Congratulations to Sugar Creek Country Store on Your Emerging Business Award!

DanHCongratulations to Sugar Creek Country Store on its Kansas SBDC Emerging Business of the Year Award from the WU KSBDC!

Awards are given on the basis of a new business’s being a successful business, having overcome hurdles to get there and being a good community citizen.  Located on H. 24 in St. Mary’s, Kansas, Sugar Creek is a bulk-food retail store with a gourmet deli and ice cream counter, all housed in an exquisitely restored historic building. Owned by Dan and Jen Hohman, Sugar Creek is coming up on its second anniversary in business this summer. Sugar Creek was honored on Monday, March 12th in a ceremony at the state capitol in Topeka along with 16 other emerging, existing or exporting businesses across the state of Kansas. The Hohmans were presented with their award by Rep. Francis Awerkamp.

See photos of the store and read more about Sugar Creek

Congratulations to Dan, Jen and the whole Hohman family. You should feel proud of the award. We at the WU KSBDC have enjoyed working with you and look forward to continued work together. Best wishes for your future successes!

(Photo top: Dan in the Kansas House of Representatives with daughter Philomena and son Henry – both of whom work at the store.)

Related story:

Congratulations, Toto’s Tacoz!

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor


America’s SBDC Kansas

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Kansas SBDC Cybersecurity Forum


On April 25, 2018, the Kansas SBDC is putting on a Cybersecurity Forum in Manhattan, KS. Small businesses are increasingly targets of cyberattacks, with 60% of those going out of business within 6 months and the average cost of recovery being $117,000 according to the National Cyber Security Alliance.

The Kansas SBDC brings together experts – see list at bottom of article – from various fields to help educate business leaders, management and small business owners in Kansas about cybersecurity risks and corresponding issues. The goals of the forum are (1) to elevate the level of discussion in our community about cybersecurity in order to reduce the exposure of small businesses to cybersecurity threats and (2) to connect small businesses with available resources.

Attendees will gain an appreciation of what are the risks, how to defend against and mitigate the risks, information security basics, employee management, policy and training issues, legal issues, budgeting for cybersecurity and return on investment, how to recover from security breaches, and what to expect in the rapidly evolving area of cyber threats and regulations going into the future. Industry-specific information will also be presented in breakout sessions for medical service providers and related businesses, financial services, government contractors, manufacturers, ag businesses and unmanned aerial systems, manufacturers, and micro-businesses.

The Kansas SBDC Cybersecurity Forum aims to educate people who do not have a technical background about cybersecurity and the issues that surround it. Examples of people who should attend this event include business owners and management, HR professionals and anyone handling confidential or sensitive information (e.g., attorneys and accountants), leadership in the extended business community, and anyone who would benefit from the industry-specific breakout-sessions that are included in the program. This event is a valuable opportunity for the extended business community to learn about cybersecurity and important related topics.

Speakers, Panelists and Panel Moderators:

  • Gina Becker, Vice President at DynaSim Technical Services, Inc.
  • Amy Billinger, Partner at Anneal Initiative, Inc.
  • Leslie Carter, Business Line Systems Analyst II, Commerce Bank
  • Brian Dennis, Director of the Kansas SBDC Cybersecurity Center
  • Robert Dewhirst, Manager of Cybersecurity, Disaster Recovery and Continuity at Security Benefits, Inc.
  • Jim Flynn, Director of Information Security at Civic Plus
  • Justin Geering, President of InterKan.Net
  • Chris Gilbert, CIO, Bankers Bank of Kansas
  • William Gold, Information Systems Leader at Meadowlark Hills
  • Danielle Hall, Deputy State Administrator, State of Kansas
  • John Haverty, Assistant Director of User Services, Washburn University
  • Jeremy Heit, Director of Infrastructure Services, KSU Foundation
  • Jeremy Jackson, Partner Anneal Initiative, Inc
  • Darrin Jones, Special Agent In Charge FBI, KC Office (Keynote Speaker)
  • Karl Klein, Regional Director of the Washburn University Kansas SBDC
  • Scott Minneman, COO, Redi Systems, Inc.
  • Chuck Mioni, IT Security Analyst, Washburn University
  • Matthew Moriarty, Senior Associate Attorney with Koprince Law, LLC
  • Dr. Dmitri Nizovtsev, Professor of Economics, Washburn University
  • Dr. Laurie Pieper, Business Advisor, Washburn University Kansas SBDC
  • Dr. Gary Pratt, Chief Information Officer, Kansas State University
  • Lisa Roberts, Associate Director of the Kansas SBDC
  • Benjamin Roe, Lead Engineer, Booz, Allen, Hamilton Strategic Innovation Group
  • Joseph Schmidt, Special Agent, IRS Criminal Investigation Division
  • Dan Strom, Managing Consultant at Sure Defense, Kansas Farm Bureau
  • Jill Tillery, Channel Account Manager, WatchGuard
  • Ashley Urban, Legacy Solutions Insurance
  • Elisa Waldman, Regional Director of the Johnson County Community College Kansas SBDC
  • Dr. Stephen Welch, Professor, Dept. of Agronomy, Kansas State University
  • Tracilla Wilnerd, LTA Taxpayer Advocate Service Internal Revenue Service
  • Jeff Wright, Regional Sales Manager, REDI Systems, Inc.

More information and online registration are available here. For further assistance, call (785) 234-3235. We hope to see you at the event!

The sponsors for the Kansas SBDC Cybersecurity Forum:  America’s SBDC Kansas, Washburn University Kansas SBDC, the Kansas SBDC Cybersecurity Center, WatchGuard, Kansas Farm Bureau Sure Defense, WTC, Pottawatomie County Economic Development, the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce – Economic Development and Membership Services Divisions,  Central National Bank, Commerce Bank, Anneal Initiative Inc., Legacy Solutions Insurance, Redi Systems Inc., Civic Plus, DynaSim Technical Services Inc., HRMN, the SBA and the Kansas Department of Commerce. Thank you to the people and organizations and businesses contributing toward making this event a success!

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University Kansas SBDC

America’s SBDC Kansas



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Employee Retention for Trades and Construction Companies: Hire Right, Manage Well, Reward & Look Forward


The costs to a company of high turnover in skilled employees can be significant, affecting both gross revenues and expenses. Recently, one of our advisors from the Kansas SBDC sent out a request to the rest of us for suggestions that he might pass along on how to improve employee retention for trades and construction companies. Amongst us, we generated a number of tips that can be grouped into four general categories: hire right, manage well, reward, and look forward.  While this article was written with construction and trades in mind, many of the recommendations for employee retention are broadly applicable. Kansas SBDC advisors throughout the state can work with small business owners on bullet items listed under these headings and/or help identify further resources for assistance on matters that impact employee retention. (This is just an example of the types of services that we offer to help Kansas small businesses thrive.)

Hire Right

  • Avoid poor hires. Understand the desired skills, qualifications, and characteristics that you are looking for in a future employee before you advertise, interview, and hire for a particular position.  Try not to hire out of desperation. In addition to creating problems, an employee who does not perform well can cause good workers to leave your company.
  • Use existing employees as a source of referrals. Someone who is a good performer and quality team member is likely to understand what it takes to be an appropriate fit for the company and will value the opportunity to contribute to hiring efforts.
  • Set appropriate barriers for entry. Setting barriers too high will make it difficult to hire, but setting them too low might make existing employees feel undervalued – or worse, worried for their safety. Pre-employment (and on-going) drug screening, e.g.,  may be important for your company.
  • Utilize available resources. For example, KansasWorks can assist with functions such as employee recruitment, assessment and screening.

Manage Well

  • Practice good employee onboarding. Educate new employees about potential hazards and safety precautions. Explain your company values and work culture. Explain to new employees how they fit into the company and why their work is important. Encourage communication.
  • Communicate expectations. Convey clear, detailed, accurate information about what is expected with respect to what is supposed to be done, to what quality level, and by when. It is frustrating for employees to be corrected or have their work re-done by employers when the performance expectations were not clearly set.
  • Allow managers to manage. If you have chosen good managers, then support their decisions and don’t intervene unnecessarily. Interference causes confusion and frustration.
  • Have clear processes. For example, having a clear process on how to make changes (to make a customer happy) after a job has been bid helps employees on a job site know what to do so that they feel more effective.
  • Pay attention to company culture. Practice leadership skills that create a positive culture.
  • Get rid of bad employees. Poor attitude, inconsistent job performance, lack of attention to details and instructions, or general unreliability in one employee can decrease productivity and undermine morale causing other employees to quit – or even worse, create hazardous work conditions or unsafe products.
  • Care about safety. There are many reasons for caring about employee safety, just one of which is that employees have no reason to feel loyal to a company that does not make this a priority.


  • Offer competitive wages. Information about wages for specific occupations in locations throughout Kansas is available from the Kansas Department of Labor. To illustrate, according to KDOL, in 2017, there were 1,460 construction trades jobs in the Manhattan area. Compensation was $28,559 annual salary ($13.43/hr.) for entry level positions. The mean annual salary was $40,921 ($19.67/hr.). The median salary was $37,636 ($18.09/hr.). For experienced workers, annual salary was $47,103 ($22.65/hr).  More fine-grained information is also available, e.g., for dry-wall installers, electricians, plumbers, roofers, cement masons and concrete finishers, and so forth. It is wise to know what is reasonable and competitive compensation and there are resources available for acquiring this information.
  • Offer benefits. Even if your company is too small to be required to offer benefits, this is something worth considering. Health insurance and retirement plans are highly desirable. Flex time and paid vacation days also appeal to many workers. Try to figure out what benefits you can offer that your employees would most appreciate.
  • Acknowledge contributions and work well-done. Buy lunch now and then or a pizza after work. Give a gift-card or a bonus for hitting certain benchmarks or for potential job candidate referrals.

Look Forward

  • Be a good coach. For example, help an employee see how staying with his/her employment might play a major role in achieving his/her dream of homeownership.
  • Show how a particular job might fit into a path of career advancement and taking on leadership roles.
  • Support opportunities for your employees to upgrade their skills.
  • Don’t get stuck in time. Stay abreast of workforce trends, new technologies, and improved processes so that employees take pride in the company and are not frustrated by competitors moving ahead.
  • Manage your finances responsibly. A company that is poorly run financially can give employees cause for concern and reason to look for work elsewhere out of worry for their future.
  • Have a succession plan. Employees might worry about what would happen to the company if the business owner or key manager were to leave the company (e.g., to retire or pass away). Having a plan for how the company will continue and move forward can reassure employees that the business has a future.
  • Consider an Employee Stock Option Plan. Due to the cost, this is not an option for every business, but in the right circumstances, it can enable a small business to retain employees, include them in important decisions, and grow the company. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, “ESOPs are most commonly used to provide a market for the shares of departing owners of successful closely held companies, to motivate and reward employees, or to take advantage of incentives to borrow money for acquiring new assets in pretax dollars.”

It is important for small businesses to be proactive about retaining valuable employees. In addition to the expense of hiring and training, turnover costs in terms of loss of knowledge, productivity, time, energy, and morale can be detrimental  to a company.  By appreciating potential effects of turnover and – pardon, the pun – effectively employing practices to support employee retention, small businesses should be better positioned to hold on to their valuable skilled workers and to be better for it in the long run.

Related Posts & Links to Further Information

Kansas Department of Labor 2017 Wage Report Search Tool

Wages for Construction & Extraction Jobs by County in Kansas

3 Tips for Employee Retention in the Construction Industry

Lower Your Construction and Skilled Employee Turnover

How to Retain Top Employees in the Construction Industry

18 Ways Contractors Can Improve How They Hire and Fire Workers

Improving Hiring and Retention with Employee Communication

Incumbent Worker Training

Registered Apprenticeships


The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

Social Media & Employer Brand

Know and Manage Your Employer Brand

How Small is Too Small for an ESOP

How an Employee Stock Ownership Plan Works

Cultivating Employee Engagement for Remote Employees

Note: thank you to the Kansas SBDC Advisors who contribution suggestions and participated in the conversation that led to this post.

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor


America’s SBDC Kansas


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Cutting Through The Noise

Modern marketing is interesting. While many people will argue that it’s evolving and becoming technologically advanced, it still usually rests on the tenants of impressions and exposure at its roots. 4,000 ads a day, that’s what most sources will say the average American is exposed to. Our brains bombarded via airwaves, billboards, display ads and the like. So, what are we to do?

If you think about it personally, how many advertisements do you pay attention to or actually care about? How many mailers do you receive and throw directly in the trash? How many times to you sigh heavily and roll your eyes when the ad interrupts your “lit” Pandora run of songs?

What can we do to cut through the noise? What can your brand do to be different? In my professional opinion, we need to be more relational and less transactional. Let me explain.

We are more connected than we have ever been, but studies show (especially in teenagers) that we are lonelier than we’ve ever been. This is because, from a biological perspective, the digital connection is not the same as a face-to-face connection. Different bonds are made, different emotions are understood, and we lose a lot in the digital world. Because of this, people, your customers, are craving relationships.

So, our marketing needs to reach out to our customers in a way that connects to them personally and emotionally, not just in a way that is striving for their wallet. We need to show them that our organizations value them, that we want to improve their lives, that they are truly important to us. Without your customer, you don’t exist.

The problem with this approach is that there isn’t a silver bullet or a right answer. I don’t have a five-step process for you to follow or a strategy for you to implement. I would, however, ask you to just try to think about it. Change your perspective and start thinking about your customers differently.


Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Adwords and Analytics Certified

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The Dreaded Marketing Resolution

New Year’s Day has come and gone and so has the dreaded resolution that accompanies it.  According to a study by the University of Scranton, about 8% of people actually accomplish their goals by the end of the new year. Some people love the “resolution,” but for most people, it is a source of dread.

While I won’t take the time to challenge you to make your staff happier, make 300% more profit, or grow a product line (all good goals by the way), I would like to set something before you. This “something” might even be regarded as much worse, especially in the marketing world. I’m talking about, of course, the dreaded rebrand…dun,dun,duuuuuun.

Every once and a while, it’s healthy to ask yourself this question if and only if you can be completely honest with its answer – “Is my brand stale?” The reaction to that question can change, or not change, the trajectory of your business. Think of it from the perspective of something as simple as a chip. If chips are stale, we typically throw them out. We want something that is new, fresh, and applicable to our current desires. A squishy Dorito typically doesn’t fit that bill.

So, if you’ve answered yes to the question, you have a resolution to make for your business. You need a rebrand. Something new, fresh, and applicable to the current desires of not just your current customers, but more importantly, your potential customers.

And what does as rebrand look like?

A strategic change that has greater the ability to take advantage of future marketing opportunities.

It is strategic in the way that it is executed. A rebrand must be carefully thought through, planned, and communicated. It has to have intention. As it’s put into place, a good rebrand is swift and comprehensive.

The opportunity lies as the rebrand is completed. At this stage, an organization can leverage its fresh image and direction to launch new products and make new partnerships that hit right at the heart of their target market.

Take this risk. Ask yourself the question. Be honest with the answer. We are here to help.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Analytics and Adwords Certified
Washburn SBDC

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So It’s Icy And You Work Retail, Now What?

I don’t know where you are sitting currently, but right now, I’m in the comfort of my own chair as the lovely ice rain slush junk comes down outside. However, I worked retail in high school, and similar to the hero in your favorite war movie, we never backed down. Rain, snow, sleet, or hail, we were there on the off chance that a customer would come through our door.

Now, the truth of the matter is that sometimes they did, but sometimes they didn’t. However, as I look back on it now as a seasoned business person, there is so much that can be done (as long as everyone can get to the store safely, which I cannot stress enough) even if customer foot traffic is slow.


This one seems pretty obvious. Take some time to do the dreaded bathroom clean. Maybe mop the floors. Clean in places you don’t normally clean. It’s a great opportunity to really make your space sparkle.

Refine Your Space

How does your customer interact with your store as they walk in? Big box stores spend tons of time and money on product placement, colors, music, and processes. Think through the customer experience and make changes. See if there are any measurable differences in the next few months.

Brainstorm New Marketing

Use this space to have conversations with your employees about what they are seeing and hearing from your customers. Talk with them about potential ways to reach new customers and give them the ability and freedom to be creative. Sometimes an outside perspective is very helpful.

Help Your Neighbors

This one is often overlooked but goes a long way in forming relationships and bonds with fellow business owners. Take the time to at least ask your neighbors if they have anything they may need help with. Maybe send an employee or two over to help in some cleaning efforts. You never know what type of partnership or synergy this might form.

Encourage Employees

Take this time to intentionally encourage your employees. A sincere thank you means more than you know. Maybe even buy them some pizza for lunch, get to know them a little better. An employee that knows they are appreciated will work harder for your organization.

Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Adwords and Analytics Certified

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They’ve Got It All, Right?

I’m still full. I know that’s an odd way to open up a business blog, but stick with me here. During the Christmas season, our family travels to 37.6 destinations to eat, drink, be merry, and eat again. In the aftermath, I’m left to sit here and ponder if I’ll ever enjoy food again. I’m fulfilled, full, content. I don’t want anything to eat again…ever.

This leaves me thinking (oddly enough, I know), how do we market to a culture who is “full,” and when they aren’t “full,” have the ability to satiate their needs instantaneously?

1. To those who say, “I have everything I need, I don’t need your product or service!”

What are you really marketing?

People hear enough about products, companies, slogans, phrases, and guarantees. They need to know what these things are going to do for them and how these products/services are going to change their lives. Now, does your marketing message speak to your customer in that regard? Are you talking about them, or are you talking about you?

2. To those who say, “I need a product or service and I need it now!”

I can almost buy anything I want as I type this post. I can set up a ride out of town, get groceries delivered, schedule a plumber, rent a movie, and facetime a friend. If I really wanted, my life could be instantaneously delivered via this browser right now. How are you rising to meet this challenge as a business? What does your web presence look like? How do you differentiate yourself?

I’ll leave you with this. My grandma makes pecan pie from scratch and dominates anything you can purchase from the store. No matter how full I am, no matter how fulfilled I think I may be, I will make room for a slice of that pie if it becomes available. Make your business like that…channel your inner pecan pie.

Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Adwords Certified

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