Steamboat Springs Rich Voldness has always wanted to be his own boss but during 25 years as a truck driver and deliveryman, he never quite got there. Then a blessing in disguise came along -- Voldness lost his job.
"I delivered beer (in Chicago) for 15 years and for the last 10 years here I worked for Marias Industries. We moved steel for the railways. Chuck Marias sold the company, and I've been kicking around for six months trying to think of something I could enjoy and the town needed."
Finally it dawned on Voldness that he already had a firm grip on his new business -- all he had to do was keep both hands on the steering wheel. After researching the market, Voldness bought a diesel pickup and a gooseneck trailer to establish Mountain Town Delivery. Voldness is driving a truck -- just like he always has. But now, he is his own boss.
Voldness worked with Scott Ford of the Small Business Development Center at Colorado Mountain College when planning his business. They used the new consumer preference study to identify his target of opportunity, Ford said.
The company is a one-man delivery firm targeting a niche its owner believes the giant national express freighters, as well as regional trucking firms, either can't or won't fill.
"My niche is, I can offer more personal service at the same, or lower prices" than other freight companies, Voldness said. His customers include a veterinarian who had been driving to Denver himself to pick up a couple of pallets of animal chow. A furniture store that wanted to be able to provide its customers with mattresses faster than the once-a-week delivery the wholesaler offered, has begun working with Mountain Town Delivery. When a Steamboat home furnishings store sells a one-of-a-kind art piece to a customer on vacation, Voldness is called to haul it back over the mountains to a big "freight and crate" operation in Denver.
However, he hopes a significant portion of his business will come from Steamboat people who purchase large items on the Front Range. And that's where the Consumer Preference Survey comes in.
Ford said the survey shows that there is significant leakage from the Steamboat economy in purchases of furniture and major appliances.
"It isn't about whether it's good to buy a washing machine in Denver," Ford said. "That happens. People buy washing machines at Best Buy and they aren't going to bring them home in their Honda Civic."
Denver furniture and appliance stores will offer to ship merchandise to Steamboat, but sometimes the cost of shipping rivals the purchase price, Ford pointed out. And that defines opportunity for Voldness. It still remains for him to execute his business plan and market his service to customers.
Voldness said he fully expects that he won't make a profit in his first year. He is continually adjusting his rates to ensure long-term profitability and offer his customers an incentive to come to his company.
Instead of shopping for a commercial loan, Voldness offered to his brother the same collateral he would have had to offer a bank. The result was a very favorable loan rate.
"That takes the pressure off the first six months," Voldness said. "I'm not making money, but I'm not losing money. The typical semi-truck needs $500 a day. I kind of need that, too."
A key for the fledgling trucking business, Voldness said, is building the awareness level of Mountain Town Delivery among wholesalers and distributors on the Front Range. Those larger businesses have the potential to fill his trailer on the return trip to the mountains.
Right now, Voldness is making two weekly runs to Denver and he is using the balance of the work week to make his deliveries. He is willing to travel three days a week.
The frequency could pick up if business warrants. Voldness said he'll have to think carefully before investing in another rig and hiring employees. However, there are encouraging signs that he will find enough business in the Steamboat market to expand someday.
Ford said Voldness is not atypical of the prospective business owners he works with at the Small Business Development Center.
"He has that entrepreneurial spark," Ford said. "And he loves living in Steamboat. He also understands that as an entrepreneur, he's a work in progress."
Ford said Voldness was contemplating purchasing an existing business before he hit on the idea for Mountain Town Delivery. Together they crunched the numbers and Voldness was able to separate his emotions from what the feasibility study was telling him -- it was time to look for another idea.
"He slowed down long enough to plan and really quantify what the economic opportunity was and whether it was right for him," Ford said.
As a result, Voldness found the opportunity that makes sense for him.
Voldness actually looks forward to his frequent trips back and forth to Denver.
"It's my time to relax," Voldness said. I listen to a lot of books on tapes. Have you heard those (motivational sales) tapes by Zig Ziglar? I love those things. To me, the trip gets shorter all the time."
Rich Voldness is looking for the direct route to business success.
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