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The Personal Touch
Lynda Fisher has done many things since she graduated from college in 1986, but none so much fun as the cabinet, fixture and countertop business she developed alongside her husband, Loren. Fisher worked in a real estate office, in pet nutrition, was a nursing student, volunteered as a religious ministry worker, and became a mother before turning her sights on her husband’s fledgling cabinet business in 2001.
Loren was working for an architectural millwork firm in Topeka, KS when they heard that the firm was moving to Kansas City. At home in the Topeka area, the Fishers were faced with a decision, move or find something else to do. Loren suggested opening a cabinet shop. Lynda was skeptical, but they bought a computerized router and began cutting parts and pieces that they sold to other cabinet shops. Starting out in their garage, they did well immediately; trying new things, buying used equipment from auctions out of their savings, and enjoying working together.
Soon, it became apparent they needed more room, so they found a 4000 sq. ft. space and persuaded the landlord to give them a six month lease. The months went by quickly and they signed a three year lease, but soon found they needed even more space. Their growth was based on the quality of Loren’s work and Lynda’s volunteer spirit and business savvy.
To increase their visibility, Lynda joined the local Chamber of Commerce’s, Diplomat Committee, which concentrated on new members and membership retention. Through this committee she was able to meet many other business owners. She also joined KEEN (Kansas Executive Express Network) which helps educate and connect executive women, as well as the Topeka Home Builders Association. Each of these organizations became referral sources for new customers.
Soon Lynda decided to try and solve their growing space problem and expand their business by opening a shop to display the cabinets and countertops. Realizing she needed more training as an entrepreneur, Fisher contacted the Small Business Development Center at Washburn University even attending a class, called Exploring Entrepreneurship. The Center’s Director gave her a binder filled with information, forms, tax information and contacts needed to get a small business started in Kansas. He also gave her free advice, provided access to legal help, and sent an accountant to set up computerized books. He even connected her with a marketing class which took on the Fisher’s business as a case study, providing a marketing plan on which to build.
Using a home equity credit line to finance their expansion, the Fishers went to work. Soon, everything came together; Loren’s reputation for quality craftsmanship and Lynda’s relationships within the business community started bringing contractors building homes or remodeling offices to the retail outlet. Instead of having to go out and bid on individual jobs, people came right to them. They were even able to hire a designer and sponsored an ugly countertop contest at the Topeka Home Builders Show. 60% of their business is now in countertops, and they complete about 600 jobs a year.
The Small Business Professors' Words of Wisdom
Prior to starting their own business, Loren worked long hours, straining the couple’s relationship. Now Lynda is part of it and understands the demands on their time. To ease the pressure, the couple employs eight people and tries to make working conditions as enjoyable as possible, even providing for flexible hours for employees.
In 2004, the Fishers were nominated for and won for the Small Business Award in Topeka for outstanding achievement, community involvement, and business growth. Lynda is going back to school this fall taking a fast-track entrepreneur class for those whose businesses are already up and running, but the Fisher’s are not striving to become a huge business. They want to continue growing in terms of productivity and profitability, expanding their equipment line, but they don’t want hundreds of employees; they enjoy the personal family-type business atmosphere
- Case History: Countertop Shoppe www.mycountertopshoppe.com
- Entrepreneur’s Strategy: Utilize local business organizations to help build visibility and educational resources to teach you things you don’t know.
- Could This Work For Me? Just starting out or trying to expand, Chambers of Commerce and Small Business Centers are resources that can increase your bottom line.
Starting out in their garage, they did well immediately; trying new things, buying used equipment from auctions out of their savings, and enjoying working together.