Business Leaders of Valencia County

BELEN — After 50 years of marriage and 35 years in business, Richard and Cindy Long are moving into their retirement years in good spirits, health and are firmly established in the Belen business community.

The couple didn’t set out to own a business, but when their karate instructor announced he was leaving the state more than three decades ago, they just didn’t want to stop training.

They took over the lease for instruction space in Rio Communities, but when the lease renewed and rent costs increased, the Longs found a different location.

“We were at dinner at Pete’s and walked around the corner and there it was, for rent,” Cindy recalls.

The building was owned by Jeff Trembly, who was looking for a tenant and eventually a buyer for 101 Becker Ave.

As they began running the school, which Richard describes more as an avocation than occupation, the couple knew they weren’t going to be able to make a living from dojo dues.

“I was still working full-time and we had a solid core group of about 25 students,” Richard said, adding bluntly the school didn’t earn them a living in the early years. “You know, I don’t think anybody should plan to start a business who doesn’t have two years to give to it without income.”

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Richard and Cindy Long, owners of Belen Goju Ryu Karate in Belen, say while running the dojo is more an avocation that occupation, it still comes with the normal business activities of paying taxes, building upkeep and more.

For the first several years, Cindy spent most of her limited free time at the dojo, instructing classes and keeping up with paperwork.

“I was doing everything here but I was also Girl Scout troop leader, a swim coach, president of the chamber,” Cindy said. “There would be times we’d be running over in our swimsuits and change real quick into our uniforms. It was a real challenge; it wasn’t easy.”

In 1993, Richard took the leap of faith and left his full-time job at an Albuquerque car dealership and began working in the wholesale side of the industry.

“When I quit my job, with all the benefits and insurance, it was a hard decision,” he said. “We still needed my income to supplement the business. We couldn’t have done this for a living but I didn’t want to look back in 10 years and wonder, ‘What if?’”

By the beginning of 1999, the business had grown to the point it became necessary for Richard and Cindy to be there all the time.

“I will say, if we both hadn’t been involved, I don’t think we would have made it,” he said.

Having a nest egg already established or additional income to supplement a business is key in the beginning, Cindy said.

“For us, students ebb and flow. Things were up and down,” she said. “You have to be able to get through those ups and downs.”

While they are located at the end of Becker Avenue, that kind of location might not work for every type of business.

“If you are a destination or service, like the dojo, then you can be on the end of the street, out of the way,” Cindy said. “If you’re a restaurant or selling goods, you need to be on Main Street, where you’re seen.”

The Longs have diversified their business over the years, offering cross-training exercise classes since 1988 and, starting in 2003, health maintenance and internal energy development.

Both classes fit into the philosophy of the dojo and can be taken by people of all ages and health levels. And much like the karate they teach, Richard and Cindy genuinely enjoy the classes.

She cautions new business owners to be careful and not catch a case of what she calls “big boy-itis,” pushing to grow too much, too soon.

“We’ve been asked many times if we’re going to open other locations, but we’ve resisted the urge,” Cindy said. “You see a business try to expand too much product wise or too much location wise and it hurts them.

“The Bible says to grow where you’re planted. This is where we’re planted.”

Belen Goju Ryu Karate, 101 Becker Ave., can be reached at 505-864-9568.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.