At StartUp Hutch, we believe in connecting a community of entrepreneurs. Sharing our stories is one of the best ways to create collisions, share ideas, and make the most of our skills, talents, and resources in Reno County
Jay and Connie Schrock always believed in the concept of “keeping it local.”
In 1973, Woodwork Manufacturing was sold to new owners, and by 1982, after 22 years as an employee, Jay found himself frustrated and ready for a new career. Instead of moving on, the Schrocks seized a chance to purchase the company, which today continues its nationwide operations out of Hutchinson.
“Jay was always more concerned about it being local,” Connie said.
It was the local community that helped guide them through the early years of Woodwork Manufacturing, offering sound advice to the young business owners. And it was the local community that had faith in the Schrocks and helped them grow the company, even through economic struggles that forced others to leave town or close.
Just as other business leaders helped them through lean time, the Schrocks have seen how local business ownership ripples out to others. “Over the years, a lot of big companies tried to buy us out,” Jay said. “There used to be a lot of mom-and-pop operations, and as they retired, they sold to corporations. The first thing that happens, it takes away from the city. Local banking, insurance – that all goes elsewhere. Small business is the heart of a town.”
Now as another generation takes over the operation, the Schrocks find satisfaction in the promise of Hutchinson’s future as well as the company and family legacy, which was from seeds of local commitment sown many years ago.
“We made a promise then that if we got through this, we’d do what we could to help people.”
When Bob Updegraff started working for Phillip Harley at Harley’s Bicycles in high school in 1964, it’s likely that he wasn’t thinking long term. But 56 years later, he’s still out on the floor talking to customers.
As Updegraff sees it, the people are the best part of owning a business. “I'm a hands-on owner,” he says. "My ‘core technology’ is helping customers. I think people really enjoy seeing the owner, and I know I enjoy seeing them!”
Updegraff says strong employees make it possible. Being an employee himself and working with Harley for 31 years also smoothed the transition when he purchased the business. Twenty-five years later, he’s still running the shop with the same philosophy that Harley did.
“What we have been doing has worked well for over 50 years,” Updegraff said. "If it's not broken, don’t fix it!”
While the name and the philosophy may have come with the shop, Updegraff is always watching for new trends or ways to improve. “I’ve been in this industry for almost 60 years,” he said.
“You’d think I’d have it down. But sometimes you get a nugget, or something pops up that makes you say, ‘Wait a second...that’s a great idea!’ so we try it.”
The process works. Mixing a tried-and-true philosophy with new ideas and technology, Harley’s continues to be a solid business and has grown significantly under Updegraff’s ownership. In addition to a sales increase, the shop is regularly named as one of the top 200 bike shops in the United States – 18 times so far, including 2020.
“I’m a hands-on owner. I think people really enjoy seeing the owner, and I know I enjoy seeing them!”
Anne Dowell is a one-woman powerhouse with a penchant for Downtown who is no stranger to adapting to change.
Dowell relocated Apron Strings to Downtown Hutch in 2014. “I was looking for someplace unique with character, and Downtown has the boutique vibe I wanted,” Dowell said. “It’s my neighborhood.”
Dowell is always looking for opportunities to do something different, most recently, an expansion in Salina. Dowell is driven by the belief that adapting to a changing environment and economy is the nature of retail. “In retail, you have to keep trying different things. Just because something doesn’t seem to work out, you didn’t fail. If you keep throwing darts at a dartboard, eventually one of them will stick and be good. Yes, sometimes you are going to miss the board, but you’re also going to get some bullseyes.”
Dowell encourages anyone who thinks “I’d love to do something like this, but I’m too scared” to reach out to people in the Downtown neighborhood and ask about mentoring and funding support. “I’m scared every day,” she says, “but I keep throwing those darts anyway!”
"Just because something doesn’t seem to work out, you didn’t fail. If you keep throwing darts at a dartboard, eventually one of them will stick and be good."
Eric Spurgeon is a serial entrepreneur.
"I've always had the inclination to own a business,” Spurgeon said. “From the time I was 12, raising chickens and selling eggs to teachers at school, I have enjoyed being my own boss.” Spurgeon currently runs two businesses; one is established and growing, and the other is an early start up. Tarhun 3D is an engineering design firm that works with smaller startups and companies to help them move their products through the design process from prototype to market. Iron Hedge is a startup with a new take on barbed wire fences.
Spurgeon owned and operated a barbed wire fence company when he was in high school. While working in the engineering industry after
college, he noticed that his expertise as a previous business owner brought a unique viewpoint to his engineering projects that made things run more smoothly. In 2017, he decided to combine those skills, and he started Tarhun 3D.
Mentors have been a great resource for Spurgeon. “A mentor told me that people often negate their natural strengths,” he said. “We live with ourselves everyday so we don't think about what we are really good at.” His mentor suggested looking at what he was good at and finding two skills that may not seem to match up. Then consider how those two skills combined could be more valuable than a single skill applied. Spurgeon realized that there aren’t that many people who have his experience building barbed wire fences who also have expertise in engineering - and they enjoy both processes.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, Spurgeon leveraged what he already knew from Tarhun 3D about helping clients create products when he started Iron Hedge. Now he’s working through the design process he created at one company to take the other to market.
“It was especially helpful to get involved and meet people when I was new to the community. You never know what meaningful relationship you will stumble into.”
It was while Zac Kitson was still working as a high school employee that Barbara Didlo casually mentioned selling the business to him.
“I didn’t feel I was in a place to purchase the business as a high school student, but as the conversation went on my parents walked into the shop. Now we operate this as our family business, my parents and my wife and I.”
Metropolitan Coffee is now one of the premier stops for coffee, tea, espresso, and baked goods in Hutchinson. Beyond the food and beverages – Metro is known as a place for connections. Not only is it great for meetings, hang outs and study groups, but the business displays pieces from local artists, hosts special events such as Swing Dancing night, and is a great place to catch local music.
After the success of their 17th and Lorraine location, The Kitson’s expanded into Downtown Hutchinson’s Wiley District in 2016.
“The grace we’ve offered to our customers has been reciprocated and they’ve been loyal supporters,” said Kitson. “We couldn’t do what we do without the people of Hutchinson.”
'We couldn't do what we do without the people of Hutchinson.'
Holly's Sweet Treats
Holly Thomas has been baking for as long as she can remember. Yet her first attempt to elevate her hobby - by decorating a cake for her cousin's wedding shower - was "awful."
"I wrote on it three times," Thomas laughed. "It was all smeared. But it tasted good."
A guest at the shower asked Thomas to make her wedding cake. She started making cakes and treats for family and friends hosting parties and special events. After a while, Thomas found her career in the nonprofit sector making way for a new side business for her longtime hobby, which pushed her to broaden her skills, upgrade her equipment, and perfect her craft.
Now, that side gig has taken up residence in one of downtown Hutchinson's anchor storefronts - the corner of Avenue B and Main Street. There, Holly's Sweet Treats has increased its capacity to serve the needs of the community, from custom cakes to unique, handcrafted treats, to lunch and take-home meals, and gifts that can't be found anyplace else.
"I call what I do feeding people joy," Holly said. My hope is that people come in, hang out, watch me decorate and feel like this is a place they want to be."
The Wool Market
& DIY School
The sign above The Wool Market & DIY School only partly describes what's inside.
While owners Andrea Springer and Steve Snook offer wool and all the supplies one would need to take up knitting, the space at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street in Hutchinson is also a gathering space where you can watch a bad sci-fi movie one night, hear a New York Time best-selling author on another, and hone your skills the next day at a knitting class or group.
"It's amazing to get people together who would otherwise never meet around the table," Springer said. "The retail part always felt like a secondary goal. We wanted to create a welcoming space for meeting people - but how does that look in a business plan?"
The couple transitioned from established nonprofit and medical careers to create new pathways for their futures and to invest in downtown Hutchinson. In the process, they've found new friends and new creativity, sparked by the connections that have been made.
"There's something about the energy when something is created," Andrea said. "It lets them imagine what else might be possible."