By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays Post chose four home-grown businesses to highlight as innovators in the local community. These included Gutierrez Cocina Mexicana/Trios, Northwestern Printers, The Animal Hospital, Pro-Bound Sports. If you have a local business you would like to see profiled, email Cristina Janney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Animal Hospital, Plainville
Dr. Lauren Mack, Plainville vet, had never set foot in the state of Kansas before she set out to purchase The Animal Hospital in Plainville.
A young professional who grew up in the suburbs of Hartford, Connecticut, and attended college on the west coast, Mack decided to set down roots in a small town in Kansas. Mack had a desire to work with cattle, and the vet practice in Plainville gave her the opportunity to split her time between the open pastures of western Kansas and a small-animal practice at her office in town.
Mack, 30, attended Washington State University for her vet degree, and learned about the practice at 710 S. Washington in Plainville while studying there. She and her business partner bought the practice about seven weeks after graduation, which was about two years ago.
Mack described her family growing up as “not animal people.” She had no pets, but took English riding lessons.
She always loved horses. She had a dream of being a horse trainer, but her coach noted she spent a lot of time with the vets and seemed to have a natural way with the animals. During her undergraduate work in Maine, she fell in love with working with cattle and decided to give up on working with horses.
Her first impressions of the Kansas were its rural nature and the abundance of livestock.
“Everywhere you go are cows. There are animals everywhere, which I was pretty excited about,” she said. “In my land, that’s great. Horses, sheep, cows, goats, you run around in circles. Those are my favorite things.”
Mack and her husband recently bought a house in Plainville. She likes the calm and quiet of living in a small town, but having Hays nearby with more amenities is nice also. Being in Plainville also meant she could be close to the cows that she treats in her practice. She said she feels blessed to be able to work with cattle and the area producers.
“Every single one of them is a unique character,” she said of the ranchers. “No two are alike, for sure, but they all have a pretty deep love for their cattle and their ranches. Most of them are very forward and honest. You are not usually guessing about what they are thinking. It is nice to work with people who work that hard for something they care about.”
There is rarely a typical day for Mack. She said you could probably make a cartoon out of most of her days because they are so chaotic. She often sees small animals, usually pets like cats and dogs in the mornings. She does appointments for small animal surgeries, vaccinations and well exams. In the afternoon she is out in the field doing herd production work. However, on the day the Post visited Mack had to rush out for an emergency calf delivery.
“I love being out,” she said of her outdoor work with cattle. “I love the balance. There is nothing more awesome than a beautiful day working cattle out in a field. It is just stunning. You talk to a lot of bovine veterinarians, and they will tell you that is one of their favorite things.”
However, on a cold day, she said she doesn’t mind being indoors for a spay surgery.
Mack recently returned to her alma mater to talk to vet students about the culture of a rural vet practice.
“It discussed the culture where you live,” she said of her lecture. “Whether you live in New York City or Plainville, Kansas, the culture is relevant to your practice as a business owner.”
People’s expectations, pricing, how your employees talk to customers are all relevant to the local culture, she said. She knows most of her customers and their extended families by name. If she gets stuck in a ditch, she knows she can call someone to help her get out. If she needs help working cattle or welding a fence, there is always someone in the community ready to help out.
“If you are willing to work hard and help people, they will give you a chance. They have welcomed me quite wonderfully, and I am very grateful how they have given me a chance. I hope I have proven myself to them on a lot of levels. I think people here are very hard working, and they expect the same.”
Mack said she wants to continue to grow her practice and is looking to add another associate.
If you are interested in the practice, The Animal Hospital will be hosting two cattle round tables on April 5 and 17. The practice can be reached by phone at 785-434-7222.
The Mahoney family, owners of Pro-Bound Sports, has a history as innovators in the sports equipment business.
Ken Mahoney, current owner Tom Mahoney’s father, developed the breakaway rim, which allowed the NBA to safely allow dunking without shattered backboards. The Mahoneys’ original company, Toss Back, also created a ball return system in the 1960s, which was the first training system of its kind.
Although Toss Back was sold, Tom and his wife continued to work for the company under the new owners for a number of years before the family struck out on their own with a new company, Pro-Bound Sports, in 1993. Tom and his family continue to innovate new sports products with Pro-Bound and have branched off into a variety of other metal fabricated products in their hometown of Dorrance.
Tom works as an airline pilot and spends his off days at Pro-Bound, while his wife, Heddy, runs the office. His son Evan runs operations.
Pro-Bound sells products, such as basketball goals, soccer goals and bleachers to schools and recreational centers across the nation. Pro-Bound has recently branched out into manufacturing picnic tables, rifle shooting benches, and just this winter, launched a Pre-fabricated steel post cable corral system.
Instead of mass marketing to sporting good retailers, Pro-Bound looks to make more durable goods. For example, you can buy a light-weight shooting bench at a big box store, but the bench Pro-Bound makes a bench that will last 20 to 30 years, Mahoney said.
Economy and efficiency has been the mother of invention for Pro-Bound. The shooting benches were born because the business had left over aluminum from manufacturing bleachers. They used legs they already had from scorers tables. The corral system came from a personal project for the Mahoney’s barn. Tom thought there had to be a better way to build a corral than hiring someone to hand-weld an oil field iron piping coral from scratch.
The business debuted the product at Equifest in Topeka in February to positive reviews. Mahoney described the product as the “horse lover’s corral.” It’s a do-it-yourself corral system made with powder painted 3-inch tubing. A custom design is created in modular pieces at Pro-Bound. The customer needs only to auger the holes, set the posts and hook up the component parts. An oil-field pipe corral might take seven weeks to construct with a custom welder, but a Pro-Bound corral of the same size can be put up in seven days.
“The net result is that we are going to be very competitive with the finished product when you get in installed,” he said.
Mahoney said there have been advantages and disadvantages to being located in such a rural area of Kansas. Being so close to Interstate 70 is an advantage in shipping. However, finding quality employees can be difficult with such a small population to pull from and low unemployment rates. Pro-Bound employs seven to 15 people. It offers on-the-job training for anyone who is willing to work hard.
Mahoney said the region needs more companies like Pro-Bound to build the economy.
“If we are just trading dollars, nothing happens. But if I can sell $100,000 worth of bleachers to somewhere in Georgia, guess what, we have been able to drop some of that fresh money in here. That is the key to a local economy,” he said.
Pro-Bound recently lost two of its major dealers. It is working now to sign new dealers and revamp its marketing strategy, as well as find new outlets for its corral system.
Mahoney said it is constantly a battle to maintain cash flow going in a mom-and-pop operation.
When he retires from the airline, Mahoney, 62, said he will return to Pro-Bound full time. When he and his wife retire fully, they will pass the business to their son.
“You are really building your business up for the next generation,” he said. “If you can keep your business in the family for two or three generations, it’ll create income for the family for those generations. If it is done correctly after two or three generations, you might have a really nice business and that might be the time you might want to sell it off.”
Marvin Rack didn’t start out intending to go into the printing business. He was fascinated with motors and was a certified diesel mechanic.
His reputation for knowing how to fix things earned him a job fixing offset printing presses and copiers in his hometown of Hays.
In 1981, he purchased what is today Northwestern Printers from Northwestern Business Systems. He was only 23.
The business has become a regional hub for printing anything on paper and is now branching out to new media with its wide-format printing.
“In high school in my business class, one time the teacher said, ‘Who in this classroom would like to eventually own their own business?’ I was sitting up front in that classroom, so I raised my hand. When I turned around and looked and no one else had their hand raised up, I was almost ready to pull mine back down. I thought there was something wrong.”
In the beginning, Rack worked night and day at the print shop, doing both sales and creating the print jobs.
In the early ’80s, there were five print shops in Hays, and Northwestern only had a fraction of the business. Money was really tight in the first couple of years. Rack owned his own house but moved back into to his parents’ house so he could earn some extra income renting his house.
Marvin and later his wife, Jennifer, had to build up the business’ customer base. Today, the business serves about 1,000 customers a year from all across the region.
The Racks did that by keeping up with the latest technology.
“If we made a dollar, we spent 75 cents of it on new equipment,” Marvin said. “That is what it took. That technology was flying so fast, we knew our customers wanted to stay up with the newest technologies, so we had to do that also.”
The printing business has evolved greatly since the early 1980s. Rack originally designed on a Compugraphic EditWriter 7500, which was the Cadillac, the cat’s meow of design at the time. The machine printed out type in columns on a waxed paper that was cut out with scissors and then pasted onto layout sheets. The shop bought its first Apple computer in 1989.
The business had a darkroom until the mid to late 1990s. At one time, a picture would be taken of a layout sheet and that image would be burned onto an aluminum plate that would be used on the press. Technology has progressed, so now designers can send electronic images to a machine that directly prints the plates for the press.
“I enjoyed that darkroom,” Rack said. “It was so peaceful and so quiet. You had to use hot water, so I would come in at 3 or 4 in the morning and shoot all the film. I enjoyed it.”
Rack said the business continues to expand into new realms of technology. The company has recently started doing wide-format printing and is making banners and vinyl signs. The business is also very busy during the political season with direct mail, an area that has grown tremendously for the business in recent years.
Rack said Hays has been important to the growth and continued success of the family’s business.
“I think Hays gave us that opportunity to grow because they trusted us,” he said. “A lot of the larger businesses in Hays said, ‘Yes, you can have some of our work.’ It helped a bunch. Some big customers made a big, big difference for us.”
The Racks continue to drive home the shop local message.
“I think [it is important to] get everyone convinced that a small town can provide services that a larger town can and be just as competitive and just as resourceful and as creative as a bigger town,” he said.
The business now occupies five buildings on West Ninth Street as well as a warehouse in downtown Hays. The Racks once though about moving out of downtown, but their customers overwhelming expressed a desire to keep the business on the bricks.
Despite long-told rumors of the print shop industry’s demise, Rack said Northwestern Printers has yet to have a down year in the last 20 years.
“In target marketing, selling things is so easy via mail, via prints, and I think we can argue this and never be a winner. The website and social media is a very good source of advertising, but it is not going to hit everybody. We are always going to have a place.”
To learn more about Northwestern Printers, call 785-625-1110.
Gutierrez Cocina Mexicana/Trio Tap House
Mario and Karen Gutierrez were teenagers when they working and he started cooking with his mother, Lela, in their 20-seat family restaurant in Russell.
Chopping lettuce and fresh tomatoes by hand was “pud” compared to the migrant farm work Mario and his family had done in his earlier childhood in the cotton fields of Oklahoma and Texas. Mario’s mother and father were first generation American-born citizens, with all his grandparents born in Mexico. He started to work in fields at age 6.
“We used to go out and see sections of cotton plants, knowing that we had to go up and down those rows and chop cotton weeds,” he said. “This job working in restaurant business was easy compared to being out in the elements and heat doing outside migrant work.”
Mario welcomed the move to Kansas as a young child.
Mario and Karen Gutierrez and their family are marking four generations in the food industry in Kansas, and they continue to operate not one, but two successful Hays eating establishments—Gutierrez Cocina Mexicana and Trio Tap House, 1106 E 27th St., Hays.
Gutierrez Russell opened in 1971. A faded black and white photo of Mario’s mom and dad outside of that original restaurant still hangs in the Hays restaurant today. Some of food has been in the family for eight decades, Mario said
Many of the recipes that are now on the Gutierrez menu began in that small kitchen in Russell. Some of the staples like the rice and enchilada recipes came from Mario’s grandmother’s kitchen. Mario and Karen have tweaked some of the menu items and added a few more, but he said he tries to stay true to his mom’s inspiration.
Mario worked side by side with his mother in the kitchen for 13 years.
“She really spent some time to teach me what we call the magic that is Gutierrez,” he said. “What is our flavor? What is our style? It is a true Tex-Mex.”
Mario’s favorite dish continues to be beef enchiladas with Gutierrez red sauce and lots of onions, just like his mom used to make. He also loved his mom’s pork borrachoes, which are also on the Gutierrez menu. However, the public’s favorite remains the Hombre with its sour cream sauce.
His mother disciplined Mario to cook with the best ingredients money can buy. This includes boneless, skinless chicken tenders, fresh avocados, 81-19 fresh ground beef and fresh Wisconsin cheddar.
Mario and Karen moved to Hays in 1984 and opened his own Gutierrez when he was only 24 years old.
Mario was used to long hours and hard work. It was nothing for him to work 80 hours a week. However, he found training new employees and delegation were his biggest challenge.
“Back in the day, I tried to be a lone ranger, multi-tasking. You can almost envision me trying to spin plates in every direction,” he said.
Over the years, he has learned to delegate to his team leaders who supervise a staff of more than 50. However, Mario still fills in as needed. On the day the Hays Post visited, Mario had taken on a shift helping during the lunch rush at Trio, Gutierrez’s sister restaurant.
Mario and Karen opened Trio Tap House four years ago in the same building that houses Gutierrez. The steakhouse offers sandwiches, steaks, fish and chips, and a menu of other American faire that is paired with a premium, exclusive beer list. The business was named in honor of their three sons, Daniel, Dominic and Jacob.
“When we opened up Trio, it was because you line up 10 people, and five will want to eat Mexican and five will want to eat American. Now at least I have the opportunity to let the people pick their preference of what they want to enjoy,” he said. … “What it has done for me and my family and my team is renewed the passion to entertain people to go out to eat.”
They put an emphasis when training their employees on customer service, which helps build loyalty. They described service as a privilege and not a right.
“That enthusiasm about their job, is the exact return you get back,” he said. … “If you are out there to give people an experience, give them a positive experience.”
Mario said he and Karen are very thankful to people of Hays for their continued support of his business. He said embracing the community and contributing to the community has been integral to his business.
“To think one out of ten restaurants will make in the first three years, and we are still here and still busy, makes us all grateful for our community,” he said.
Mario loves his job and has no intention of retiring anytime soon. However, he and Karen are training their daughter, Cristina, in the administrative side of the business. Now they are thinking about the business as a succession, a legacy for the family.
“I love the purpose of being able to contribute to my team, inspiring my team leaders,” he said. “I love what I do. If I don’t have the purpose of being able to help my team, help my daughter… At this time, I want to keep doing what I do.”