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Hats Off to the Dreamers, Risk-Takers, Go-Getters & Achievers

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 1:36 PM
Tags: small businesses

Minnesota Business Success StoriesIt just wouldn't be right if we let National Small Business Week wind down without a nod to companies that are making some really good things happen for themselves and their communities.

Minnesota has more than half a million small businesses. Owners make big commitments and take big risks. They work long hours and face long odds. And they succeed like crazy. Here are just a few stories from our Small Business Development Centers

Jumping in With Both Feet

About the time others start thinking about retirement, Ron and Kim Wothe decided it was time to dip their toes -- well, their feet, really -- into a new business venture.

In 2007, the Wothes opened Glacial Ridge Winery in the heart of West-Central Minnesota. It was an uncommon move for a lot of reasons. Ron was 58 years old, not the usual age for a budding entrepreneur. And the wine-making industry was still a relatively new concept in the state.

Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Glacial Lakes area near Spicer, the winery sits on 17.5 acres of land with a farmhouse, a large production building, a sales building, with an 800 tree apple orchard. The couple started with just two wines in their reserve, but now offer more than 20 varieties of wine, many of them award-winning.

Last year, Glacial Ridge produced 4,000 gallons of wine, purchasing grapes from 12 local growers, providing additional income to local farmers.The company also employs one full-time, seven part-time and two seasonal workers.

This year, the Wothes were named Minnesota Encore Entrepreneurs of the Year by the SBA. The award is based on success as measured by sales and profits, employment, innovative or creative business methods, and potential necessary for long-term business success and economic growth.  The business owner must have a three-year track record and must have started the business after age 50.

Starting Small, Thinking Big

Sometimes big dreams start small. Just ask Bemidji entrepreneur Rich Siegert.

He began working in the hospitality industry at age 10, and his first foray into business was a small motel on the shores of Lake Bemidji.

Today, Siegert owns seven food and lodging businesses in the Bemidji area,including the upscale DoubleTree hotel, which he recently opened on the lake's south shore. That project alone cost more than $10 million.

You don't need an in-depth analysis from wonks at the Federal Reserve to know that the economic impact of all Siegert's businesses on his community and the region is substantial. The 347 people he employs can attest to that.

One Smooth Move

Sooner or later, most small business take a kick in the chin. Orders slump. Cash or credit gets tight. Unexpected expenses arise. The future is in doubt.

That's when gutsy entrepreneurs like Kevin Christianson rise to the occasion.

When Christianson bought Smooth Moves, a boat seat mount company in Blooming Prairie, his timing was a little off. It was 2010 and the economy was fully in the grip of a deep recession. The boating industry was underwater, no one was spending money on boats and accessories.

Things were tough, but Christianson, who was an experienced entrepreneur, was tougher. He upped the ante with relentless marketing. He convinced some prominent professional anglers to use his product, which is basically a seat shock absorber that takes the bone- and back-jarring impact out of a boat ride in rough water.

The testimonials provided just the spark the company needed. Sales increased and boat manufacturers took notice. His Smooth Moves seat mounting systems are being offered in some of the big brand name fishing boats, including Warrior, Triton, Legend, Hewescraft and Tracker. Two years after he bought the company, Christianson faced another problem: a tidal wave of demand. The solution? Grow. Smooth move.

Once Upon a Time ...

There was a four-year-old girl who loved dresses so much she'd throw tantrums in the store when told she could buy only one.

"Someday, I'll have my own store. Then I can have as many dresses as I want," she would say, stomping her feet. That little girl grew up to be Laura Vogel, owner of Apricot Lane Boutique in St. Cloud.

Vogel first became aware of the franchise while on a trip to Disney World with her family. She was so smitten with the store and its unique merchandise that while she was in the fitting room trying on clothes, she used her smart phone to find franchise information on company's website.

The store appeals to a more upscale clientele and features the newest branded fashion apparel, jewelry, handbags, shoes, accessories and gifts. The franchise hadn't even considered central Minnesota as a viable location until swayed by Vogel.

Less than a year in business, Vogel's passion for fashion and her devotion to customer service are really paying off. Her franchise has one of the highest monthly foot traffic counts of all Apricot Lane stores nationwide.

Now, that's what you call a fairy-tale ending.


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