By CRISTINA JANNEY
The Hays Post chose four home-grown businesses to highlight as innovators in the local community. These included RANS Design, Joe Bob Outfitters, Pat’s Beef Jerky and Diamond R Jewelry. If you have a local business you would like to see profiled, email Cristina Janney at email@example.com.
RANS Design, an innovator in aircraft design, has been located in Hays since 1974. Randy Schlitter, who grew up in Russell, is founder and creative force behind RANS. He started the business by designing and manufacturing sail trikes.
Now the company, located at 4600 Highway 183 Alternate, is designing all-metal kit aircraft for flight hobbyists around the world.
Flying is a more accessible sport than some may realize, Schlitter said. You can purchase an airplane for about the same cost as a new car. Most municipal airports have a flight-school, which makes learning to fly accessible to even those in rural areas. The Hays airport passes dozens of new pilots through every year.
A drafting board sits in the corner of Schlitter’s office, but most of his designing is now done on computer.
“It has become an art form,” he said of the designs.
The company’s latest release is its new Outbound series. RANS intends to offer it in two- and four-seat versions.
Schlitter said he has loved and hated being in Hays. The community is clean, friendly and easy to get around on his bicycle. However, Hays is far away from many amenities available in large cities.
The company moved some manufacturing away from Hays a few years ago, but the company is considering bringing it back. RANS currently employs 20 workers in Hays.
“Hays has an advantage that it has a good workforce. Employees have a good work ethic locally,” Schlitter said.
Schlitter is reaching retirement age, and said he hopes in the next few years to hand off the leadership to others in his company.
Joe Bob Outfitters
Joseph Boeckner started Joe Bob Outfitters in 2010 Hays with just $5,000 and 14 products. The company has since grown to a national online force that has shipped more than half a million orders to all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam.
Although Boeckner has a storefront on Vine, about 90 percent of his business is online. The business has tried to find a niche by offering hard-to-find parts, accessories and ammo that are not carried by big box outfitters like Cabela’s or discount stores like Walmart.
“We have evolved quite a bit,” Boeckner said. “I had not intended us to be this large, but the market decided.”
Joe Bob tries to be a one-stop shop for gun enthusiasts with top customer service and quick shipping. Logistically, Hays is in a good location for Joe Bob’s online business. He can ship to either coast within two to three business days.
The business tries to keep lots of eggs in lots of baskets. Boeckner said diversity helps him weather downturns in the economy as guns are a luxury and not a necessity.
Boeckner served in the Army National Guard. When he left the Army, he enrolled at Fort Hays State University. However, he found he was doing much of what he was being taught in class in his business. He decided to leave school and concentrate on Joe Bob Outfitters.
Boeckner said he has had to learn to flex his business model and change the businesses inventory based on the demands of the market. Some of the main lines Boeckner started with just seven years ago have already been discontinued.
“You can’t paint yourself into a corner” he said. “You have to be efficient and stay in your wheelhouse.”
Pat’s Beef Jerky
Pat’s Beef Jerky in Liebenthal has been cranking out its signature beef jerky for 27 years.
Pat Carver and his crew make about 30,000 pounds of jerky each year. Not only can you pick up the jerky at Carver’s small processing facility off U.S. Highway 183 in Liebenthal, but Carver ships jerky all over the United States.
Among his customers have been NBA and NFL players and Tiger Woods’ caddy. Pat’s has even shipped to the White House.
Although Liebenthal is a small place, 70 percent of Pat’s business still is walk-in. Carver used to have a map hanging in the shop that showed the hometowns of all his customers. They included places as far away as Japan and Alaska.
Although Carver had worked in meat processing for grocery stores, he fell into the jerky business by accident. Someone asked Carver to make some beef jerky. He experimented with recipes until he developed the famous formula he sells today.
The business started out as a part-time job for his parents, Ray and Velma Carver. However, what was supposed to be a two-to-three-day-a-week job quickly became a full-time business. Pat quit his job working for the city of Hays and went to work full time making jerky.
The beef for the jerky is sourced locally from Kansas. Pat’s offers four flavors: regular, peppered, hot and teriyaki. The business also sells ring bologna, summer sausage and brats.
He would not reveal the formula but said, “We have a good quality jerky. It’s tender and a little easier to chew, so you don’t have to pull your teeth out.”
Making the jerky is a three-day process. The meat is sliced and marinated, dried and then packaged.
Celebrities have tried to partner with Carver to market his jerky nationally, but Carver declined. The big names wanted to significantly mark up the cost to consumers, and Carver didn’t want to be associated with that.
Carver is nearing retirement age and said he hopes to eventually hand off the business to someone younger.
“I have enjoyed it,” he said. “I have enjoyed meeting the people.”
If you can’t make it to Liebenthal, Pat’s jerky is available locally at Cerv’s locations.
Diamond R. Jewelry
Dustin Roths started Diamond R Jewelry in 2011 with $12,500 and a 300-square-foot space in the Hadley Center.
A few friends pitched in $2,500 each for a 2.5 percent share in the company.
He knew breaking into the fine jewelry business would be tough, but he hoped he could parlay his experience working at a local jewelry store in college and a high-end store in Overland Park and a business plan that focused on customer service into a successful business.
Diamond R is now located downtown at 807 Main and is selling more than three times his initial investment every month.
The store carries 1,500 engagement sets and wedding bands and has been popular with students in the area seeking engagement sets. Diamond R is a diamond broker, which allows the store to offer competitive prices and design pieces that fit each couple’s budget. The store also offers a selection of estate jewelry as well as colored gem stones such as rubies and emeralds.
Roths knew he had to be very aggressive on price and marketing as he was trying to break in against stores that had been the community 80 and 20 years.
“My thought process was I knew a lot of people in Hays, and that would help us get started,” he said.
Roths said he has enjoyed the store’s downtown location and participating in many community events. He wants the business to be a part of the community.
“Because we have someone in here for a drink and to hang out,” Roths said, “they may see something, and when Christmas rolls around and it is still in the case, they come in and buy it.”
Hays’ regional pull as a shopping center has helped Roths build his business. His customers have been willing to travel, and he is pulling customers from as far away as Salina.
Although Diamond R has an online presence, it’s the in-person personal touch that has been the business’ bread and butter. The store is using the website to market one-of-kind pieces. He used the example of a pink/peach padparadscha sapphire. A $4,000 ring like that might sit on the shelf for two years, but the store could find someone online that would love and cherish it, Roths said.
Roths is considering expanding to another location and has considered Wichita, Lawrence or Kansas City. However, he worries about being able to replicate the customer service experience he has developed in Hays.
“The big question is training,” he said. “Can we find the same kind of help that will offer the same kind of service and quality we offer? I am not sure if we can replicate what we do here.”