What does it take to stay in business in the Treasure Valley…as the valley itself expands, as customer preferences change and as new technology is developed? Local business owners are saying embracing the community is key — whether that is building a float to ride on in Star’s hometown 4th of July parade, which Gina Rodin of the The Hair Lounge did, or serving on the Boise School Board or Rotary Club, as Dave Wagers with Idaho Candy Company has.
“You have the ability to shape and change where you live,” Wagers said. “It’s very fulfilling to me…it’s important to invest back. Not only do you promote your business in some ways by being out there, but you also help the community in general.”
Wagers is following in his father’s footsteps, leading the 112-year-old Idaho Candy Company today after the Idaho-based family purchased the business in 1984.
Kyle Nehring — of the up-and-coming Teton Valley Brands, which makes Idaho Real Potato Chips — not only hopes to lead a successful family owned business, he also intends to support the network of food manufacturing and supporting businesses, a staple in the area.
Idaho Real Potato Chips are made from local russet potatoes, which the company describes as lending to a “deeply potato-flavored chip.” Other ingredients are local to the northwest.
“There are a lot of good people in the Treasure Valley; there’s a lot of good networking, people who want to see you succeed,” Nehring said. “The retailers, they’ve been great; for the most part, retailers like to see local products.”
Though newer to the area, Rodin, who recently opened The Hair Lounge in Star, is seeing a client base largely made of families — children to adults — and it continues to grow through word of mouth.
“If you have a dream or a goal, go for it,” Rodin said. “If it’s scary… Just keep pushing forward, because if I never pushed forward with anything I did in life, I wouldn’t be here right now. I mean, you definitely have to go through obstacles to get to the good stuff …I’m constantly trying to instill with (my kids), you either work for somebody or you work for yourself. And this is what it looks like.”
The consensus of Idaho Candy Company, The Hair Lounge and Teton Valley Brands is utilizing available education, engaging with local resources and incorporating innovative technology are also necessary for a business’s continued success.
The Hair Lounge was voted Best New Business in Star last year, after opening in 2018, which Rodin said she feels was partially based on her business’s response to COVID-19 protocols, including cleanliness and sanitization, wearing masks and doing temperature checks; Rodin even cut some clients’ hair outside where they felt more comfortable, or offered specific appointments for more vulnerable clients. She also credited the recognition to her business’s friendly and relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, trusted customer service through always returning phone calls, and passion of the stylists. Rodin’s husband (and high school sweetheart), Jason, has been helping by spending time with their children — such as by leading homeschooling — and purchasing supplies when needed. Rodin is also teaching her 12-year-old daughter the trade of hair dressing, which could financially help her during post-secondary education.
Rodin herself, and the two other stylists on staff — who are also friends of hers from California — educate themselves as well, attending in-person hair shows and being a member of virtual platforms with live videos. Local cosmetology schools, supply stores and other studios have also proven helpful by offering classes.
“From an artist standpoint…if you don’t stay up to date with your knowledge, you’ll grow stale. And when you start getting into a box, you can’t be creative. It’s not fun anymore,” Rodin said. “If you stay relevant, then you’ll always have that passion, that burn inside.”
A taste of history is relevant today
The original Idaho Spud Bar, the Cherry Cocktail Bar and other favorites are often made at Idaho Candy Company through combined eff orts of original machinery from the 1900s and newer methods, like the automated starch mobile (once a by-hand process) that now makes various candy centers for 30,000 to 40,000 pieces.
The building’s original skylights illumine the newer furbished floors and infrastructure added (like new columns) to support bigger machines, like the 10-year-old starch mobile. Metal detectors and other food safety practices — including new inspections and annual audits — have been added as well. Safety training is given on a regular basis.
“And the public expects that,” Wagers said. “We want to make sure that we still keep our nostalgic feel to our candy but also do it as efficiently as possible so we can continue to make a profit and continue to employ people.”
Candy crafting has definitely changed throughout the century of Idaho Candy Company’s history, but Wagers has found ways to ensure the company’s classic candies remain as generations remember them, while new technology allows for more efficient, and farther reaching, production and delivery.
“We have seen lots of growth, but somehow we have still been able to manage within the factory that we live in,” Wagers said, referencing the original four-story building in downtown Boise, where candy is produced, packaged and shipped.
“We still do have to grow and change and adjust, because the world is growing, changing and adjusting. You don’t make those changes, you will be out of that. We are an old nostalgic candy company, that’s what we are and we’re not going to change in the near future to anything else. And (customers) like that we are a little quirky.”
Words of advice
Nehring was inspired to start his own business about 10 years ago after talking with one of his university professors who had started a number of his own businesses. Idaho Real Potato Chips now has a corporate headquarters in Meridian and a manufacturing plant in Nampa.
“It’s really important to keep yourself educated,” Nehring said. “I love learning. (What) I prefer most is talking to other business owners and getting direct advice.”
For staying abreast on technology in food manufacturing, Nehring is keeping himself aware of what is available and being innovated, even if Teton Valley Brands may not be able to use it immediately due to cost. A potato chip cooking and texturing piece of technology immediately comes to Nehring’s mind, as russet potatoes are a challenging potato to work with.
When asked how he and the company have overcome challenges, Nehring had a couple of thoughts. First, don’t spend money where you don’t need to, and stay scrappy. “I don’t know if staying scrappy ever goes away completely…I haven’t gotten that far,” he said. “What has served us well is making things work that aren’t necessarily brand new or designed for what we’re using them for. There’s no one blanket solution; everything needs to be tackled individually — areas to spend a lot of money, areas not to spend money — we’ve pieced it together and made it work.”
Second, don’t give up. “Failure is not because it didn’t work — the idea may need to be altered — it’s because the entrepreneur gives up,” Nehring said. “I’ve faced that a number of times — it’s so much work, not making money early on — a lot of people think it is hard to go into entrepreneurship because you may fail; I feel it’s the opposite: success is hard; it’s a lot of work; as long as you don’t give up, you will probably make it.”
*This article originally appeared in Idaho Business Review’s Treasure Valley Living magazine.