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Published September 24, 2020
What do a meat connoisseur, a Western fashionista and a multimedia guru all have in common?
All are University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources graduates with a passion for entrepreneurship.
Kelcey Christensen, owner of 307 Meat Co. in Laramie, found his passion for the meat industry early. Both his grandfathers and his father were butchers, and he spent nearly 11 years working for the UW Meat Lab.
As time went on, he noticed capacity for slaughter and processing in the region was drastically declining. The meat lab was getting more and more calls from people needing help.
“A lot of the help was needed for small ranchers trying to direct consumer market their livestock, so I set out to fix part of the problem,” says Christensen, who graduated from UW in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in animal and veterinary sciences and a minor in business management.
The company serves Wyoming in meat processing. Specifically, it helps small-label, private meat companies and serves as a craft butcher shop, Christensen explains.
“I wouldn’t have ever tried to take this step without my time spent in the industry,” he says. “There are a lot of regulatory restrictions and regulation that go on meat processing plants, and having an idea of those as well as product management, product flow and employee management were all things I learned at UW that are valuable.”
Christensen incorporated 307 Meat Co. in 2016 and began operation this year in March when COVID-19 hit.
He explains that, due to COVID, the company has faced issues getting supplies such as hairnets and gloves because it lacked established relationships with suppliers. But, since the business has opened, it has seen more interest with the private-label side as well as craft butchery.
“We started off doing freezer beef for people, one or two, but it’s really started to pick up with the private-label business that I set out to help,” Christensen says. “Those are becoming more and more every day, and our retail craft butcher shop is doing way better than we had ever projected in the beginning years.”
Christensen explains that, when starting a business, taking time to do research by identifying costs, employee sources and seeking advice from others is important.
“All of us went through this to start a business, and it’s still to be determined if we succeed or fail. But even those who fail learn lessons that would help others, and the people who succeed learn lessons that can help,” Christensen says.
Like Christensen, Ashley Hyche, owner of LUK Ranch Boutique, notes her network has helped expand her business.
“The Western fashion industry is full of so many strong, remarkable women,” Hyche says. “There is no way I would have met all of them without my business.”
Hyche, who graduated from UW in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications, started her boutique her junior year in November 2018. Her boutique is online and focuses on Western women’s clothing, fine art, home décor and Native American jewelry.
“I have always loved fashion and Western style,” Hyche says. “Every month, my mom would get Cowgirl Magazine, and I’d look through it and fall in love with the colors and the art behind it.”
After spending a summer cleaning houses, Hyche decided to invest that money in inventory and start a boutique. Originally, she expected her boutique to be a fun hobby but, within the first two months, she made back her investment.
She credits her boutique experience and time at UW for helping her land a full-time position at WyoTech in Laramie as director of marketing.
“If I didn’t have that knowledge in my toolbox, there is no way I could do the job that I have now,” Hyche says.
Ultimately, she wants to open a store somewhere, but right now she’s taking it day by day to build and to create the brand and style she believes in.
Kenzie Holmberg, owner of KNZ Brand LLC, recently made the jump to take her business full time this past June. Like Hyche, she started her business while in college.
“I did it as a side hustle to help me pay my way through college,” says Holmberg, who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications.
KNZ Brand LLC is her main business, where she specializes in graphic design, including logos, websites, flyers, posters and cover art mostly focused on the Western industry but open to anything. She also operates Castilleja Cowgirl, a Western lifestyle photography business, where she sells prints for décor and does family photography, engagements, equine sale photography and a few weddings.
It wasn’t until she took a multimedia course at UW, with a unit focused on photography, that she expanded her toolbox of skills.
“I had an assignment to go take some photos, and I borrowed a friend’s camera to go do that, and I actually enjoyed what I was doing,” Holmberg says. “I thought that might be beneficial to add to my already existing services, because before I was having to hire people to go take photos with me.”
Her days begin around 6 a.m. to feed horses and clean stalls, because she also owns and operates Knockout Performance Horses, where she sells and trains horses. After taking care of the horses, she gets started with her design work, checking emails, making website edits, and creating and sending content to and from clients for approval.
“I get to really do something that I love, and I enjoy what I do, so it doesn’t really feel much like work,” Holmberg says.
Like Christensen and Hyche, Holmberg believes finding and doing something you are passionate about are important when considering starting your own business. She says having your own business may seem like an opportunity to be independent, but that building your network and collaborating with others are important parts of owning your business.
“A good business isn’t built without the help of multiple people,” Holmberg says.