to set their sights higher: health insurance, car repairs, children’s braces and, this year, helping with college tuition for one of their daughters.

They aren’t getting rich, Tree said, but they are their own bosses, they enjoy their work and they can provide for their family, which was their goal from the beginning. It’s that plain and simple.

The SBDC office in Okanogan County is located at 320 Omak Ave, #400, Omak, and Blakeney’s phone is 509-826-5107. For more about the SBDC, see

Tree Kiesecker, Plain-N-Simple landscaping, 509-486-4257,
Lew Blakeney, Washington SBDC in Okanogan County, 509-826-5107,

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Trade mission to Korea matches up businesses with new markets

Businesses head to South Korea to explore new markets

By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC

MOSES LAKE, Wash. – Business owners from Grant County are headed to South Korea April 26 for an eight-day trade mission to explore export opportunities for Eastern Washington products ranging from flour to exercise equipment.

Ray Towry, president of the nonprofit Grant County Economic Development Council (EDC), will head the nine-person delegation: “This is an amazing opportunity to directly introduce five Grant County-based businesses to markets abroad,” he said.

Five business owners are part of the group, but they will represent several other companies including Fresh Nature Foods, Cascade Mills Flour, Trinidad Lavender, Whiskey Gap Distillery, Bartelson Transport, Bowman Orchards and reACT Trainer.

Jenkins and Peterson (r)
Other members of the delegation include Vern Jenkins, an international trade specialist with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and Allan Peterson, an SBDC business advisor located in Moses Lake.

Face-to-face followup builds on sister city relationship

“These companies have already been working on export opportunities in South Korea with recent market research provided by the Washington SBDC intern research team,” Jenkins said. “So we know that the potential for export sales is there. This mission is an important step in developing the face-to-face relationships that are so important in international trade.”

The group will visit various cities, but most of their meetings will be in Gunpo, just south of Seoul. Jenkins, who works with small business owners to build export readiness and export capacity, said Kyle Kim of the Korean International Trade Association and Danny Kim, a representative with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, were extremely helpful in setting up one-on-one meetings for this business-to-business trade event.

The trade mission is a followup to a visit that a Gunpo delegation made to Grant County in September. Grant County and Gunpo have had a sister city relationship since 2003.

When Peterson learned a group of business and civic leaders would visit in fall 2015, he offered to set up a small trade expo of Eastern Washington products. It was so successful that those involved wanted to keep the momentum going.

Exporting can transform small business

“The great thing about exporting, especially in rural areas, is that businesses are finding new markets or new customers outside the U.S., but the jobs are staying here,” Peterson said.

He said the business owners received STEP grants from the Washington Department of Commerce to help defray the cost of airfare, but are otherwise paying their own expenses.

“Developing a strong export plan can really transform a business,” he said, “and it’s exciting for the SBDC to be able to walk this journey with our clients.”

Towry, who has been with Grant County EDC since 2012 and is director of recreation, tourism and public relations for the City of Ephrata, said he is excited to see the relationship grow, and he credits the SBDC with making that happen.

“The work that Allan and Vern have put into this, to develop a traditional ‘sister city’ relationship into an economic partnership, could pay huge dividends for our region,” he said. “It was a great idea on their part.”

The Washington SBDC is hosted by Washington State University and receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBDC in Moses Lake is also affiliated with the Grant County EDC.

UPDATED: The contingency returned May 3rd and are pleased with the results of the trade mission.  We will have more updates as we wrap up the interviews.

Allan Peterson, Moses Lake, Wash., SBDC, 509-762-6040,
Vern Jenkins, SBDC international trade specialist, 509-358-7998,