The Man Behind The Winged Lion


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.
Business Advisor
Washburn University
Kansas SBDC


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Fitness and the Workplace for Small Businesses




Small business owners tend to be very busy people. Sometimes being busy means performing a lot of physical activities; but sometimes it means standing on one’s feet all day working at a counter, spending hours driving around from location to location, or sitting at a computer most of the day and into the evening. Being busy, unfortunately, does not necessarily translate into a healthy life style for busy small business owners and their employees.

Fitness involves the ability to perform physical activities related to daily life found, for example, in work, leisure, and sports. It is closely related to general health and is supported by certain types of exercise, good nutrition and adequate rest.  Thinking about this in the context of workplaces, we might add to the list of supporting factors good ergonomics in the work environment and measures that achieve injury prevention.

Many small business owners have only a handful of employees, if they have any at all; and they depend on these people, and they themselves, being able to work. So for obvious reasons, their own personal fitness and that of their employees can be enormously important for the smooth running of their businesses.

In addition, a company culture that encourages fitness can improve morale and productivity – boons for everyone!

Fitness Tips for Work

  • Pay attention to posture, form, and safety considerations
  • Avoid sitting or standing in the same position for prolonged periods
  • Reduce unnecessary driving
  • Walk or bike to and from work or meetings
  • Invite people to go on walking meetings
  • Walk, swim, or take an exercise class at lunch
  • Avoid eating lunch at the desk
  • Take stretching breaks throughout the day
  • Keep healthful snacks and beverages around
  • Select healthful meals at work meetings
  • Use standing desks or ergonomic desks and chairs
  • Remember that being busy doesn’t equal cardio activity
  • Keep reasonable work hours
  • Recognize the importance of rest and relaxation

Since small businesses are often so dependent on the health and fitness of their owners and their employees, we encourage you to take care! Even a few changes can make a difference.

To say that there are a lot of books and articles out there on the topic of fitness would be a gross understatement!  Here, however, are a few articles that I found to useful in writing this post:

Fit for Work

3 Ways Staying Physically Fit Can Boost Your Work Performance 

Exercise May Make You a Better Worker

How to Get Your Employees Into Fitness


Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University

Kansas SBDC


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Goals, Success & Reflection


Often when I work with small business owners, we discover that underlying whatever problem brought them to see me is a lack of clarity about direction. Even motivated individuals can lack an understanding of what they want out of their business or lack a vision of where business ownership fits into the greater picture of what they want out of life. That makes it difficult to set goals let alone work through strategies for succeeding.

I see this, for example, when people start businesses but seem unwilling to take the steps that they need to take to in order succeed – such as borrowing money to get the business off the ground or leaving another job to work full-time at the business.  Don’t be mistaken. I’m not recommending that people throw caution to the wind and quit their jobs or borrow large amounts of money to get their business established without doing their homework first. Analyzing market research, thinking through operations, and making a serious attempt to figure out realistic financial projections are important steps to take. So is thinking about what one really wants, what counts as succeeding, and what level of commitment one has to  achieving that success – and developing a degree of clarity on these matters.

5 Important Questions for Business Owners

  • What do you want (or need to get) out of your business?
  • What are your criteria for success?
  • What steps do you need to take to succeed?
  • How will taking those steps affect your personal life/your family/your financial situation?
  • What is your level of commitment to taking these steps?

Reflection on these personal questions about success and commitment are important at any stage of business ownership, not just at the beginning. For one’s vision impacts not just the goals that one sets for the business but also how business ownership fits into one’s life – the time that one has to spend on other interests or with family and friends, the sacrifices one might have to make, and what one has to gain or to lose by pursuing (or failing to pursue) certain aspirations.

These questions can be difficult to answer, and one’s answers might change over time; but having answers can help one understand one’s objectives and set goals for one’s business (e.g., increasing owner’s retained earnings, expanding to another location, changing the focus of services or products offered, moving into exporting, or getting ready to downsize).  Goals give us something to work toward, something for which we can develop a plan. The alternatives are to stay in the same place or to move without conscious direction – and that is something worth reflecting upon.

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
Business Advisor
Kansas SBDC at Washburn University

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Congratulations and Good Luck to Loretta’s Artisanal Bakery & Cafe

Congratulations to Loretta Lopez on the opening of Loretta’s Artisanal Bakery and Café Loretta came to the Kansas SBDC at WU for assistance with writing a business plan for starting her bakery and for navigating the logistics of starting a business. Loretta had a reputation as a great baker from selling her goods at farmers’ markets and knew that she could make her vision of owning her open business a realty if she turned to the right resources.


Having just opened doors, Loretta is currently concentrating her efforts on getting the bakery portion of the business off the ground. Upon walking into the bakery, one is greeted by the welcoming aroma of fresh baked yeast breads and a variety of homemade desserts ranging from decadent cheesecakes to paleo cookies – items which Loretta’s customers, myself included, are quite happy to consume!


Located in the bright blue cottage on Highway 24 in Belvue, Kansas, Loretta’s is a welcomed addition to its community and a convenient stop off place for hungry travelers.


Good luck, Loretta! We wish you success and happiness in running your business!

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
Business Advisor
Kansas SBDC at Washburn University

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Finding My Way…with Books


Inspired by children with special needs and their families, and hopes of creating a more inclusive and accepting environment, Jo Mach, Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier and Mary Birdsell started Finding My Way Books in 2013. They observed that children with disabilities are not well represented in literature, so the goal of FMWB is to honor children with special needs by telling their stories. The three hope this will help the development of skills needed for self-determination.

“How to Start a Business was straight forward and easy to understand. This gave me good business direction.” – Jo Mach

While the business idea was solid, getting FMWB to where they are now was not an easy task. For Mach, Stroup-Rentier and Birdsell, getting into publishing posed a larger hurdle than expected. Breaking into the world of publishing can feel difficult enough, but trying to break into the business world at the same time felt nearly impossible. Unsure of the next step to take, Mach reached out to the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Washburn University and attended the introductory seminar “How to Start a Business.”

“It was straight forward and easy to understand. The presenter shared specific information for every step of the way. This gave me good basic business direction,” said Mach.

Mach and her team then began working with the WU Kansas SBDC to start building their business plan. Marketing proved to be the biggest struggle. Parents loved the books but didn’t want to buy them, and were faced with similar problems with disability organizations. They wanted to spread their message and sell to a larger audience.

Working with the WU Kansas SBDC has helped the team at FMWB learn more about the process of owning and operating a small business. They have used multiple tools and resources at their disposal and have taken the steps to get their business off the ground. From attending WU Kansas SBDC classes to working one-on-one with consultants Karl Klein, Logan Hildebrand, Al Bonner and others, Mach and her team have overcome many of their marketing challenges and have begun establishing themselves in the world of small business. “Through our contacts with staff at Kansas SBDC we’ve gained confidence which has helped us make better decisions.  We’ve broadened our target audience to include librarians and teachers! Now we are able to present our mission more clearly, using more professional-looking collateral materials. We’ve started building relationships with about 10 libraries and have been invited to present at the TSCPL,” said Mach.

This fall FMWB has been invited to present at the Kansas Book Festival and they have been accepted as a book supplier for the Reach Out and Read program in Kansas City and the Kansas Pediatric Foundation Turn a Page/Touch a Mind program.  Both of these programs offer free books to children at their medical appointments. In addition, they are working with an elementary school teacher in Indiana and a high school teacher in Wichita on pilot projects using the books to promote inclusion.

“We haven’t increased our income yet but we have greatly expanded our reach in connecting with people who are interested in our books.  Eventually this should help with book sales. But best of all, we’ve met a lot of very wonderful people who are helping us along the way.”

So what is the secret to the success of Finding My Way Books?

“We really believe in what we are doing. We feel it is important so we have to keep going even when we feel unsure about what to do next,” said Mach. “We’ve had a lot of wonderful support from friends and have sought out the guidance we needed.”

Mach also had some helpful advice for someone thinking about starting a business today:

“…Kansas SBDC at WU is an incredible support. I know I can call or email Karl anytime and I will get a response of how they can help me. I think the earlier you start with them, the better it is for your business.”

Mach and the team at Finding My Way Books are on a mission to promote inclusion and self-determination for children with special needs. Each of their books shares a true story of a child with a disability or developmental delay. FMWB also provides lesson plans for schools and educators that facilitate inclusion and developmental skills through classroom activities. For more information, visit

Mindy Lee
Advisor/Marketing Coordinator
Washburn University
America’s SBDC
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Celebrating Women Business Owners


March is National Women’s History Month, a great time to celebrate women business owners!

Nationally, about 46% of small businesses are owned by women. (To count as a woman-owned business, at least 51% of the ownership of the business must be by a woman or by women.) Overall, women own between 9 and 10 million businesses in the US (depending on which source one looks at). This means that approximately 40% of US businesses are owned by women. Businesses owned by women generate around $1.5 trillion in sales and employ somewhere between 8 and 9 million people. Women business owners are not a force to be discounted!

At the state level, in Kansas, there are approximately 247,000 small businesses together employing around 600,000 people. Approximately 79,500 businesses in Kansas are owned by women and they employ about 75,000 people.

At America’s SDBC Kansas (a.k.a. Kansas SBDC), we are proud to count a number of these inspiring women as clients.  We applaud their successes and are honored to be a part of their stories.  Here are two recent award-winning clients and a piece of advice from each –

RFB Construction, owned by Deborah Beachner, won the Award Kansas Department of Commerce Women-Owned Business of the Year  2014.  In an interview with The Morning Sun, Deborah stated that it was a challenge to earn respect in the male-dominated field of construction, but that she likes a challenge. According to Deborah, it is important to remember to ask oneself how badly one wants something. Deborah has been sole owner of RFB since 2012.

Mid Star Lab, Inc., owned by Kari and Ron Wagner, received the Kansas Department of Commerce Women-Owned Business of the Year  Award in 2015 and a Kansas SBDC Existing Business of the Year Award in 2013. Kari advises business owners to learn everything that they can and to bring in knowledgeable advisors. Read more about Kari’s advice and about the Mid Star Lab, Inc. growth story.



Watch for more successful Kansas SBDC women-owned businesses through America’s SBDC Kansas and right here on our Washburn University SBDC blog.

Have a  Washburn KSBDC success story that you want to share? Let us know!

Resources & Information Sources


Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

America’s SBDC Kansas

Washburn University

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Toto’s Tacoz: Existing Business of the Year

On March 14, Toto’s Tacoz!  was given the Existing Business of the Year Award for Washburn University KSBDC. Congratulations, Toto’s. We are very proud of you!


I remember when Toto’s Tacoz! first opened in 2005 and several of my friends were making regular trips from Manhattan to Wamego to go to this quirky, new, tiny, Oz-themed, family-friendly eatery that was selling California-style Mexican food.  Intrigued, I had to give the place a try. It was great fun! In fact, I featured Toto’s in my business’s newsletter as a restaurant that I thought my customers would enjoy. That was when I first made the acquaintance of owner, Craig Lord.

Fast forward a number of years: Toto’s Tacoz! has since moved to a larger location, I have taken a position as Business Advisor with WU’s center for the Kansas SBDC, and I inherit Toto’s as a client. I was thrilled to become reacquainted with Craig and to have the opportunity to be working with him.

Craig is passionate about great quality in his restaurant – in the food, in the customer experience, and in the leadership and financial management of the business. I think that it is fair to say that it is Craig’s passion for making sure that everything is the best that he can make it that brought him to the Kansas SBDC, has kept him a client for 12 years, and made him so great to work with. His dedication and enthusiasm for the everything about the business are also what makes Toto’s Tacoz! such a valued part of its community.

Of course, as the saying goes, behind every great man there is a woman, and Craig’s wife Colleen is the artist responsible for the Oz-and-Ocean murals and beachy-Kansas décor at Toto’s that create its unique atmosphere. I know that Craig would consider me remiss if I did not acknowledge Colleen’s contributions. So, well-done to both of you, Craig and Colleen!

Toto's - Colleen Lord, Laura Kelly and Craig Lord 2

(photo: Colleen Lord, Senator Laura Kelly, Dorothy, Craig Lord)

— And just in case you are wondering, my personal favorite is the Guaco Taco!

Let me also give kudos to the Advisors who preceded me in my position out of WU and worked with Craig before me. Thank you for letting me ride on your coattails in taking the Lords and Toto’s Tacoz! to the E3 awards. Great job team!

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
Business Advisor
America’s SBDC Kansas
Washburn University

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