Ronnie and Ray Konopasek, owners of Lotus Imports. - Jim Craven

Homegrown: Lotus Imports

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it? (Ray speaking) We import decorative items for the home and garden. We sell them at our retail store in Medford. Our slogan is: Handmade, hand-picked, with an Asian flair. We started thebusiness in early 2004 when we made our first exploratory buying trip to Bali.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I grew up in Medford and graduated from Medford High School and the University of Oregon. I moved to New York City in 1966 and met Ronnie there. We moved back here in 1994.

What inspired you to go into this line of work? I learned about Bali from a business associate who lives in Australia. He told me about the rich Bali culture and about a friend of his who was importing product into Australia and doing quite well. Ronnie and I always have been interested in other cultures and travel, and the idea of combining those things was very appealing.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? Given thecurrent economic situation, we would have established a bigger rainy-day fund back in 2008. We would have bought less inventory and postponed some building renovation projects. I thought in late 2007 and early 2008 we were headed for some rocky times. I was expecting 2008 to be the rocky times. We were getting through 2008 in pretty good shape until November and things fell off the cliff.

What's the toughest business decision you've made? The initial decision to start this business. It was different from what we originally did. I got my degree in counseling psychology, so I did vocational counseling with specialization in rehab. In New York I ended up with my own trading company. Ronnie was an occupational therapist, and when she retired from that she went into the retail business with a family friend.

Who are your competitors? Our sense is there are many good furnishing and garden stores, but we think we're different. We have a combination of the two, which most people don't do. We have a big variety in stock, which most other people don't have. From hand-carved stone lanterns, handmade soy candles and speciality handbags to furniture. Our main competitors would be other furniture stores.

What are your goals? Our goals are pretty modest. First of all, we want to survive this recession. Then we want to hire people and take time off to find new and different things. Long-term, we might consider a satellite store or a joint venture with other people. We'd provide the sourcing and logistics and they'd provide the retail operation.

What training or education did you need? There are four different aspects to what we do: one, buying things at the right price; two, importing; third, retailing; and fourth is marketing. All of those require different skill sets. Living in New York for 30 years we were exposed to a lot of things. We developed our own sense of what we liked and what we thought was good. My trading company, Gronel Co. — where we exported heating and air conditioning parts primarily to Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Korea and some to South America — provided training. The retailing Ronnie did gave her considerable experience as far merchandising and displaying. She has an innate sense of design. We have no marketing experience, and that's a work in progress, an area where we need to improve.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Be honest, treat customers with respect, love what you do and make the commitment to do whatever it takes to make the business succeed. Be willing to put in the time and effort.

To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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