KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The headlines proclaim the tough business climate many companies battle each day: layoffs, cutbacks and bankruptcies.
Still, new businesses continue to open and they continue to defy the tough economy.
Throughout 2009, NBC Action News followed three new businesses that opened in the Metro. For 12 months, we tracked WestChase Grille, MedExpress Labs and MLB Designs.
One year later, we are happy to report that all three survived.
“It was a little tougher than we had planned, after opening with the economy,” said Chase Wilcox, co-owner of WestChase Grille.Fellow chef and co-owner John Westerhaus agrees. “We're just happy to have gotten through our first year,” he adds. “And still be able to be here and do the things that we love.”Westerhaus and Wilcox opened WestChase Grille at the end of 2008. With one year under their belt, they are fast becoming a Metro favorite.“Recently, we were ranked as one of the top ten best overall restaurants in the Kansas area by Open Table dot com diners,” said Westerhaus. “We worked at trying to make that list for a long time.” At MedExpress Labs in Overland Park, owners David and Prudence Rexroat also call their first year a great learning experience.“A lot of hard work, but a lot of reward,” said Prudence.“Over the course of this whole year, as its progressed,” David adds. “We've seen momentum, we've seen a lot of positive things happen and we were pleased.”
They say their biggest first year obstacles came down to surviving the economy and educating customers on direct lab testing, which is a fairly new concept in health care. So how do they sum it up?“We are a direct access lab testing company,” Prudence says. “Where you don't need a doctor's order or an appointment, and you typically get your results online the next day, and you own those results. It's not like we just opened a chicken restaurant and people knew we served chicken. We also had to, not only build our business, but educate them on who we are and what we are all about.”
We also followed MLB Designs
on the Country Club Plaza. Owner Marie Bertholet Smith opened a new three story design house. On our first visit in January of 2009, she summed up her business as all things pretty for your home.“We're a home furnishings and gifts, and we also carry table tops, linens, things for your home, accessories for your home.”
Marie was unavailable for our final interview. She credits her booming interior design business for keeping her booked for weeks.
Back at our other two businesses, they each tell us they survived 2009 by being flexible with their business plan and listening to their customers. For WestChase Grille, that meant revising their menu and offering specials.
“They said 'We love what you do. We love the food. We'd like to see more things at a lower price point,’” Westerhaus said.
Early on, MedExpress Labs discussed adding a second location. However they quickly discovered an entry into employer sponsored health fairs. They held off on the second location when they began signing contracts to work on location at Metro businesses.
“Part of that was, by the way, do you want to do flu shots?” David Rexroat said. “And we said, ‘Okay. Why say no?’ And the next thing we knew, we were really busy with that. We learned a tremendous amount.”
“We could have sold so many more flu shots than we did because it was our first year and we weren't really prepared for that,” Prudence adds.
As our new business owners move into year two, they are each more confident. MedExpress Labs is about to take their lab testing results to the next level with what they call the “readable lab report.” It is a color-coded report that ranks a client’s test results against the norm. It also offers healthy suggestions for improving results. For example, healthier eating if they test high for cholesterol.
“They understand the test better,” David explains. “They can share it with their doctor if they chose, and they can have a conversation, an intelligent conversation with their doctor. And then they have other resources they can use as well.”
The guys at WestChase Grille will soon be launching their spring menu. They plan to continue giving their patrons great food and great service at a fair price.
“We've stuck to that all through the year and we think that's what's helped us get through a very difficult year,” Westerhaus said.
“I’d like to see us grow our customer base,” adds Wilcox. “I think we really enjoyed the neighborhood feeling that we've helped to create, and seeing the locals and the regulars coming back. I'd just like to see more of that happen.”
We left each of our businesses with one final question: Looking back and knowing what they know now, would they do it all over again?
“I would have,” said Westerhaus. “I've enjoyed it that much! It's been a lot of work, but you know success in life doesn't come easy. And sometimes the biggest successes in life come from the hardest challenges.”
The Rexroats agree.
“Some day, I think what the heck was I thinking doing this?” David says. “But we've had a lot of fun with this. And we're really excited about our future. So I would say absolutely.”
“There were days where I said 'You know, I just don't think this was the wisest decision in my life,’” Prudence adds. “But when I have one of those moments, then something happens in the business that reaffirms our decision.”
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