A New Voice for Rural Small Business Owners
December 3, 2012
A New Voice for Rural Small Business Owners

By Cliff Ennico

Hays, Kansas is a really cool little town.

Nestled on the High Plains of northwestern Kansas, where there's always a steady breeze and when the corn is harvested you can see clear to the horizon, Hays is the home of Fort Hays State University (go Tigers!) and has a population of about 20,000.

It is also home to literally hundreds of mom-and-pop small businesses - the kind you don't see anymore on your local commercial strip if you live in a large city or suburban area.

There's Thirsty's Grill & Pub (hey, it's a college town), offering the "best steaks in Hays".

There's the Whisky River Wood Fire Grill and Professor's Steakhouse and Saloon, both of which would challenge Thirsty's claims to the best steaks in Hays (I can personally say that the chicken-fried steak I had at Whisky River was probably the best I've had since I was a law student down South).

There are two family-owned Mexican restaurants and even - wait for it - Napoli's, an Italian trattoria (and for all of you snobs who think Chef Boyardee is the Midwest's idea of Italian cuisine, the lasagna was terrific).

It also boasts the Sternberg Museum of Natural History (lots of cool dinosaur stuff), although I was disappointed to learn that they just recently shut down the Gopher Museum, a living habitat where you could watch these cute furry little creatures in their burrows doing, well, whatever gophers do.  You know it's a tough economy when gophers are being downsized.

Driving up and down Vine Street and 27th Street, the two major commercial crossroads in Hays, you see dozens of small, family-owned businesses lining the streets, with hardly any big-box retail outlets or chain stores.

I had the privilege of visiting Hays last week as a speaker in the annual Kansas Jubilee, a celebration of small business throughout the Sunflower State.  Hosted by Joyce Banbury, an octogenarian fireball (the debate over dinner was whether she more closely resembled Auntie Em from The Wizard of Oz or Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show), this annual event features state-of-the-art presentations about eBay, Amazon, and other Silicon Valley companies that target the small business market.  Now in its third year, the event attracted a couple hundred folks from five Midwestern states.

But something else is brewing in Hays these days that will put the Hefeweizen at Thirsty's to shame.

At the Kansas Jubilee, Ms. Banbury announced the formation of a new online venture designed to help rural small business owners like the ones in Hays reach an increasingly global retail marketplace.

It's called "Yabie" (pronounced "YAH-bee"), and the name stands for "You and Business in e-Commerce".

"There's so much information about e-commerce out there these days, and many small business owners, especially in rural areas, are just overwhelmed by it all," says Banbury, who defines a "rural small business" as any small business located in an area that's more than a one-hour drive from a metropolitan area or shopping mall.

When it is launched in early 2013, Yabie will be an online resource, education, networking and community website for rural small business owners - the first one I'm aware of.  Yabie's goal is to engage people in a learning process which will give them the tools, information and assistance needed to create businesses and income streams, and allow them to market from any region, town or small city as successfully as they would in urban areas. 

"Rural areas have special challenges in accessing, understanding and utilizing the potential of the World Wide Web," Banbury says, explaining that the brick and mortar family-owned businesses that dominate rural America have traditionally viewed e-commerce as a threat:  "They don't realize that e-commerce gives them the opportunity to expand beyond a small local or regional market and promote their merchandise worldwide."

Yabie, currently an unincorporated nonprofit association, has partnered with the Kansas e-Commerce Center, part of the Kansas Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Phillipsburg, Kansas, to provide both live in-person tutorials and online webinars from the nation's leading e-commerce experts, and has received significant support from both the Kansas Department of Economic Development and the Kansas Board of Regents.

There are also plans to host live events for rural small business owners throughout Kansas, including the Kansas Jubilee in Hays.  "The long-term goal is to create a template that other states with large rural populations can duplicate," says Banbury, who points out that virtually every state in America has significantly large rural areas whose merchants are not being reached by traditional small business education and support programs.

A social media website is currently under construction at www.yabiecentral.com, and it's expected to be launched in early 2013.   More information about Yabie can be found at www.kansasjubilee.net, and anyone interested in the future of rural small businesses needs to know more about Joyce Banbury and the lifetime she has devoted to this cause.  She can be reached at danse24@gmail.com.

And, if you know of any open positions for gophers with show-business experience...

Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of Small Business Survival Guide, The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book and 15 other books.  COPYRIGHT 2012 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.

Posted by Staff at 7:01 AM