Along the sparkling restored streetscape in downtown Norfolk is a gem of a store set within the shabby chic bricks and mortar of the old Pasewalk Building. Bright pastels for the up-to-date interior design and shiny floors make it hard to believe for a visitor this outlet offering the hottest brands in children's apparel actually is a second-hand clothing store.
"That's what we tried to accomplish," said Kookaburras Kloset co-owner Glenda Aschoff during an interview on WJAG radio's "Morning Coffee" shortly after the store opened for business Dec. 5. Aschoff, along with her daughter and co-owner Julie Weidner, and granddaughter Katie, run the store.
"My daughter actually came up with the idea after talking to a number of Norfolk residents and finding a need for a children's clothing store in the Norfolk area," Aschoff said.
Then there's the shop's name, taken from the old nursery rhyme of the Kookaburra sitting under the old gum tree, eating all the gum drops he can see. Drivers on Norfolk Avenue can't miss the gaily decorated sign outside.
"We wanted something catchy," Aschoff said, "and thought it would be something people would remember."
The store buys new to nearly-new kids' clothing, toys, shoes and many other items; they're not a consignment shop, so sellers can bring their goods to the store on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and by appointment on Saturdays, and get paid immediately. The stuff goes right on the shelves and hangars, so Aschoff said, "our shop changes probably hourly, as fast as we get things in, recondition what needs it, and putting it out."
That encourages foot traffic just to check out the latest offerings. Kookaburras Kloset is a little selective, though.
"The merchandise they’re trying to buy is typically stuff you can’t get in Norfolk, Nebraska," said David Brunsing, vice-president at Frontier Bank in nearby Madison. "They've got clothes there from popular kids stores, like Gap, Old Navy ... some of the stuff they like to buy you can’t get in this part of the state."
Putting the deal together
Aschoff's daughter, Julie, came to Brunsing last spring with the idea of a store that would re-purpose clothing--and an idea for a location in a re-purposed building downtown. The lender suggested she visit Loren Kucera at the Nebraska Business Development Center in Wayne for help with financial projections and a business plan.
"Like any retail business in a small town, the question is whether there's a market for this," Brunsing said of the town of around 24,000. "Would it be a viable business in a town this size? I guess the one thing they had going for them was there was no business in town like this."
But for the business to be more than a dream, Brunsing needed to call in some help to provide the funds to purchase inventory, make leaseholder improvements to the shop and have some working capital. He called on Holly Quinn from the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District and Juan Sandoval with the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, who joined Loren at a conference room table, and "asked what can we do to make this work."
In addition to loans from NNEDD and REAP, and a small down payment by Weidner, the lender used the SBA's Rural Lender Advantage to cover the balance of the project.
“Without the SBA, this deal would have been more difficult,” Brunsing said. “The SBA guarantee made it very easy to move forward with the financing.”
The application was approved August 17, one of eight SBA loan approvals to small businesses in Norfolk, and one of 15 SBA loans made in the state by Frontier Bank in Fiscal 2011.
"At the beginning I was pretty skeptical, you know, retail stores come and go. But I credit the persistence of Julie," Brunsing said. "She never gave up, and we just kept looking for ways to make it work. I think we were all surprised that the projections were better than we thought for a kids' clothing store. I’m glad we all stuck with it, I believe it is a unique store in Norfolk and I think it can make it."
Brunsing also credited the work from NNEDD and REAP. "We're fortunate that they're here, that they want to see start up businesses come to town."
And the lender can add one more person happy to see the store open.
"My daughter is tickled pink," Brunsing said. "She's nine, and she thinks this is great that she can find those name-brand jeans she wants."
A chance meeting one day with a new lender in their Kearney strip mall led to better cash flow for their small business and the resources to hire a new technician to continue to provide much-needed orthotic and prosthetic services to their neighbors.
One day last year, Jeff Kreycik of the State Bank of Riverdale dropped by to introduce himself to Darren Wiens and Jake Sikes, and visit their business, Ortho Medics. The lender just opened a branch in the nearby strip mall, and was scouting for new business. As it happens, Wiens and Sikes had been tossing around some financing ideas -- to start Ortho Medics in 2007, they both had to mortgage their homes and were eager to get out from under that.
How the business came to be, Wiens said during a recent interview on Kearney's KGFW-AM , "is actually kind of a funny story.
"I remember starting the business with Jake and telling my wife, we’re going to use the house as collateral," Wiens explained, "and she gave me that look like, 'oh, good God, what am I getting into.' We were real confident, though, we had a good business plan and everything, and we thought it would work well, as long as we worked hard. Fast forward a few years, we had a couple of different loans for the business, and we wanted to bring everything together."
That's where the visit by Kreycik came in.
"So I said, you know, if you had the ability to give us a loan that would take our house off as collateral and combine everything into one loan, give us a lower interest rate so we’re paying less a month, we’ll do it," Wiens said during. "And it was kind of a shot in the dark, we really didn’t think it would actually happen."
Kreycik was determined to get the business the financing it needed, and after getting some guidance from the lender relations specialists at the Nebraska District Office, got an approval Oct. 18, 2010, for an SBA-backed loan under the Rural Advantage Program.
In this case, the small business’ assets were enough to fully collateralize the loan.
"When we started the business we really focused on the patient part of it, working with the doctors, the hospitals," Wiens said. "So with us, we did really well on the patient side then learned on the back end how the business side worked. And that's where we learned a lot about that, going through the loan process."
Wiens also explained from his point of view the SBA loan process wasn't much different than the work going through a regular commercial loan.
"I think a lot of people have this image that you’re going to be sitting down with a banker and you’re gonna be filling out tons of paperwork, with all your tax returns, your accounts receivable," he said. "Well, if you sit down with a bank, they’re going to want all the paperwork anyway.
"If you want to get your house off as collateral, if you want to use just your business assets as collateral, why not take the extra couple of weeks, because you’re going to fill out the paperwork out anyway for the bank," he added. "So do a little extra for the SBA, get yourself free and clear, and that will allow you to do so much more through the business."
The $150,000 loan was approved by the SBA using the provisions of the Jobs Act; the banker got a 90 percent guarantee, and the borrower fees were waived for Ortho Medics. More than getting his house out from under the collateral requirements, the business also improved its monthly cash flow.
"That was a huge win for us," Wiens said. "It allowed us to bring on another person as a technician, and we ended up buying out another company in town," and which ultimately meant they could handle more patient needs.
And that's where the story of this business really begins.
Wiens first got the idea for his business more than 10 years ago after competing in a decathalon against a top-ranked paralympic athlete training for the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia. Not only was Wiens amazed at his competitor's ability to compete, but beat most of the able-bodied athletes. Determined to do something different with his life, Wiens saw a career doing just that by providing prosthetics and orthotics to get people back and active again.
Visit their web site and you'll learn Ortho Medics takes "great pride in finding innovative, creative solutions to provide our patients and community with the highest quality care available." They mean it, from prefab orthopedic and prosthetic limb braces and supports for spinal trauma patients, to unique casting and custom fabrication the competition doesn't offer. They'll visit their patient to take measurements and get to work; Wiens admits sometimes being up past all hours in the lab just to make sure a patient can get a device the next morning and take that first step toward a new life. And they're always seeking out emerging technology to help even more.
Wiens said its important his business takes the time to listen to their patients, to learn their expectations for their activity level and lifestyle, so they can design something that fits. "If you really listen to what motivates a person, it's easier to explain to them what we're trying to accomplish together."
He's also helped two of his colleagues start their own Ortho Medics facilities in Norfolk and Omaha, "because they share the same patient care philosophy."
That alone sets Ortho Medics apart. But then there's the story of how they spent thousands of dollars of their own money and traveled more than 2,200 miles just to help cast and fit prosthetic arms and legs for desperately poor amputees victimized by civil war in Nicaragua. Sikes and his uncle started a charity three years ago, Step Global, to enlist the help of like-minded volunteers like Wiens to rework secondhand prosthetics that can't be re-used in this country for dozens of grateful souls in the Central American nation.
"You see these people that haven't taken a step with their leg in five years," said Wiens in an interview with the Kearney Hub. "Then, they get up and take a step."
The Tiffany Theater (left) and owners Stuart Fox and Andrew Solomon
There’s a lot to like about this small town in Custer County in central Nebraska; friendly neighborhoods, fine lakes and quiet rivers, the Sandhills -- and the all-digital 3-D capable Tiffany Theater.
The old white-washed front of the building in Broken Bow dating back to 1915 had been the destination spot on the brick cobblestone street for years.
But this town of a little more than 3,000 people was in danger of losing its movie theater, and the next-closest one was 60 miles away. The owners were packing up for another town and two theaters they’d just purchased, and the projectors and other equipment were heading out with them.
“They listed it for sale for two years," said Stuart Fox, one of the co-owners of the Tiffany. "If no one had bought it, they were going to take all the equipment from the theater with them when they left town. We couldn't let that happen."
But buying the theater six years ago in a partnership with co-owner Andrew Solomon six years ago was just the start. Both grew up in Custer County, and wanted to give their neighbors quality entertainment normally only available in a larger city.
"I thought we were an underserved market," Fox said. "I saw other communities that had two-screen theaters that were open all the time, and I thought, if they can do it, why can't we?"
Fox traveled the state extensively, finding towns in the state similar to Broken Bow supporting two-screen theaters open seven days a week. At the time, the Tiffany had its one screen open only three days.
“I said, if they can do it in Valentine, Nebraska,” referring to the north-central town near the South Dakota border, “we could do it.”
Under the company name Vulpes Corp. (the name comes from the Latin word for fox), the two set about installing a heat pump, which meant for the first time in nearly 90 years, the theater finally enjoyed air conditioning. They added offices to the upper floor, and renovated the entrance and ticket and concession area to “make it a little more welcoming.” In November 2008, they added a second screen.
Finally, in May 2009, with a $170,000 SBA Express loan for the newest digital technology available and a $240,000 7(a) loan under the Recovery Act to pay for renovations, the Tiffany Theater was ready for its grand re-opening. Neighbors marveled at the 92-seat theater upstairs and 120-seat one on the main floor, with maximum-sized screens, stadium seating with high-back rocker seats, and the newest digital projection and surround sound technology. And no more waiting weeks or a couple of months for a new release; now, Broken Bow gets to see new movies when they open nationwide.
Even better: the Tiffany Theater is one of the first two in central Nebraska with three-dimensional capability – which also meant the theater was one of the few in the state to show Kenney Chesney’s summer concert series in 3-D, drawing country music fans from larger Kearney and Grand Island to the small town.
Oh, and they offer Husker football on the big screen on Saturday afternoons.
Tiffany Theater offers alternative content servers in both auditoriums to show any type of digital media, and plans for overhead lighting means Broken Bow has a new site for business meetings, fundraisers, even birthday parties.
“I look it at as my community service,” Fox said. “We’re not doing this for the money, we just feel that it’s important for the community. I don’t ever intend to make a lot of money off the place. If I can hold it together that would be fine.”
That sense of giving back even extends to those who work in the theater. According to a story in the Grand Island Independent in July, Sam Troxel, a young Broken Bow High School graduate, won a $500 college scholarship from the North Central Unit of the National Association of Theater Owners.
And here’s the rest of the story: Fox is the vice-president of the Custer Economic Development Corp., and the president of Nebraska State Bank. When Vulpes Corp. needed to finance the theater project, he couldn’t very well go to his own bank’s vault and scoop up the needed cash.
“As an executive offer of the bank, you’re limited to (a certain amount) excluding the loan on your primary residence,” Fox said.
So the banker went across the street to Bruning State Bank, his competitor, for the loan.
“Broken Bow is a unique town,” Fox said. “We’ve got four, five banks, and we all get along just fine. It’s a friendly competition.”
Fox said the banker on the theater deal, Jim Scott, not only his is friend, but his wife works with Scott’s wife as a school teacher, and Scott’s family would frequent the theater. Many of the theater renovations were completed with volunteer work, and Scott was one of the volunteers.
“We feel it’s important we grow these rural communities,” Fox said, “and give people here the same opportunities they have in other communities. But we don’t want people to come here because it’s the only theater in Broken Bow. We want to earn their business.”