The Winged Lion, LCC is a home décor and gift boutique located in downtown Manhattan, Kansas. Its loyal customers turn to owner Ralph Diaz for all kinds of decorating and gift-giving advice … and advice on life as well! Ralph opened The Winged Lion in August of 2014 to fulfill a dream that he had been holding onto since a trip to NYC in 1987. On that trip, Ralph visited a store that he loved everything about right down to the way that the store decorated its gift bags. In fact, he kept the bag that his purchase came in and still has it for inspiration.
The roots of Ralph’s interest in business ownership, however, can be traced back to his upbringing. His parents, though not business owners, were hard workers. He picked up a strong work ethic from them and also learned from watching them that someday he wanted something that was just his – that eventually he wanted his hard work to go into his own business.
As a student, Ralph started out in fashion design and envisioned himself moving to NYC; but through life’s twists and turns, he decided to stay in Manhattan, Kansas. Around this time, he and a friend decided to open a salon together. For Ralph, the salon was a creative outlet, a way to make a living, and also an introduction to business ownership.
The biggest challenge for Ralph in making his dream of opening the décor boutique come true was putting together the start-up funds. Selling his share of ownership in the salon was a big part of being able to make this happen; but he also needed a business loan.
Ralph worked with the WU Kansas SBDC to put together the financial projections and materials that he needed to apply for the loan. Daryn, the SBDC advisor with whom Ralph worked, also helped Ralph understanding his target customer base and the financial side of running a retail business. Ralph describes Daryn as having been a great help.
Ralph says that business ownership is different the second time around, mostly in that he no longer has a business partner. All of the responsibility, for better or worse, falls on his shoulders. Importantly, however, he says that he also learned a lot from his experience at the salon about his strengths and weaknesses as a business owner. This, in turn, helped him understand where he could push forward on his own and what kind of resources he was going to need to bring in to complement his strengths and offset his weaknesses. From the outset, Ralph knew that he had a strong creative vision and enough passion to make the store a success. He also understood that he loves talking with customers and has a for talent guiding them in their stylistic choices- his keys to creating a loyal customer base. However, he also recognized, going into the new venture, that he was going to need to rely on help managing the budget and understanding the cash flow cycles of the business.
With all of his experience, and having been through the full life cycle of business ownership, Ralph appreciates the wisdom that other business owners have shared with him and is happy to share what he has learned. Ralph’s advice to new business owners: Understand your strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to ask for help in the areas where you need it. Seek good guidance. Also, recognize that your business can’t be good at everything. Focus on what you are good at and expand slowly and stay passionate. Big isn’t always better. You need to find the size that fits you.
At the Kansas SBDC, we are delighted to have been a part of helping Ralph fulfill his dreaming of owning his beautiful boutique. When asked whether this is it for him or whether there is yet another business in his future, Ralph acknowledged that pursuing yet one more dream venture is a definite possibility! In the meantime, Ralph is enjoying doing what he is doing.
At the Washburn University Kansas SBDC, we work with entrepreneurs from the pre-venture stage to the transition planning stage, helping them understand their business needs, identify opportunities, and find solutions.
Laurie Pieper, Ph. D.