UW College of Agriculture graduates seize niche industry opportunities
By Katie Shockley
What does a meat connoisseur, a western fashionista and a multimedia guru all have in common?
All are University of Wyoming (UW) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources graduates with a passion for entrepreneurship.
307 Meat Company
Kelcey Christensen, owner of 307 Meat Company in Laramie, found his passion for the meat industry early. Both of his grandfathers and his father were butchers, and he spent nearly 11 years working for the University of Wyoming Meat Lab.
As time went on, Christensen noticed capacity for slaughter and processing in the region was drastically declining. The UW Meat Lab was getting more and more calls from people needing help.
“A lot of the help was needed for small ranchers trying to direct market their livestock, so I set out to fix part of the problem,” said Christensen, who graduated from UW in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in animal and vet sciences with a minor in business management.
The company serves the state of Wyoming in meat processing. Specifically, it helps small label, private meat companies and serves as a craft butcher shop, explained Christensen.
“I wouldn’t have ever tried to take this step without my time spent in the industry,” said Christensen. “There are a lot of regulatory restrictions and regulation that goes on in meat processing plants and having an idea of those as well as product management, product flow and employee management, were all valuable things I learned at UW.”
Christensen incorporated 307 Meat Company in 2016 and began operation this year in March when COVID-19 hit.
He explained, due to COVID-19, the company has faced issues getting supplies such as hairnets and gloves because they lacked established relationships with suppliers. However, since the business has opened, it has seen more interest with the private label side as well as the craft butchery.
“We started off doing freezer beef for people, one or two, but it’s really started to pick up with the private label business I set up,” said Christensen. “Those are becoming more and more every day, and our retail craft butcher shop is doing way better than we had ever projected in the beginning years.”
Christensen explained when starting a business, taking time to do research by identifying costs, employee sources and seeking advice from others is important.
“All of us went through this to start a business, and it’s still to be determined if we succeed or fail, but even those who fail learn lessons that would help others. The people who succeed learn lessons that can also help,” said Christensen.
LUK Ranch Boutique
Like Christensen, Ashley Hyche, owner of LUK Ranch Boutique, notes her network has helped expand her business.
“The Western fashion industry is full of so many strong, remarkable women,” said Hyche. “There is no way I would have met all of them without my business.”
Hyche, who graduated from UW in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications, started her boutique during her junior year in November 2018. Her boutique is online and focuses on western women’s clothing, fine art, home décor and Native American jewelry.
“I have always loved fashion and western style,” said Hyche. “Every month, my mom would get the Cowgirl Magazine. I’d look through it and fall in love with the colors and the art behind it.”
After spending a summer cleaning houses, Hyche decided to invest her money into inventory and start a boutique. Originally, she expected her boutique to be a fun hobby, but within the first two months, she made back her investment.
She credits her boutique experience and time at UW to helping her land a full-time position at WyoTech in Laramie as director of marketing.
“If I didn’t have that knowledge in my toolbox, there is no way I could do the job I have now,” said Hyche.
Ultimately, she wants to open a store somewhere, but right now she’s taking it day by day to build and create the brand and style she believes in.
KNZ Brand, LLC
Kenzie Holmberg, owner of KNZ Brand, LLC, recently made the jump to take her business full time this June. Like Hyche, she started her business while in college.
“I did it as a side hustle to help me pay my way through college,” said Holmberg, who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications.
KNZ Brand, LLC, is her main business where she specializes in graphic design, creating logos, websites, flyers, posters and cover art mostly focused on the western industry, although she is open to anything.
She also operates Castilleja Cowgirl, a Western lifestyle photography business, where she sells prints for décor and does family photography, engagements, equine sales and a few weddings.
It wasn’t until she took a multimedia course at UW with a unit focused on photography that she expanded her toolbox of skills.
“I had an assignment to go take some photos, and I borrowed a friend’s camera to go do it. I actually enjoyed what I was doing,” said Holmberg. “I thought it might be beneficial to add the skill to my already existing services because before I was having to hire people to go take photos with me.”
Her days begin around 6 a.m., feeding horses and cleaning stalls because she also owns and operates Knockout Performance Horses, where she sells and trains horses. After taking care of the horses, she gets started with her design work, checking e-mails, making website edits and creating and sending content to and from clients for approval.
“I get to really do something I love, and I enjoy what I do so it doesn’t really feel much like work,” said Holmberg.
Like Christensen and Hyche, Holmberg believes finding and doing something she is passionate about is important. She relates having a business may seem like an opportunity to be independent but building the network and collaborating with others is an important part of owning a business.
“A good business isn’t built without the help of multiple people,” said Holmberg.
This article was written by Katie Shockley and is courtesy of the University of Wyoming. For more information, visit uwagnews.com or e-mail Shockley at firstname.lastname@example.org.