"I had been in construction for 20 years," Kinney recalls, "and in Crestone for about 14 of them. It's cold up here in the winter, and I was tired of always chasing the next job. I had developed an interest in learning more about running a business, so I took a course down in Alamosa and learned how to write a business plan and get a loan. I feel like it was all part of my growing up process before I was ready for the next thing."
That "next thing" turned out to be buying and running a handcrafted product display business. When Bruce Nygren, former owner of Blue Earth Design, put the manufacturing company up for sale in 2014, the opportunity quickly caught the eye of Kinney and his wife and co-owner, Cristina.
"It's the perfect way to combine my construction and art skills," Kinney adds. "It has provided me with an amazing creative outlet and a way to be inside in the winter time." He notes that Blue Earth Design has also afforded him the opportunity to bring much needed jobs and money into the community.
"We're in Saguache County, one of the most impoverished counties in Colorado and located in the middle of nowhere," Kinney explains. "It's really hard for people to get consistent work down here, especially in the winter. We've been able to offer work to community members, and 98 percent of our income comes from outside of our valley. It has been great to be able to bring revenue into our community rather than just recycling money within it."
Located in an older building of about 2,000 square feet and divided into a 1,200-square-foot shop and 800-square-foot warehouse, the company designs, prototypes, and manufacturers handcrafted product display cases for clients in the health and wellness, CBD, and recreational marijuana industries.
"I'm not always a fan of consumerism," Kinney says, "but it has been a real blessing to be able to support people purchasing great health and wellness products." Clients include rapper Snoop Dogg's marijuana edibles company, Leafs By Snoop, and Frontier Co-op, an Iowa-based wholesaler of bulk herbs and spices.
Since he and his wife purchased Blue Earth Design, Kinney has increased the company's sales from $70,000 to $180,000 a year. His long-term goal is annual sales in the range of $500,000. "We've been upgrading our tools and systems," he says, "and just took out a loan to purchase a $35,000 CNC machine to help us get to the next level. It will speed everything up and help us greatly improve consistency."
The strides he has made so far are all courtesy of what Kinney calls his "door-to-door sales" method. "I usually find a company that I'm inspired by, research that company, find out who the marketing team is, and send a personal communication to the marketing director," he explains. "Then I travel to meet them and close the sale."
He estimates that he has reached out to about 30 companies over the last four years and has turned 12 to 15 into solid clients. "Our numbers are really good," he adds. "I think we just need to continue finding really inspiring companies that are a good fit for us."
Challenges: "Our space is a big challenge," Kinney says. "It's an old building. It freezes and leaks. It doesn't have water, so we have to haul water. Also, our location. Because we're in the middle of nowhere, we have to pay quite a bit extra to get our materials down here. I can't just run out to Home Depot to buy a bag of screws. I have to strategize having what I need."
Opportunities: Kinney points to the company's current clientele as a significant source of opportunity. "The word of mouth is starting to happen," he says. He also feels that Blue Earth Design holds a unique and superior position in the product display market.
"I have yet to find a legitimate competitor," Kinney explains. "Our skills, design, and artistic capacity are unique. And our attention to quality and relationships with our clients are unlike any other. We're bringing things back to the old days like when my grandfather was in business: personal and quality-oriented."
Needs: "I really need more time," says Kinney. "My shop guy is also my co-designer. If we sat down for 200 hours to prototype out some of the ideas we've come up with, we'd likely create a million-dollar business. But we're so busy trying to keep up with orders, sanding and production, and continuing to refine our production systems, that we don't have the time to invest into leveling up."
Kinney says that Blue Earth Design is almost at a point where he will be able to hire some part-time administrative help. "I feel comfortable with the creative and production realms but the business side of things -- like social media, and managing books, and doing taxes, and all that stuff -- is quite challenging for me."