Center: Washington SBDC
Client: John Lyman
The Carlton General Store on two-lane Highway 153 heading toward Twisp and Winthrop looks like a throwback to an earlier time, with a false front on the weathered, wood-plank building and hand-painted signs advertising bait, ice and gas. But how to explain the wintertime yoga classes held alongside the ice cream display case, or the Kombucha in the coolers alongside Pabst Blue Ribbon, the quinoa a short distance from the Spam?
It’s all part of owner Jeff Lyman’s plan to create a 21st century general store for the diverse residents of his rural community who share a love of the outdoors and the Methow Valley. In mid-June the store’s Facebook page had 365 “likes,” which is about the population of Carlton, Lyman said, maybe more. Recent posts included shout-outs to local organic eggs, fresh-picked morels, and hot dogs for $1.50.
“This is a local’s place,” Lyman said. “There are very few out-of-towner’s here.” Until buying the General Store in December 2011, Lyman was an out-of-towner himself, albeit one with long ties to the area. An avid outdoorsman with a history of working hard to support his fishing habit, Lyman had first visited the Methow Valley with his family when he was a teen and had returned many times since then.
In April, 2011 he returned again, this time with the goal of finding a way to support himself as a full-time resident. The Carlton General Store, sitting a stone’s throw from the Methow River, had been closed for more than a year and hadn’t really thrived for several years before that. Most residents figured it would never reopen, which meant that though they could mail a letter from the Carlton Post Office, they had to drive 10 miles for a cup of coffee or a gallon of milk.
The prospect of breathing new life into the store was daunting, Lyman said, and several friends cautioned him against trying. But then he took a second glance and a third good long look. He made an offer to buy, but no deal was in sight when he packed up his belongings to move back to Wenatchee. Suddenly a deal was on the horizon and Lyman thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”
That’s the point that a friend of Lyman’s told him, “You’ve got to talk with Lew.” Lew Blakeney, is a certified business advisor with the Washington (SBDC). Before joining the SBDC in 2000, Blakeney had owned his own manufacturing business for 13 years in addition to many years in corporate leadership positions.
An avid fisherman, Lyman knows the value of a good river guide and that’s what Blakeney was as Lyman worked to navigate the potential problems and pitfalls of starting up a business. “Lew really helped me out in the very beginning,” Lyman said. Blakeney reviewed Lyman’s business plan and talked with him about how to pull together a successful loan application, including creating reliable cash flow projections and a start-up budget.
The business is off to a good start, but it hasn’t been easy and Lyman doesn’t expect it will be easy for quite some time. During the summer he has two full-time employees, but even so, Lyman’s typically arrives at the store (downstairs from his apartment) at 6 a.m. and doesn’t leave until 9 p.m. But Lyman’s not complaining. With a son on the way, he figures he’s building for the future. And, in the meantime, he can take lunch breaks on the banks of the Methow River.