Buffalo Woman Turns to UW

January 4, 2008

When Bonnie and David Schlesselman's RV lost a starter in Buffalo nearly three years ago, it at first seemed like just another inconvenience that would slow down their road trip.

The couple was looking at relocating from California to Colorado. They were taking a road trip through the Big Horn Mountains when their motor home broke down.

While waiting for parts and repairs, the Schlesselmans wandered the streets and shops of the scenic foothills town and quite simply fell in love with the area. After they walked by the old Buffalo train depot and saw that it was for sale, the couple, especially Bonnie, thought about opening their own business. She immediately thought of a studio and possibly a gallery, but after looking further realized that the space was much larger than what she would require. Bonnie realized that she was envisioning something that could benefit the entire community.

The one-day layover became a month, and after brainstorming the potential opportunities of the building and the community, the Schlesselmans decided to make Buffalo their home.

They opened Potters' Depot LLC, located at 75 East Benteen Street, in April 2007. They credit a University of Wyoming-sponsored program with helping them start their venture.

Bonnie first became acquainted with the Wyoming Small Business Development Center in March 2006 after visiting the WSBDC booth at the Johnson County Business Expo.

With its main office located at the University of Wyoming, the WSBDC is a partnership of UW, U.S. Small Business Administration and the Wyoming Business Council. The WSBDC helps to strengthen Wyoming businesses and create economic growth by providing management assistance, educational programs and helpful resources for Wyoming small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The WSBDC also offers low-cost educational forums and one-on-one counseling at no cost to participating businesses in areas such as planning, management, marketing, and finance. The WSBDC has regional offices throughout the state. For more information, call 1-800-348- 5194 or e-mail wsbdc@uwyo.edu.

Bonnie had worked as an occupational therapist the past 18 years, and although she had shelved her youthful dreams of making a living with clay, she followed the path of secure employment. The potter's craft was never far from her thoughts and Bonnie continued to do her pottery part time.

That's where the Schlesselman's path from California led them to Buffalo.
Bonnie registered for a "Is Entrepreneurship In Your Blood -- Do You Have What It Takes to Start A Small Business?" class and scheduled her first appointment with Jill Kline, WSBDC Region V director in Gillette. Bonnie envisioned transforming the train depot into a studio, a gallery and the couple's home.

Bonnie knew she did not want to compete with other local artisans, but she wanted to find a way to complement the businesses that already existed in Buffalo. She quickly became involved in several local organizations and built a strong community foundation. She began nurturing bonds that would help support her business.

"I got connected with the potters in the area and received incredible support for my idea to have pottery classes and a gallery; and that's how it started," she adds.

Kline and the WSBDC assisted her with additional market research, cash flow projections and business planning. Bonnie says she could always count on the WSBDC to connect her to the appropriate resources to help with such things as sales taxes or registering with the state. She found the WSBDC Web site resources and the monthly newsletter a great asset.

"I feel like I'm kept up to date with events and other information that will help me sustain my business," she says.

The business has been successful and Bonnie now offers classes and workshops to the community and region. It also provides a gallery to display and sell student and local potters' work. Bonnie is now looking to expand by offering more classes this fall, since the first classes were so successful.

Her advice to others considering following their dream would be to, "Make sure to understand and accept both the positive and negative aspects of your business.

"Do the research, have a dialogue with others in your field and ask the hard questions, build and use a good database, get professional advice when necessary, such as from the WSBDC, become a Chamber of Commerce member, and most of all, be involved in your community," she adds.

Bonnie praises Kline for her assistance in starting the business.

"She made herself available to me by phone and in person several times whenever I needed help. Jill was always positive, supportive and yet realistic. She was at all times able to answer my questions or guide me to the resources I needed," Bonnie adds. "I would highly recommend WSBDC to anyone who intends to start a business. It is a valuable service."

For more information about Potters' Depot LLC call (307) 684-4555 or e-mail pottersdepot@msn.com.

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