January-February 2020

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January | February 2020






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Welding Wizards Carrying the Torch

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Unique Specialty & Classics AG FOCUS

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Live Your Passion I feel very fortunate to be at a point in my career where I am able to pick projects (jobs if you will) that fill my cup. Southern Minnesota has been so generous in allowing me to piece together a career full of things I enjoy doing. (Serving as editor of this magazine is certainly at the top of that list.) I start with that thought because I believe all those featured in this issue share in that sentiment. Jeremy Thomas, of Unique Specialty & Classics, is certainly living in many men’s (and increasingly women’s) dream world. Carl Nordmeier at Tune Town has found a way to turn his passion for music into a thriving business fueled by other people’s passion for the same thing. And the father-son duo behind Matson Specialties in Waseca combine their talents and art into a business. We also get perspectives on ag topics and have some resources for entrepreneurs. Happy reading, and hopefully, learning,

Lisa Cownie EDITOR

Promoting Happy + Healthy Communities

Architecture + Engineering + Environmental + Planning 8

January | February 2020


By Lisa Cownie Photos by Jonathan Smith

At first glance, one might admire the shiny chrome or the white wall tires or the tailfins. But it’s not the hood ornaments or the bench seats that make a classic car special. Behind every classic car is a story. Oh, if tires could talk. Well, in a way they do. Jeremy Thomas, owner of Unique Specialty and Classics in Mankato, sees behind the car’s body, striving to understand the journey the car, and its owners, have been on. “We actually don’t buy a lot of cars from auctions, we buy from people,” he says. “When we go and meet the family that's really special. That’s the nice thing about that versus going to an auction; we get to talk to the people, we get to know the history on the cars, how long they had them, what work's been done, how they were cared for, that sort of thing because the one big thing that drives this hobby, as important, and a lot of times more important, than the car itself, is the story behind it. It's the history. That's what people attach to and that's what they relate to.

“Most of the time if you go to any car show and ask someone about their car, they don't stand there and tell you all the upgrades they did, the brakes they put in and the motor they put in. The first thing they'll start to tell you about is, ‘Yes, I got it from this old-timer. He had it for 40 years.’ That's the story that you get and that's what people enjoy. It’s a part of the classic car culture. The stories perpetuate through all different owners. One guy might have it painted black and loved it, the next guy might have it painted a two-tone red and yellow, that's his thing, but the story stays the same regardless. That's where the passion for this hobby really shows.” It’s Thomas’ own story that helped launch Unique Specialty and Classic Cars back in 2006.

Moving into the new location at 2015 Basset Drive, the former Lowe’s building.


January | February 2020


Unique Specialty & Classics

He didn’t grow up a motorhead, he says, but buying his first classic car at age 21 fueled his passion for cars from the past. “It was a ‘64 Impala for 3,500 bucks. Man, I thought I was king of the road with that thing. That was the first one and heck, I think I even had to finance it. (laughter) But that’s where the bug started and I have been involved with them since then.” Involved may be putting it lightly. Unique Specialty and Classics is a full-service classic and specialty car dealership that works to buy, sell, trade, and consign vehicles across the country and around the globe. Unique is a one-stop shop for everything concerning classics, whether it’s to bring them in for a simple oil change or to handle a full restoration. Unique has specialists with decades of experience on hand, as well as passionate car lovers working day in and day out to get the cars that people dream about out of their heads and into their garages. It’s more than a business to Thomas, it’s a culture. A culture that combines technological advancement with an appreciation of the past. These cars are often visions of the future with glimpses of the world that used to be: four-wheeled time capsules, if you will. “These cars have stories behind them. To me, that’s a neat thing to have in something that you’re selling,” he says. “It’s not just a piece of property. There’s history to what you’re selling.” It’s a history Thomas is helping make from right in Mankato. Thomas talks about how the business has grown into an international footprint, his plans for expanding his presence in Mankato, and taking his story to the screen. First of all, I think there’s a lot of confusion really about what you do here. In a phrase, what we do is, basically, anything having to do with the classic or specialty car hobby. Obviously, the easiest thing to see is the sales side of things. We have a service department as well and we do complete restorations, from what they call frame-off restorations to interiors, convertible tops, engine swaps. Basically we can do as much or as little as the customer may want us to do. 12

January | February 2020

Jeremy Thomas

Over the years, especially when we first opened, I know everybody thought we were crazy because, ‘You’re going to sell what? Where? In Mankato? How is a classic car business going to sustain in Mankato?’

Let’s start with the sales side of things, because of your niche, it does not operate like a traditional car dealership. Right. Over the years, especially when we first opened, I know everybody thought we were crazy because, ‘You’re going to sell what? Where? In Mankato? How is a classic car business going to sustain in Mankato?’ But from the get-go, we were all about having a regional and national reach. Now, in fact, it’s international. Just like everything nowadays, pretty much if anybody needs anything, the first thing they do is go to the computer or their phone to do a search. Most interactions start with those interested seeing us on the internet somewhere. Whether it is a vehicle we already have that they’ve been looking for, or they’ve found their dream car that happens to be here, that’s probably the most common start to an interaction. But we also attend car shows all over the country. It’s a lot of grassroots. Literally all shaking hands, meeting people, talking cars.

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Unique Specialty & Classics

Those car shows are important. When we do these shows, a lot of people ask, ‘Well, how many cars did you sell at the show?’ It might be a three-day show, it might be a weeklong show or whatever the case is. We take cars with us, but they are really more for show, to show people a sampling of what our inventory is. But what really happens is we don’t often have a sale at a show, but two weeks, a month, six months, a year after the show, all of a sudden, the phone will ring or an email will come in or someone will stop and say, “Hey, I talked to you at Barrett Jackson in Scottsdale,” or, “I talked to you at Iola, Wisconsin,” that’s how the relationships start, and then, of course, repeat and referral business is huge for anybody.

“When do I start?” [laughs] That’s where my car passion really started. It’s not like I grew up around them or anything.

How did you get started with all of this? I started at a local dealership when I was 19, working in the shop. I was basically the shop grunt. If they needed an oil change done, I did it. If they needed the drains cleaned, I did it. That’s how I put myself through college and that’s where I started. I am thankful for that experience, though, as I originally applied for a sales position at that dealership. I remember the owner called me and said, “Well, we got good news and bad news. We want to hire you, but we can’t get you in sales until January.” This was in June. At the time, I was a poor college kid, so I asked, “What does it pay?” It was 50 cents an hour more than I was making. So I said,

So you started working at that dealership, what happened next? Just like they promised, I started in the shop that June and sure enough Jan. 1 they started me in sales. The first month I was there, I sold two cars. The next month, a few more. So I caught on and was doing a pretty good job selling. It got in my blood. So I was in the new car business for 12 or 13 years, mostly with General Motors dealerships. I did spend one year with the Ford store. Then I bought my first collector car when I was 21.

So a little later in life. I always had just a vague interest, I wasn’t a motorhead in high school or anything like that. Growing up my dad was a parts manager for a General Motors dealership from the ‘60s to early ‘80s. I always heard these stories about cars, but he never had any of them himself. It’s not like, “My dad and I used to work on them” or anything like that. He farms, still does. So I was a farm kid. I came to Minnesota State University Mankato in 1993, and I have been in the area since.

What made you do that? I liked it. It was a ‘64 Impala.


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January | February 2020

Jeremy Thomas | Unique Specialty & Classic Cars

On the plane ride home, I remember looking around at the people on the plane, and they all had shirts or name tags showing they were with all kinds of dealerships. It was on the plane ride home I made my mind up: if these guys can do it, why can’t I? That was in January of ‘05 and a year later, we opened.

OK, but it’s one thing to buy your first ‘64 Impala to what you’re doing now. Since I started in the shop at my first dealership job, my goal had always been to have my own dealership. In my interview, I remember telling the dealership owner that’s what I wanted. I was 19, so it probably sounded silly, but I knew that’s what I wanted. I wanted specifically a General Motors dealership but things happen as they may and that didn’t work out. On a whim in January of 2005, I went to the Barrett Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. That is the big classic car auction everybody knows about and sees on TV. I went there just for fun as my interest in classic cars was

growing and I had never been there. On the plane ride home, I remember looking around at the people on the plane, and they all had shirts or name tags showing they were with all kinds of dealerships. It was on the plane ride home I made my mind up: if these guys can do it, why can’t I? That was in January of ‘05 and a year later, we opened. How did you get started? The day we opened, there were seven cars on the lot. Five of them were mine personally. [chuckles] We had just a third of this building, took out a home equity loan to have a little bit of cash


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Unique Specialty & Classics

in the bank for the business. I didn’t give myself an option of it not succeeding. I was all in and just thought, “This thing’s got to work; failure wasn’t an option.” It was an experience like no other, and people didn’t make it easy when trying to secure financing, I can tell you that. The banks would all laugh and say, “You want to do what?” When did you first think, “Gosh, is this really gonna actually work?” Like six months ago. [laughter] This is such a niche commodity, it must have been really scary. Exactly. I mean, I was on pins and needles. Especially the first two or three years, because there’s little to no margin for error on the dollars and cents side of things in trying to navigate this particular niche. Yes, I had been in the car dealership world for a long time and in different management capacities, but that was a different culture. I

You started with sales, and then when did you jump into the other stuff like the restoration and service? We didn’t go into it planning on doing any more than selling for a few years, but adding service happened within the first year. I want to say six, eight months after we opened, it became evident pretty quick that we needed to have some sort of a shop or service department. That was always the plan, but again, I was just taking baby steps. But seeing the need, we hired our first technician. In fact, the first winter that we had the shop open, it wasn’t even heated! We literally had portable heaters, that was it.

learned so much from that experience but going into this, well, there are a lot of nuances with this type of business. This type of inventory and this type of client are night and day different than what you deal with on a day-to-day basis at a new car store. I’ve said it several times, I can’t imagine trying to do this without the background, the knowledge, and everything that I gained from being in the new car business. There’s a lot of guys that have over the years tried to have something like this. People that might think, “Hey, I got some money and I like cars. I’ll open something.” They run it as a hobby. In reality, the business, this business, supplies a hobby and it needs to be run as a real dealership, as a real business. People have asked us, “Why do you think it’s working?” I do believe, that is the No. 1 reason why. The inner workings of how an automotive dealership works applied to this platform, knock on wood, has been a good fit.

Is it hard to find people that can work on these types of cars? Yes, it’s very, very hard because someone coming into the industry and coming from a new dealership or a late model shop, they might be very good at what they do working on cars that are 10, 15 years old

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Jeremy Thomas | Unique Specialty & Classic Cars

and newer. But if somebody pulls up in a ‘55 Chevrolet, there’s no way to plug your computer or your scan tool to diagnose the problem. You have to know how to adjust the carburetor, you have to know how to deal with 6 volts versus 12 volts, all these different things. I’ve been fortunate to find the guys in the shop that do know what they’re doing. It’s very much a learning curve. If someone new comes in we have to take them back in time on how things work. You think all the way back to the '20s and '30s, it was a simpler time. Things were way simpler back then on cars than they are now, but sometimes that simplicity actually is complex because the way they did it and the way fuel is transferred, all these different things make it a lot more challenging. Obviously, it’s a very specialized business and we have a great reputation for it. We have people send us their cars for service and restoration from all over. The farthest away was from a gentleman that sent his

‘59 Thunderbird to us from New York to have a bunch of work done to it. Certainly saleswise we draw people from all over the world, but even for service and restorations, now we’re getting cars from out of state to get work done. They just hear about you from word of mouth or how do you market your services? Word of mouth, a good reputation, Google reviews, all that stuff, plus social media. A lot of those folks, if they’re in it, they do their due diligence and they know what to look for, what questions to ask about your particular shop and that sort of thing. Most of them, they’re pretty smart about how they pick and choose who touches their car. They’re pretty fussy about it. You were talking about how at first people were saying, “You’re crazy trying to do this in Mankato,” but this location has

worked out all right for you? Quite frankly, the truth is that when we opened this was the biggest space that I could afford. That’s just really what it came down to. It just happened to be here. As we grew and as our company aged, we somewhat quickly realized we’re a destination business anyway. Would we love to be on the hottest corner in town? Sure. But drive-by traffic is not our main well-being. We’ve concentrated a lot on having a very broad presence, rather than just focusing locally. Because of our niche, for us having an ad in the front cover of the local paper doesn’t fit or hit very many people that are actually into what we’re doing here. I think people, even locally, are really curious about what goes on here? They drive by and see all these cool cars. It’s so weird. We go to the shows all across the country and people will walk by and see our banner or our show trailer or whatever and they’ll say, “Hey, you guys are at that place out of Minnesota, right?” It’s pretty


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Unique Specialty & Classics

cool. We can be in Arizona or wherever and they still know we are from here. Then we can go to the car roll-in in Lake Crystal and somebody from Madelia is there, and to this day they’ll say, “oh, I didn’t know there was a place like that in Mankato.” It drives me nuts. [laughs] That’s the other thing that we do. We try to support the community of the classic car hobby locally as much as we can. We sponsor a lot of the shows around the area like Lake Crystal, Nicollet, Henderson, just to name a few. We try to support the hobby, be a friend to the hobby as much as we can. Where is the nearest place like yours? Is there another one in Minnesota? There’s a couple that are in Minnesota. I think from a sales volume standpoint, we do the most. There’s one in Watertown, Minnesota, there’s one in Rogers, Minnesota. I mean, there are others what I call pop-up or smaller type ones. The ones that I mentioned, though, they don’t have

service. They’re consignment only. With us, we have consignments, but we obviously own a large majority of the cars and they are right here on our lot. Yes. It makes me nervous driving through your parking lot. I don’t want to hit any of them! (laughs) Does it make you nervous when you leave here at night? You have a lot of money here. Yes. We’re outgrowing this place. There are times, especially when there’s talk of a hailstorm or something, we try to cram in as many cars as we can. We are excited to announce that we are currently moving into our new location at 2015 Basset Drive, to the former Lowe’s building. There, we will have over 150 classic and specialty cars all under one roof. We will also have full service, restoration and detailing services there as well. With this move, the Mankato community will have one of the largest classic car showrooms in the entire upper Midwest. We will also

be looking forward to hosting community events, cars shows, and more once we are all settled in. Does your business go up and down with the economy, because this is obviously more of a want than a need type thing, or do you think that if people are enthusiasts in this market that the economy doesn’t matter? In the crash of ‘08, our company was just two years old, and for the people that thought what the heck we were doing in the first place opening it, they thought for sure that that was going to kill us, because first thing people want to do is get rid of their toys because of the housing crash and all that stuff. Admittedly, I was a little nervous, but what proved out was a few things. No. 1, for the folks that maybe did have to get out of the hobby, it provided a buyer’s market for us. Albeit, all of a sudden now I’m out buying cars when every news channel says the world’s crashing. It was

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January | February 2020

Jeremy Thomas | Unique Specialty & Classic Cars

quite nerve-racking as well, but we tried to keep the focus on the long term. “This too shall pass” kind of thing, and we came out of it on the other side very well. The other thing I remember when that was going on, we literally had people say that they were buying these cars as investments because at the time, the stock market, nobody trusted it. Nobody wanted to put their money in it. I’ll never forget this one guy bought a $50,000 car because he said he wanted to be able to walk into his garage, open the door and see his investment sitting right there. Where if he gave it to some stockbroker at that time it was poof – gone! So between having buying opportunities, and people were literally buying them as investments, as a place to park their money, it actually didn’t hit us as hard as a lot of people thought it would. What is your philosophy on buying? I know you have to buy

I’ll never forget this one guy bought a $50,000 car because he said he wanted to be able to walk into his garage, open the door and see his investment sitting right there.

cars in order to have them to sell. I imagine you go to shows to show off what you have, but are you also shopping while you’re there? A lot of people ask us, “Where do you get all your cars?” They think that we just go to auctions and buy them, but in fact I buy very few cars at auction. That’s the last place I go, not the first place. The longer we’re in business, it’s not us finding the cars, the cars find us. That makes it a lot

nicer because we get to deal with families and we get into collections. You are up to 15 employees now. Did you ever dream when you started it would get this big? No. I remember when we sold 10 cars in one month, we thought that was amazing. Now we’re consistently selling 40-something cars a month. Of course, the shop is booming. The growth has been great.




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Unique Specialty & Classics

Chrome Hunters Thomas and his team recently partnered with another local company, True Facade Pictures, to take their passion for classic cars on a whole new journey. Chrome Hunters is a show that takes viewers through the process of finding, restoring and selling classic cars. The “thrill of the hunt” is definitely captured in this potential series as they work through collections from barn finds to beautifully restored cars and everything in between. Also captured are the pranks and jokes in the shop that you don’t want to miss! A pilot episode is now complete and is being pitched to several networks, including Discovery and Velocity.


January | February 2020

Jeremy Thomas | Unique Specialty & Classic Cars

Forty-something cars a month. That’s a lot. We’re selling between 400 and 500 cars a year. For a specialty shop, that’s really moving. I would say. Where’s the farthest away, that you’ve sold one? Throw a dart at the globe. What happens if I’m in Paris and I want a car that you might have. I type it into Google and I find it in Mankato, Minnesota. What would make them want to pick one here as opposed to trying to find one somewhere across the pond? Well, the first thing with our customers that are overseas is they seem to be very specific in what they’re looking for. That a lot of time is what generates their interest over here in the first place. American cars are very sought after over there and in a lot of other countries, but in different genres. For instance, the Swedes and in Denmark, they like a lot of the big '50s and '60s cars, the Cadillacs, Buicks, the big boat type of cars. Australia, New Zealand, and such, they’re into those, too, but we’re seeing more muscle-type cars going that way. Then, of course, we’ve got clients in Iceland, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Africa, South America, really wherever you can imagine. Do you get to travel to all those places once in a while? Once in a while. I personally haven’t traveled internationally too much for clients. For many of our international clients, from the time they buy it, gets to the port, gets on the ship, and gets sent to wherever it’s going, it takes like four months! That’s from purchase to delivery. So it takes a while. Do you have to figure out logistically how to get it there? It depends. Sometimes the clients, if they’ve bought a car before, they’ll just handle it. But we can get them set up with an international shipper and that sort of thing.

Thomas Shows Appreciation “As we all know, most startup businesses are made up of a lot of ‘sweat equity’ and Unique certainly was no different,” Thomas explains. “Getting any business off the ground takes an all hands on deck approach and Unique certainly wouldn’t be here without the help of a lot of people including my family, my spouse at the time and her family, my friends, my children Dylan and Jordan, and of course all of our amazing employees!”

CONNECT Business Magazine


Unique Specialty & Classics

Before I go, you said you have a story about one of your collections. The biggest collection that we’ve bought at one time was 220 cars. It was everything from project cars to running and driving cars to everything in between. It was an older gentleman, of course, that had amassed this collection over 40 some years. He had a guy that was working for him that was helping him, and he had posted one car on Craigslist, it was a '57 Cadillac. I remember I called up my brother and I said, “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” Anyway, long story short, we’re way up in Northern Minnesota for this one car that we drove five hours to go look at. We get to talking to this guy about that car and we walked into this one building where there were two or three other cars, and I said, “What about the model over there? What about the Buick?” He goes, “You guys are interested in more than one?” So, I told him what we do for a business. And he said, “Gosh. Maybe I should take you to the other building.” We go to this other building in town. Here’s another eight, 10 cars there. I was like, “Wow! I’m glad you said something. Thanks for telling me.” Then he said, “Well, since you guys are up here, I should probably take you to the shop.” He called it a shop, but we pull up to this place, and there’s a fenced-in 2-acre property, with just one gate you can see in, and as far as you can see, it’s just cars parked in there as far as you could see. This is in February, so we’re crawling through snow up to our knees, but I couldn’t have been any happier. This was like a car guy’s dream. This gentleman, he had amassed this collection over all the years, and in his mind, he had a plan for every single one of those cars. Unfortunately, he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so that’s why the family was starting to sell them. Anyway, what started as a one-day trip ended up being three days meeting with the family, talking through things. After three days, we ended up negotiating a deal and we bought the whole collection. That was just the cars. Then there were mountains of parts. All of that stuff came into play as well. That’s like winning a lottery for you probably. I came back and the guys were like, ‘Well, how’d your trip go?’ I’m like, ‘Pretty good.’ They go, ‘Did you buy it?’ I said, ‘Yes, and 219 other ones.’ They looked at me like I was crazy. We went through that collection, documented inventory, and sold them from there. That was quite an experience. Obviously they’re not all that big, but we’ve also dealt with several 10-, 20-, 30-car collections as well. It’s pretty cool, the people we get to meet. That’s cool. Are all of your guy friends like, “Dude, you have the best job in the world”? I get that every once in a while or if I’m driving something like, “Oh, it must be rough.” I’ve got some cars that are mine personally and then, of course, all the ones that are from the dealership. It is one of the rough perks, you get to drive some cool stuff. [laughs]

THE ESSENTIALS Unique Specialty & Classic Cars 2015 Basset Drive Mankato, MN 56001 Phone: 507-386-1726 22

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Fox Lake Furniture Finds Its Future in Welcome Samantha Breneman, Owner, Fox Lake Furniture In the 1700s the word entrepreneur entered our vocabulary, meaning adventurer. The meaning has been honed over the centuries and is now widely regarded as one who launches and runs a new business. However, entrepreneurs remain adventurers at heart. Taking on great risks based on an idea or expertise one has developed in hopes of making a profit. Sometimes a budding entrepreneur will get their start because of an idea born simply out of necessity. That is certainly the story behind Fox Lake Furniture, of Welcome, Minnesota. 24

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“It all started when I needed a sturdy coffee table for my senior year of college,” said Samantha Breneman. “I really didn’t want to pay a whole lot for something that might get ruined, so with the help of my grandfather, we made a coffee table out of a shipping pallet and some scrap lumber he had laying around his small wood shop. A couple years passed by and my cousin, Karen, asked me to make her a super simple coffee table. I agreed to make the table and it just kind of took off slowly from there making smaller items for mostly friends and family.” As her love for creating things grew, so did the idea to spread her talents to those outside her inner circle. “I would come home from the cities every other weekend to work on things such as trays, wine racks, coffee tables, etc. Before I knew it, it was 2016 and I decided to open my first Etsy shop and decided to call it Fox Lake Furniture. At that time, I had been working in the small golf cart shed that was located at my grandparents’ home on Fox Lake, just outside of Sherburn.” It soon became evident her Etsy shop was outgrowing her grandparents’ shed. She decided to take the biggest step yet.

Lisa Cownie EDITOR

“Besides making handmade goods to sell online, I also take custom orders for bigger items, such as furniture. I also refinish and paint furniture as well. To do all of that I needed more space. So in the fall of 2018 I moved into a much larger shop located in the nearby town of Welcome. For the most part, the location is great! I have quickly filled it up with shop equipment and supplies, so down the road it would be nice to expand yet again.” It is still sometimes hard for Breneman to reconcile her background and what she thought she wanted to do with her life with this new found success in a surprise vocation. “I grew up on a dairy farm outside of Trimont. I have two younger sisters. As a kid, I spent a lot of time outside playing with my sisters on the farm, making forts, and driving the go-kart. I spent a lot of time playing on various sports teams during my childhood. I graduated from Martin County West High School in 2009. I went to college

at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, and graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in psychological science.” But she has embraced this new, unexpected role in life. “I literally started with just the tools my grandfather had in his shop. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to add to that. When I first started, I also made almost everything out of pallet wood. Now, I have definitely expanded on the types of wood that I like to work with. My skill set has also improved quite a bit. It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet. Fox Lake Furniture has been such a great adventure! I truly enjoy creating unique pieces for each individual customer.” Skills aside, she knows it is the intangibles that have gotten her this far. “I think a key to my success has been the large amount of support I have gotten from my family, friends, and the community. A positive attitude also goes a long way.” Her biggest challenge so far has been learning the back end. “I would have to say the biggest challenge I have had so far has been learning to be my own boss and everything that comes along with that.” To other entrepreneurs waiting to take the plunge, she says to look for the small victories and keep your eye on the ultimate goal. “Don’t forget to think about the small day-to-day successes! It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the big stuff. I think just taking a moment to remember how lucky we are as entrepreneurs. Not everyone is so fortunate to be able to run their own business.” She is feeling more and more comfortable in her role and her new title of entrepreneur. So much so, she is looking forward to the future. “To continue to grow the business, I need to focus on finding new locations to sell products, expand and organize the shop for increased productivity. I think it would be awesome to be able to have a couple employees down the road to help around the shop!” THE ESSENTIALS


EMBRACE THE POSSIBILITIES OF TOMORROW. You never know for sure what tomorrow will bring. But you can be sure that we’ll be there to keep our promise - providing coverage for what’s important to you.

cimankato.com Mankato (507) 385-4485

Amboy (507) 674-3355

Vernon Center (507) 549-3679

Mary Struck

READY TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? Professional business consultant Nancy Goodwin specializes in assisting start-ups and young businesses experiencing growing pains. Tap into her expertise that includes feasibility, business plans, marketing strategies and advertising tools. Contact the Small Business Development Center for no-cost consulting services. myminnesotabusiness.com or call 507-389-8875 MSU Strategic Partnership Center, 424 North Riverfront Drive, Suite 101, Mankato, MN POWERED BY

Fox Lake Furniture 507 First Street Welcome, MN 56181 Web: foxlakefurniture.com

Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and regional support partners. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the program sponsors. Programs are open to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance. Contact the SBDC at 507-389-8875.

CONNECT Business Magazine


FEATURE Collaboration Connection

1Million Cups Takes Show On The Road The 1Million Cups initiative kicked off in Mankato two years ago and has seen such growth, organizers decided to expand its reach into surrounding communities. “Other 1MC sites in bigger communities might periodically change their normal meeting location to another venue just to shake things up a bit,” says Gary Schott, one of the organizers. “With us being in a smaller city and with a great venue in the MSU Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, it did not make sense for us to move within Mankato/North Mankato; however, our initiative is focused on the region, so including other cities in the region did make sense. Smaller communities may not be able to do 1MC monthly, but several times a year may be doable. It’s just another way we can share the 1MC experience!” 1MC is based on the notion that entrepreneurs can discover solutions and engage with their communities over a million cups of coffee. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation developed 1Million Cups in 2012—a free program designed to educate, engage, and inspire entrepreneurs around the country. Through the power of volunteers, 1MC has grown to more than 180 communities. As a program of the Kauffman Foundation, 1MC works with entrepreneurs, empowering them with the tools and resources to break down barriers that stand in the way of starting and growing their businesses. Kauffman believed it was a fundamental right for anyone who had a big idea to be able to bring it to life—and organizers in Mankato stepped up to fulfill that mission in our region. They meet the first Wednesday of every month, often in new locations throughout the region. Their first stop: Waseca. “In October, we piloted the concept in Waseca,” explains Schott. “Two local entrepreneurs had the opportunity to tell their stories and receive feedback. A very enthusiastic community group of 20 people participated in the discussion. In addition, the program was broadcasted back to the normal Mankato 1Million Cups venue. A small group there were able to watch and submit questions and comments.” The post-program assessment from the Waseca participants and organizers was clear–it was a success and they plan to do it again. Participants in that pilot program clearly saw the value. 26

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“Therefore, we decided for 2020, starting in February, to utilize the second Wednesday of each month as ‘On the Road’ by holding 1MC at communities in our nine-county region. In each case, the program will be broadcasted back to Mankato. Hopefully this approach will foster not only community connections but also regional thinking,” explains Schott. The program itself will look the same as it does in Mankato. One or two entrepreneurs will each have six minutes to tell their stories and be prepared to hear feedback. The community audience will look to find ways that they can help each individual be successful with their ventures. Following the program, all attendees will be encouraged to build connections with each other. In other words, the building of the community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is fostered and nurtured. While the 1MC team is still finalizing plans for 2020, communities have shown interest, including Waseca, St. Peter, Arlington, St. James, New Ulm, Fairmont, Springfield, BLue Earth and Montgomery.

The group’s eventual goal, over time, is that expanding the 1MC effort will supplement other efforts to establish South Central Minnesota as a great region for entrepreneurs. “The Mankato organizer team sees the 1MC as an initiative for the region not just Mankato/North Mankato. We want all regional entrepreneurs to feel supported, plus get connected to feedback and resources. A region with a culture of enthusiastically supporting entrepreneurs will be good for all, e.g. jobs created; talented people want to stay here; new people can be recruited here; and wealth is generated,” says Schott. The group’s eventual goal, over time, is that expanding the 1MC effort will supplement other efforts to establish South Central Minnesota as a great region for entrepreneurs. So that a community of people in the region can foster, support, and help startup businesses be successful. “Collaboration at a regional effort is very important in economic development,” says Schott. “The 1MC effort compliments other efforts in South Central Minnesota as we build the notoriety of our region as a hotbed for entrepreneurs.” For more information, visit 1millioncups.com/mankato.

FEATURE Collaboration Connection

Nominate Today! Most of us love supporting a small business, especially when it’s owned by family, friends or people we know. Now, you can take your support one step further, helping to celebrate the small businesses that make this region so dynamic. This is your chance to nominate a local legend. American business is overwhelmingly small business. From storefront shops that anchor downtowns to high-tech industries to large-scale retail and service businesses to e-commerce, small businesses are the backbone of our economy. In the U.S., 28 million small businesses create nearly two out of three jobs in our nation’s economy; they provide jobs, spur economic growth and support local communities. While these are national numbers, our region certainly reflects the same picture. In an effort to bring these stories to the forefront, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Connect Business Magazine are jointly bringing you the Southern Minnesota Small Business Awards. The awards celebrate the contribution businesses make in terms of employment and economic prosperity, as well as fostering a stronger and more vibrant region. The profile of the awards is increasing year after year. Nominations are now open. Anyone can submit a nomination, and businesses are encouraged to self-nominate.

Here’s the thing: It’s not all about the win. These awards are a chance to showcase areas of distinction and highlight examples of innovation, creativity, leadership, and positive impact happening right here in our region. In addition, the application process provides a platform for business owners to reflect on business practices and improve future performance. There are several award categories. Encore Entrepreneur will be awarded to someone who started their business after age 50. The Family-Owned Small Business award is for a business that has been passed from one generation to another. The Minority-Owned Small Business award will go to a business that is at least 51% owned and controlled by a minority person. The Veteran-Owned Small Business category is for a business that is at least 51% owned and controlled by a veteran, active-duty service member, reservist/National Guard member, or spouse of one of these. Women-Owned Small Business must be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women, and the Young Entrepreneur distinction will go to a majority owner who will not have reached the age of 30 by May 1, 2020. As you can see, these awards run the gamut and will truly highlight the diversity of our business community. There are some general criteria to keep in mind. The business size must be 500 employees or less. The business must be located in Southern Minnesota within these counties: Blue Earth, Brown, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, Le Sueur, Lyon, Martin, Nicollet, Redwood, Sibley, Waseca, Watonwan. The business must have a three-year track record; a Family-Owned Small Business must have a 15-

year track record. The primary nominee must own the business; however, the primary nominee does not have to be the sole owner. All nominees must be residents of the United States. Any business owned and operated by the nominee must comply with federal civil rights laws. “Small businesses are the heart of our economy,” says Julie Nelson, associate regional director of the SBDC. “The awards will give businesses the chance to celebrate their outstanding hard work and success, and to showcase what the most successful small businesses are doing right as a model for others to learn from. I continue to be impressed with the quality, enthusiasm, and passion of the businesses that enter these awards.” The annual awards luncheon will be held during National Small Business Week on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, at the Centennial Student Union, Minnesota State University, Mankato. Event sponsorship opportunities are also available now – contact Nelson at 507-389-8875 or julie.nelson@mnsu.edu. Are you proud and passionate about your business? Then help us showcase you and those around you. Nominate today!

The scoop: • Award recipients will be chosen by a panel consisting of SBDC and Connect Business Magazine staff. • Award recipients will be profiled in the May 2020 issue of Connect Business Magazine. • The nomination application, complete instructions and previous award recipients are available on the SBDC website at myminnesotabusiness.com/about/small-business-awards/ • The deadline for nominations is Feb. 7, 2020. NOTE: Some financial information is required to assess the health and performance of the business. This data is strictly confidential and used only for the evaluation process. CONNECT Business Magazine




Seventeen-year-old Laurel Luehmann pauses from her early-morning chores to marvel at the sunrise. It’s one of the many reasons she’s proud to have been raised on the dairy farm her family has owned and operated for four generations in the rolling hills of Minnesota’s Winona County. With the recent launch of AMPI’s new Dinner Bell Creamery brand and the accompanying Co-op Crafted mark (see sidebar), co-op families like Laurel’s now have the opportunity to share their story with consumers. “For the co-op’s first 50 years, we focused on making products other companies could wrap their brands around,” said Marshall Reece, AMPI’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “To survive in the next 50 years and beyond, we need to also market directly to the consumer and share the promise behind the food they buy.”

That promise comes from places like Rolling Ridge Acres, the farm Laurel calls home. Her parents Paul and Katie Luehmann partner with Paul’s parents Gary and Donna to operate a 350-cow dairy. Paul and Katie’s eight children also play important roles on the farm. Dinner Bell Creamery branding provides the Luehmanns and fellow AMPI dairy farmer-owners the opportunity to better communicate with consumers about how they work cooperatively to produce and make wholesome, great-tasting dairy products. Messages about how they carefully care for their cows and their land can also be shared.

Representing three generations of the Luehmann family are, from left, Jackson, Gloria, Laurel, Gary, Julia, Donna, Paul, Abigail, Katie, Charlotte, Olivia and Peyton.

Farmamerica and Revol Greens Award Recipients The Greater Mankato Business Awards and Hall of Fame, the area’s premier business awards event, was held on Nov. 12. It’s a time where the four business units of Greater Mankato Growth, Inc. honor the outstanding businesses, professionals and organizations within the Greater Mankato community. One of these business units is GreenSeam, which utilizes the region’s extensive agribusiness assets to develop the ag economy. 28

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Gary, Donna and Paul have all served as AMPI elected officials, giving them front-row seats to watch their co-op evolve over the decades. In their view, adding a brand to forge a relationship with consumers is a smart step toward more effectively marketing members’ dairy products. “As dairy farmers, we need to understand the consumer side of this business. They have choices and their dollars will follow,” Paul said. “We need to respect their desire to know about what we’re doing on the farm.” AMPI-labeled butter products are being transitioned to the Dinner Bell brand. Cheese products will be packaged under


Ringing in a Brand and Promise

In 2019, GreenSeam honored Farmamerica with the Seamed in Success Award, which honors an exemplary business, organization, community or individual who has made a large impact and added value to the region by highlighting the importance of agriculture. Revol Greens was also awarded with the Growing in the GreenSeam Award, which honors an outstanding business that has shown innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and

contribution to our vibrant region. Farmamerica was nominated for the Seamed in Success Award because it is seen as a vital organization in the Southern Minnesota ag community. It aims to help people better understand the history of agriculture in Minnesota and how it continues to drive the state’s economy today. It focuses on ag education and awareness by bringing all ages of the public to its on-site experimental learning experiences. They offer many ways to engage with agriculture, like adventure camps and career exploration programs for students. Participants of these camps and events can engage in

Got an agriculture-related story idea? Email editor@connectbiz.com.

the new label in 2020. The branded product line is being sold to AMPI retail and foodservice customers. It supplements the co-op’s existing butter packaging business. From a promotional standpoint, now is an excellent time to launch a co-op brand, Reece said. “Only a few years ago, it would have been challenging for AMPI to financially support the rollout of its own brand. Now,

thanks to social media outlets such as Instagram and Facebook, we can spread our message for a fraction of the cost.” Butter bearing the Dinner Bell label is now selling in local grocery stores and Holiday gas station stores nationwide. It is also being served in restaurants across the country. AMPI customer Restaurant Depot is selling Dinner Bell butter products at its foodservice distribution warehouses in 60 U.S. cities. “This brand launch will be a thoughtful,

steady process to make sure we do it right,” Reece said. “We recognize we only have one shot to make a good first impression with consumers.” Reece encourages AMPI members, employees and friends to reach out to managers of local grocery stores and restaurants to ask them to sell and serve Dinner Bell butter and cheese. “By doing so, they’re supporting local dairy farm families and craftsmen who make great-tasting products.”

Making Their Mark

live on is the right thing to do. The mark’s circular design is also symbolic of AMPI’s cooperative business model. AMPI dairy farmer-owners value the benefit of uniting as a cooperative to deliver quality dairy products to consumers.

said Katie Luehmann. “If not, we’ll miss seeing the beauty of God’s creation all around us.” The insights received were whittled down to a select 15 to grace the first sticks of Dinner Bell Creamery butter. Each butter stick is wrapped in sayings supplied by members, providing another link between consumers and the dairy farmers who produce their food.

Every Dinner Bell Creamery package includes the new Co-op Crafted mark, a graphic reminder of how AMPI family farmers partner with skilled craftsmen to make award-winning dairy products. “The mark is a way to quickly tell our story and share our promise—AMPI family farms care for their land and animals, and partner with skilled craftsmen to make award-winning dairy products,” said Sheryl Meshke, co-president and CEO. The new mark’s design revolves around the cow, which is symbolic of the animal that is central to dairying. It’s a subtle reminder to consumers that AMPI members recognize providing top-notch care for their animals and the land they

activities like planting crops, caring for farm animals, studying the environment with science experiments, and learning about the history of agriculture and its role in modern industry. They certainly live up to their mission of connecting people with the evolution of agriculture by being Minnesota’s center for agricultural interpretation. Their executive director, Jessica Rollins, accepted the award. The recipient of the Growing in the GreenSeam Award, Revol Greens, is a Minnesota-based company that produces and sells greenhouse lettuce. What makes this company so innovative is that it is able to produce the crop year-round. In

Sharing Wisdom From the Farm “Take time to watch the sunrise.” Inspired by the view from their Minnesota farm, the Luehmann family shared this bit of advice when AMPI members were invited to send in their favorite words of wisdom gleaned from life on the farm. The Luehmanns were among more than 30 members who responded with 130 different farmhouse rules. “This rule is meant to remind us all to take the time to look around and enjoy life,”

comparison to open-field farming, Revol Greens utilizes unique greenhouses that collect rain and snow melt from the roof to irrigate the lettuce plants. As a result, their production uses at least 90% less water to produce a pound of lettuce than operations in other leading regions. No pesticides or herbicides are used in production either. Additionally, the carbon dioxide that results from heating in the winter is collected and pumped into the greenhouse to facilitate faster growth of the crops. Because of Revol Greens’ location, northern states are able to get fresher lettuce while cutting down on the transportation costs compared to

Brand Briefs: • Launched in June 2019 • Butter quarters packaged in New Ulm are the first AMPI product to bear the new brand • Wrapped with new ButterLock wrap to keep flavors in and odors out • Visit dinnerbellcreamery.coop and follow the brand on Facebook and Instagram.

receiving the crop from sources like California for Mexico. All of this equates to an innovative operation that’s adding great value to the GreenSeam region. Jay Johnson and Tricia Johnson, partners in the business, accepted the award. GreenSeam was proud to honor these two deserving award recipients at the Greater Mankato Business Awards and Hall of Fame. Farmamerica and Revol Greens have both contributed to the GreenSeam region by demonstrating commitment to its advancement through collaboration, innovation and opportunities. Learn more about GreenSeam at greenseam.org. CONNECT Business Magazine



Mary Maertens Regional President and CEO of Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center

South Dakota. I began working with the hospital in Marshall as a registered nurse. Throughout my years practicing as a nurse, I worked in various settings, including hospital medical/surgical, labor and delivery, home health care, and long-term care. I began a progressive leadership career with the same organization, now Avera Marshall, in 1998, moving from department director to vice president to CEO. You are an extremely busy lady, what is your No. 1 tool in staying organized? The key to my organizational skills is an excellent executive assistant, Brandi Lillegaard! I would never get as much as I get done in a day or week without her. She manages my calendar with grace and skill, which allows us to have flexibility to meet the day-to-day demands for access to the CEO for physicians, staff and patients. She also accomplishes many tasks behind the scenes to support the various meetings and presentations I need to provide. I also keep command of my inbox, attempt to provide timely and clear responses, and can run a pretty good meeting. I am also extremely grateful for the talented people around me who also manage a lot of balls in the air at one time. Do you have a certain way you start each day, a habit that helps you get ready for the day? I get up at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday so I can exercise before going to work. This time provides me with personal thinking and quiet time and helps to keep me healthy and well balanced. When I begin each work day with a measure of discipline, it helps me keep that focus during the day.

Today, Mary Maertens has a top spot at Avera Marshall, serving as regional president and CEO. Avera Health is a Catholic health ministry based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s a position she has held since 2007 and one she treasures in a community she treasures. You have worked your way up at Avera, haven’t you? I grew up near Arco, Minnesota, on a farm with three siblings where I learned the virtue of a hard day’s work. I attended college and graduated with a nursing degree from SDSU in Brookings, 30

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What do you do outside the office to keep your life balanced? Rest! I enjoy traveling and simply spending time with my husband, family and friends. I also try to practice yoga twice a week. What is your favorite thing about the Marshall area? For me, Marshall has all the benefits of a small close-knit community that is large enough to have your own space. It has been a wonderful place to raise my children and have a rewarding career at the same time. THE ESSENTIALS

Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center 300 South Bruce Street Marshall, MN 56258 Phone: 507-537-9300 Web: avera.org


There are self-help books, motivational blogs and leadership symposiums to help the business- and entrepreneurial-minded make the most of each day to maximize productivity. Connect Business Magazine, though, recognizes we have great resources right in our own communities. So we are going right to local business leaders to give all of you a glimpse into how they manage their days. The goal is for readers to be able to take away little tidbits to incorporate into their own lives to be at their best in and out of the office!

How would you describe your leadership style? I am a student of situational leadership – adapting my style to those in front of me at the moment. On the DISC, I am a CD, which means I am detail orientated yet decisive. Other leadership style assessments have placed me in this same category, although also building in ample relationship skills.



Utilizing Augmented Reality as an Innovative Training Solution


ver the more than 100 years that The Dotson Company has been in business, it has gained a reputation as a well-respected worldwide supplier and leader in innovative foundry work. Led by its core values of living with integrity, caring about people, focusing on results and advancing with innovation, Dotson provides a high value customer experience that is propelling it along its journey to become the world’s most agile foundry and machining facility. Thanks to the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Grant it recently received with Minnesota State University, Mankato, Dotson will continue to exceed customer expectations through elevating its training and development process for new employees. At the end of 2018, Dotson Leadership defined becoming an Exceptional Employer as one of its key initiatives for 2019. A focus of this initiative has been partnering with Minnesota State Mankato’s Strategic Partnership Division’s

Continuing and Professional Education staff, and The Organizational Effectiveness Research Group (OERG) to change the way that Dotson approaches its training efforts. Kelly Peterson, human resources manager at Dotson, touched on the value of the partnership in discussing the importance of consistent training, along with the utilization of the most effective training tools. “[OERG] has done a great job. It started last winter when they interviewed over 30 people in our plant—from supervisors to trainers to new employees—to really determine what’s done well and what could be improved upon.” Peterson explained further, “We want [OERG] to push us and say, what are the best practices for this? With our environment and what we are doing, how do we train individuals better and faster?” Tammy Bohlke, Program Coordinator for Continuing and Professional Education at Minnesota State University, Mankato commented on the vast array of resources that the CONNECT Business Magazine




“It’s great to work with companies that are looking towards the future of innovation and technology to further expand and grow their business models.” - Tammy Bohlke

University can provide to companies throughout the region. “It’s great to work with companies that are looking towards the future of innovation and technology to further expand and grow their business models.” OERG is a nationally recognized graduate program in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Minnesota State Mankato. The group offers a wide range of customized management consulting services with the goal of helping organizations select, train, engage and develop employees. Much of the work being done by OERG centers around utilizing the latest advancements in technology to better train today’s workforce. Andi Lassiter, project administrator for OERG, gave some insight into how the students within OERG are utilizing technology in support of the Dotson training project. The Dotson training experience is very hands on, but, given the loud environment, often caters to learning on the job through observation. Because of this, OERG is developing content that can be utilized through technology to give

individuals a walkthrough of the training environment and tasks before they are out on the floor. Jack Wychor, student lead on the Dotson project, outlined their plans in describing, “The team at OERG is currently working on making a prototype of a training app for the finishing department at Dotson Iron Castings. It is designed to help both trainers and trainees streamline, standardize and improve the entire training process.” Lassiter expands further on this in saying, “The goal is to help them get a consistent method of training new employees, and we are hoping to do it with the support of augmented reality... It’s exciting that we get to do a project with them and use our ideas to further promote their innovation.” OERG’s work with augmented reality on the Dotson project received an award for Best Immersive/Simulation Solution this past October at the DevLearn 2019 conference in Las Vegas.

“The goal is to help them get a consistent method of training new employees, and we are hoping to do it with the support of augmented reality... It’s exciting that we get to do a project with them and use our ideas to further promote their innovation.” - Andi Lassiter

Jack Wychor and Andi Lassiter accepting award for Best Immersive/Simulation Solution on behalf of OERG and their work with augmented reality on the Dotson training project.

The Center for Continuing and Professional Education is located within the Strategic Partnership Division at Minnesota State Mankato. Over the past year, three local businesses, including Dotson Iron Castings, received $736,000 in grants with the purpose of upscaling training for employees. The Center works closely with OERG along with many other highly skilled trainers to deliver innovative solutions to help organizations develop their leaders and meet industry needs. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to Tammy Bohlke, Continuing and Professional Education Program Coordinator at The Strategic Partnership Center, 424 North Riverfront Drive, Mankato; tammybohlke@mnsu.edu; or (507) 389-1094.

LEARN MORE: https://link.mnsu.edu/maverickacademy


January | February 2020



Exec Prep Academy The Exec Prep Academy provides new and emerging leaders unique perspectives on how to drive customer-strategic thinking across the enterprise. Learn best practices to manage teams, handle adversity, and define your personal leadership style and brand. Sessions meet monthly.

DATES: Jan 14, Feb 4, Mar 3, Apr 7, May 5, June 2 TIME: 8:00 – 12:00 COST: $1495


Manufacturing Leadership Academy New and experienced manufacturing supervisors and managers will explore various employee challenges to improve their performance as company leaders. Learn from experienced industry experts and exchange ideas among peers.

DATES: Sessions meet monthly starting January 2020. Check registration site for details. COST: $1695


“The Opioid Fix” Screening Join us for a viewing and panel discussion on “The Opioid Fix”, a documentary co-produced by TPT- Twin Cities and the Mayo Clinic exploring the education, prevention and solutions surrounding the opioid crisis. Engage with local experts and weigh in on the specific needs, experiences and local efforts regarding this national epidemic. CEU credits available for multiple disciplines.

DATE: January 29th TIME: 3:30pm – 5:30pm


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On the corner of Rock Street and Riverfront Drive in Old Town Mankato sits the only shop in town dedicated to selling vinyl records. TuneTown’s owner, Carl Nordmeier, is a veteran of the music sales business, working in the music department at Target for years before the birth of the record store in his home town of Faribault, Minnesota, in 1993.

It was his passion for music that inspired the now-26-year-old business. As many Americans do, Nordmeier saw an opportunity in the area and seized it. “What got me into the business, growing up in that area, there really wasn’t anything available for record stores,” says Nordmeier. “We had to go up to the Twin Cities if I wanted to go to a decent record store. Faribault only had a Walmart, and there was a music-instrument shop that sold CDs and tapes on the side, so there wasn’t a whole lot of competition.” Nordmeier capitalized on the wave of music censorship pushed by the Parents Music Resource Center during the mid-1980s and early ‘90s. He says Walmart’s decision to only carry “clean” albums opened a door for his store to sell music deemed “explicit” by advocates of a more “family-friendly” industry. Continues

CONNECT Business Magazine


Music Man “So I opened up a small shop, about 500 square feet, in the Faribault West Mall right away,” says Nordmeier. “I had experience working in the Target music department. I was sick and tired of ‘working for the man.’ I thought if I could sell a few CDs per hour, there’s my wage right there. I had a good feeling about it, like I could swing it. “There were a lot of nay-sayers that said ‘don’t do it, it’s a big mistake.’ At that time, there were three shops in Northfield – Northfield has two colleges, they could afford having a couple record shops. I got their opinions and if they said ‘don’t do it,’ they probably didn’t want the competition.” Despite the warnings, a 23-year-old Nordmeier with no debt “pulled the trigger” and Tune Town was born. “I saved up. It cost me about $15,000 to get started with inventory and everything,” says Nordmeier. “I came up with $25,000 on my own, my grandpa co-signed a loan for me and he helped me out. He’s pretty much the only one that believed in me, my parents thought I was nuts!”

Moving to Mankato

It was four years before Tune Town would move into a new market, one that the shop still calls a home. Tune Town now resides in Old Town Mankato, but it took some time to get there. “We moved to University Square (in 1997) inside the mall,” says Nordmeier. “We didn’t get a whole lot of drive-by business. You

had to hear about us because we had a sign out in front, but we had no storefront and it was at the old rickety strip mall. It almost felt like a speakeasy. “ While passersby may not have been buying at the time, Tune Town still had a clientele made up mostly of kids trying to figure out their future plans in life. “College kids really helped us out at the time because college kids were still buying music, we sold tons of music to them,” says Nordmeier. “We got a lot of local folks, too.” Nordmeier expanded the record store even further around 2003, opening another location for a brief time in Saint Peter. The new spot remained open for just a year before shutting down; Nordmeier says the Saint Peter Tune Town ultimately was “cannibalizing off the sales” of its Mankato and Faribault stores. But in 2006, a new opportunity presented itself, giving Tune Town the chance to bring in more “drive-by” traffic. “We got an offer from the River Hills Mall because Sam Goody left. It was their only remaining record store and they needed something to fill the void,” says Nordmeier. “They gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse, so at one point we had two locations in Mankato, then we still had our Faribault shop.” When Tune Town left the River Hills Mall for Old Town in 2010, it seemed it had found the perfect spot to call home, opening its current doors on Father’s Day that year.


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January | February 2020

Tune Town | Mankato

Carl Nordmeier Up Close 1) What’s your favorite artist/album to listen to? It’s the Beatles, but there’s maybe five Beatles albums that go in and out of my favorite album. I’m kind of a sucker for the British rock scene. I grew up listening to them, it’s the first band I really got into and I’ve always stuck with them. I’ve never strayed away from their stuff because they’re constantly putting out new reissues and I’m always a sucker for it, I always buy it; I love the new Abbey Road reissue. 2) Is there a genre that you think sounds better on vinyl other than your favorite? I’m all over the place, what I’m not a fan of is the new country or the bro-country. I’m not a fan of the current pop scene; my kids love listening to the Top 40 stuff, I just can’t get into it. I sound like an old man, it just sounds like all the same to me.

So much of the new music is being made for the moment, trying to get that single so they can maybe get a bunch of hits or a bunch of downloads. They don’t make any money from streaming so I don’t know … When you buy a physical format from an artist, they get paid the most from that type of sale. So if you want to support an artist, buy their album. 3) Has anyone ever brought in anything where you were surprised how rare it might be? Nothing has really come by where I thought “wow this selection is amazing or there’s all this rare stuff in it.” Last year I did have someone come by and just drop off a box of records. I showed up for work at 10 o’clock and there’s a box of records sitting out there with no note or anything. So I brought it in and just set it aside, later in the afternoon I thought, “Oh maybe I should check that box.” I started digging through it and there were mint conditions of Pink Floyd, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, just an awesome collection and somebody just gave it to us.

Music Man


“The first customer that walked through the door opened up his arms and said, ‘Now this is a record store!’ We got a lot of flack opening in the mall,” says Nordmeier. “A lot of our customers hated going to the mall.” Those sentiments provide an example of what Tune Town’s customers seek out in a record store. An experience. “The one thing we hear most from people, they’ll come in with a list in their minds and then they come into the store and it just disappears,” says Nordmeier. “They end up buying something else and don’t remember what they came in for.”

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January | February 2020

The Old Town location and the small business focus in the district provide a livelihood that previous spots haven’t. “It’s a lot more intimate, people who are coming down to the store aren’t just walking by,” says Nordmeier. “Record stores have become more of a destination than just going to your local mall and walking into a shop.” The destination can even surprise customers. “People are really blown away when they come in, they just think ‘this is it,’” says Nordmeier, gesturing to the store’s main space. “They don’t realize that we have two other sections in the back and the basement. Once they find that out, they’re here for a while.” Once they do end up checking out, there’s usually a brief conversation about whatever albums were just purchased. Nordmeier says this part of the job keeps him coming back. “It gets me excited to go to work every day,” says Nordmeier. “I enjoy going to work. It’s pretty rare where I feel like I don’t want to go to work. Not too many people can say that. I’ve been doing it for 26 years now and it gets my bills paid.” Community engagement is another important piece of what Nordmeier is trying to establish with the so-called “record store experience.” “We have live events once in a while, we’ll clear the stage off,” says Nordmeier. “Mainly it’s on Record Store Day events, but during the year we’ll have maybe five or six shows in here. I originally built the stage with the

Tune Town | Mankato

idea of getting artists playing at Vetter Stone Amphitheater to come in here.” Nordmeier says there haven’t been many A-list names occupying the 5-by-5 tile stage behind Tune Town’s counter, but the occasional celebrity guest will still make an appearance. “The Suburbs came in and did a meet and greet once while opening up for Cheap Trick,” says Nordmeier. And some will shop incognito. “I wasn’t working that day but the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie came back,” says Nordmeier. “He didn’t buy anything, just kind of looked around.”

Method to the Madness

At the time of this interview, next to the checkout counter sits a display shelf lined with Bob Dylan CDs and merchandise. Dylan is playing the Mankato Civic Center later in the week and Nordmeier knows Tune Town’s customers are eager to see him perform. “There’s some artists that come in to town that I know customers aren’t going to be into. The display is just for the clientele,” says Nordmeier. “We try to promote shows in the park. Believe it or not, I’ve had so many people come in, we just put this display up a week ago, and I bet you there’s been 20 people who have come into the store and said, ‘Bob Dylan’s coming to town?!’ They had no idea, I guess there’s people who don’t read the newspaper or don’t go online much, so we’re promoting the show.” When deciding what albums are out front and center, Nordmeier says it comes down to simply being a part of the community. “It’s just years and years of being in Mankato and knowing my customer base,” says Nordmeier. “Knowing what they want and what they’re looking for. You get to know customers pretty well, but there’s still artists that kind of catch me off guard and I have to look into it. “Billie Eilish sold out the Depot up in the Cities. I had no clue who she was, then her album came out and people were asking about it so I brought in a couple of copies. First it was a couple special orders then people were interested in it so I started bringing in more and more. We’ve sold CONNECT Business Magazine


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AWARDS LUNCHEON Tuesday, May 5, 2020, 11:30 am to 1:00 pm Minnesota State University, Mankato Centennial Student Union Ballroom Keynote speaker: Mike Veeck, Visionary & Co-Founder of Fun Is Good, Author, Co-Owner of St. Paul Saints and Minor-League Baseball Clubs,Restaurateur, Professor, Philanthropist.

Topic: “Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned as a Lifelong Entrepreneur” Nomination instructions and forms available at our website:


Nomination deadline is February 7th.

A member of the Minnesota State system and an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity University. Individuals with a disability who need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this event, please contact the Small Business Development Center at 507-389-8875 (V), 800-627-3529 or 711 (MRS/TTY) at least 7 days prior to the event. This document is available in alternative format to individuals with disabilities by calling the above numbers.

January | February 2020

probably 50 copies on vinyl or CDs. I think it’s going to be a love her or hate her type of thing, like Bob Dylan. ‘I appreciate his songwriting but can’t stand his voice.’”

Record Resurgence

In each of the past 13 years, vinyl record sales have grown. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl sales jumped by 12.9% between the first half of 2018 and 2019, while CD sales remained stagnant. This marked a major change in business since Tune Town opened.

“About the late ‘90s it was the peak and it hung out a bit, then in the mid-2000s we really started to notice a decrease in sales. After the economy went bad in 2008, our sales really dropped and stores were dropping like flies.”



Music Man

“When I opened in '93, it was right in the midst of the CD boom,” says Nordmeier. “About the late '90s it was the peak and it hung out a bit, then in the mid-2000s we really started to notice a decrease in sales. After the economy went bad in 2008, our sales really dropped and stores were dropping like flies.” The introduction of streaming services like iTunes certainly didn’t help Tune Town’s physical-media-reliant business, but a knight in shining armor would soon arrive to breathe new life into physical sales. “Eleven or 12 years ago, they started doing ‘Record Store Day,’” says Nordmeier. “We didn’t participate in the first year, but the second year it gained so much hype, we thought, ‘OK we’ll give this a shot.’ The second year, they probably had a list ‘this long’ of exclusive vinyl titles. I ordered quite a few of them, we had a little party, we had cake and balloons and stuff. I was amazed by the turnout. When we started to carry vinyl, it did OK, but as soon as this ‘Record Store Day’ thing started

Tune Town | Mankato

happening, it just gave more awareness to the whole vinyl phase.” Ever since, sales have not slowed down for record stores across the nation. “I think ‘Record Store Day’ has had a strong influence on record stores and keeping them open,” says Nordmeier. “There’s more record stores opening than closing. There are still a couple that will close here and there but there’s more opening now than closing, people are giving them a shot.” Artists are moving further into the vinyl market as well, with acts like the 17-yearold Eilish not only boosting sales for Tune Town, but becoming a major reason business stays booming. “Out of all vinyl sales, I would say 30% is new vinyl sales, the rest is used. New vinyl is how we make our money,” says Nordmeier. “That is what I call my ‘loss leader.’ People come in for the new stuff, maybe they’ll buy the new Jimmy Eat World record then buy a couple of used albums and that’s where we can make our bread and butter. That’s what’s bringing people in, there’s new titles every week, people come in for them.” With the vinyl renaissance brought on by “Record Store Day”, Nordmeier says he’s seen a whole new spectrum of customers walk through his doors in the past decade. “When I first opened up, our demographic was 15- to 25-year olds, that was probably 80% of our clientele, now it’s all over the board,” says Nordmeier. “I can’t even pinpoint an age range, mainly probably males around 50 years old is still our main clientele but it’s pretty wild, you see people of all ages come in here.” The intergenerational love for records shines brightly on “Record Store Day” (held on a select Saturday in April, as well as Black Friday) and has served as a saving grace for stores everywhere. Nordmeier says those two days are easily Tune Town’s busiest of the year. “It’s packed with people all day long just enjoying the record store and buying tons of stuff, listening to bands. Usually I have free stuff to give away, it’s a pretty big event.”

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Envisioning the Future

The stats predict that the popularity of vinyl records isn’t going away anytime soon and Nordmeier agrees with that prediction. “I don’t think it’s going to go away. The



Est. 1975 CONNECT Business Magazine


Music Man

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sales haven’t really skyrocketed lately, it’s kind of hitting a plateau but now they’re saying it’s going to surpass CD sales, which is huge,” says Nordmeier. “During ‘Record Store Day’ week, they do pass the CD sales easily.” That growth in Tune Town’s vinyl sales may match the national trend, but CD sales are a different story. “We’ve noticed a big jump in CD sales because Target doesn’t carry them anymore, they carry maybe the top 20,” says Nordmeier. “When Best Buy announced that they weren’t carrying CDs anymore, so many people came in asking, ‘Will I still be able to get CDs?!’ People are finding fewer and fewer ways to get their CDs, plus we’re pretty comparable to what’s out there. We’re not going to be selling new ones for $10 but I’d say it’s pretty right on track with Amazon on most titles.” He adds that nostalgia may be a factor for the survival of CDs, with accessibility playing some part. “There’s still people that love the CD format, we’ll see probably 10% of our clientele under the age of 20 buy CDs,” says Nordmeier. “It’s usually between 4070 years of age that still buy them but we still move a lot of them. It’s probably 50/50 between vinyl and CDs, what’s really dying off is the DVD format. God, we have a hard time selling those.” Tune Town continues to provide the Mankato area with a seemingly countless amount of vinyl, CDs and other formats of music for the average fan; anyone seeking a treasure can lose themselves going through the dollar bins in the basement or finding the “newest” album to add to their collection. Either way, it’s a business built on a love for music and the desire to share it with others.

THE ESSENTIALS Tune Town 630 North Riverfront Drive Mankato, MN 56001 Phone: 507-625-6507 Faceboook: Tune Town 42

January | February 2020



We kicked off 2015 by featuring Steve Van Roekel on the cover as our Business Person of the Year. At that time, he was president and CEO of Mankato-based, publicly traded Ridley Inc. Van Roekel led the company, which in 2014 had $568 million in revenues. Runners-up and also featured that issue were Dale Brenke, of Schmidt’s Siding and Window, and Chad Surprenant, CEO and president of ISG.

2010 Ten years ago, our Business Person of the Year was Pamela Year, chief executive officer of Mankato-based nonprofit, MRCI. At that time MRCI was a $46 million business and had 350 employees creating jobs for thousands of people with disabilities. Also featured were runners-up Bryan Sweet, of Sweet Financial Services in Fairmont, and Jerry Dulas of Dulas Excavating in Wells.

2005 Fifteen years ago, Milt Toratti, of Riverbend Center for Enterprise Facilitation, the economic development arm of Blue Earth County, graced our cover. At that time, the one-employee nonprofit operated on a $50,000 budget. Also profiled were Lori Wightman, of New Ulm Medical Center, and Chad Surprenant, of what was then known as I & S Engineers and Architects.

2000 In the year 2000, Bob Weerts, of Corn Plus, was featured as our cover story. Also profiled were Rod Dietrich, Computer Business Solutions, Aqua Zone and Dan Jones.

CONNECT Business Magazine


By AJ Dahm

Photo by Jonathan Smith

WELDING WIZARDS CARRYING THE TORCH Father and Son Make Fabricating Their Family Business in Waseca There is artwork all around us that many of us pass by and don’t even notice: the sign outside our favorite store, the handrail we clutch walking upstairs, even the fencing around our favorite outdoor space. Many times it’s practical, but it is artwork nonetheless. And two of these niche artisans can be found in Waseca, Minnesota. When it comes to ornamental iron and premium handcrafted metal work, Matson Design Specialties, LLC is catching the eye of people and companies statewide. Located at 40185 State Highway 13 in Waseca, you can find the father-son team of Bruce Matson and Zack Matson. Together they fabricate both residential and commercial ornamental iron as their main specialties. Sparks fly in their fully equipped Waseca shop, where the smell of inert gas and the sight of molten metal meet. They fabricate everything from functional handrails, signage and fencing to ornamental light fixtures and much more. Together, they have found a niche market by combining their family talents. If you can think of it, they can make it. The now-63-year-old Bruce Matson began welding out of high school in 1974. Bruce worked for several fabrication shops over the years before venturing out on his own. “I started the business in 1991 as a sole proprietor out of my garage part time. In 2013, my son Zack and I went full time and rented a small shop in Waseca. Continues 44

January | February 2020

Photos by Zack Matson

Welding Wizzards Carrying the Torch Zack grew up in Jordan, Minnesota, and chose to follow in the career footsteps of his father. “I was fresh out of a divorce and I needed a shop to rent. I met Devin and Cathy Hoy from Waseca at a previous job I was at for a short period. They turned me on to a shop for rent by the old Waseca Dairy Queen. Devin and Cathy own Bullheads bar in Waterville. I strongly recommend stopping in there for lunch. We moved into that shop and that’s when Matson Design entered Waseca,” recalls Zack. Space became a bit of an issue for the Matsons as their company grew. The bigger the orders from their clients became, the greater the need for space. They kept their eyes out for something that they could grow into. “We quickly outgrew that shop and moved to our current location north of town,” says Bruce. Their new facility boasts 9,000 square feet of space in which the duo can conceptualize and make their designs come to life. The space is large enough to fit all the equipment the Matsons need to be able to channel their creativity and

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January | February 2020

churn out their product. Zack says, “Our building is made up of two connected buildings. The large portion has a 5-ton overhead crane, three huge doors, generated three phase power and heat. Under this roof we have two very powerful machines. One is a 1/4-inch by 10-foot Cincinnati Shear for cutting large pieces of sheet metal. The other machine is a Pacific 165 ton press brake which is used for bending sheet metal. We have an iron worker for small shearing, hole punching, cutting rod, and a million other processes. Other machines include welders, band saws, tube benders, hand tools, benches, skid steer, forklift, and material racks.” The shop includes all the tools that would make a fledgling fabricator drool with envy. Starting out, the Matsons had their share of struggles like any fledgling business. “I feel struggles are an ongoing thing in the entrepreneurial world,” says Zack. “You may have struggles early on but those change to different ones as time goes on. Early struggles for us were cash flow. Now it’s trying to find the time to go pick up materials,” he says. “In business you’re faced with issues that pop up. If you live with the statement ‘a lot can change in a day,’ you’ll succeed. Combine that idea with hard work and you set yourself up for success. Failure is not an option.” Looking to help their business grow, the Matsons set their sights on a larger audience. “Back in 2014 we wanted to attend the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show. The cost was $5,500. We knew we needed to do that show because it’s huge exposure there,” says Zack. “We were

Matson Design Specialties, LLC | Waseca

broke and trying to mastermind a feasible plan to make it happen. We contacted the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation out of Owatonna. They hooked us up with many great things, including the money we needed to attend the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show. In the five days at the show, we talked, shook hands, and networked.” With the connections from the show, Matson Design Specialties, LLC skyrocketed overnight, crediting much of their success to the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. SMIF invests in economic growth in 20 Southern Minnesota counties. Since 1986 it has invested $114 million in our region. “Our largest client and best customer is Advanced Masonry Restoration out of Little Canada, Minnesota. We met them through the Home and Garden Show, along with lots of the smaller companies that seek our services as well,” says Zack. Standing out from the crowd is important in any business. Welding and fabricating is no different. “We are unique because of my diverse background as a fabricator. I use several welding processes: MIG welding, TIG welding, MIG aluminum and stick welding. We are also willing to work with customers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area,” says Bruce. This flexibility in coverage area allows the duo to bring in more business when times get tough.

Mutual Admiration Between Father and Son Pride is evident in Bruce’s eyes as he discusses his son. “I admire Zack for his work ethic. He is always willing to work hard and make sure all aspects of the project are just right,” says Bruce. It’s clearly a mutual admiration. Zack says of his father, “I admire his creativity at work and his excitement in his after-work hobbies that he tinkers with on the weekends. His mind never stops thinking. He’s always been the type of guy to tinker on a project. Currently he is building a truck box camper from the ground up. It’s fantastic. He’s thought out every step of the project from fabrication to wiring to air conditioning. The guy is a walking hobby/chemistry experiment that’s gone completely as planned to grow a man into a funny, talented, creative and loving family man. That makes him unique like none other. The biggest characteristic that I really enjoy is his family-first attitude. Without him I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I appreciate the person he is and am extremely lucky to have him as a father.”

Catch the Hometown Business Connection on KEYC News 12! KEYC News 12 and Connect Business Magazine bring you the stories of area local businesses and how they impact Southern Minnesota. • First Wednesday of the month on KEYC News 12 at 6 • Repeats Thursday on KEYC News 12 Midday • See all previous episodes on keyc.com

CONNECT Business Magazine


Welding Wizzards Carrying the Torch To be an expert in one type of welding is impressive, but the Matsons are masters in a variety of welding disciplines. Zack takes a little time to explain the difference between some of the machines they wield. “TIG welding is short for tungsten inert gas. It’s a heating element in one hand and filler rod in the other. The heating element or torch melts the steel into a pool. Once you get the pool of molten steel started you feed in the filler rod.



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A member of the Minnesota State system and an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity University. Individuals with a disability who need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this event, please contact the Small Business Development Center at 507-389-8875 (V), 800-627-3529 or 711 (MRS/TTY) at least 7 days prior to the event. This document is available in alternative format to individuals with disabilities by calling the above numbers.


January | February 2020

“TIG welding is a very precise and clean welding process. It’s typically used in fancy or high-end projects,” he says. Any welder worth their salt will tell you that TIG welding can be a very challenging type of welding for a number of reasons. “MIG welding is also known as wire feed welding. A roll of filler rod, so to speak, is loaded into the welding machine. Drive dogs pull the wire off the spool in the machine and push through a hose out the front of the machine. It then comes out of the tip of the torch that is located on the end of the hose. The torch has an electronic trigger that feeds the wire and starts the hefty electrical current needed to complete the welding process. It is as simple as pulling the trigger. There are some fundamental things to know before having perfect welds. Technique, speed, machine amperage settings, wire speed, and wind. These are all key things that need to be perfect before our welds are perfect.” This type of attention to detail and accuracy in their work make the Matsons masters at their craft. Although many of their projects are completed spring through fall, their diversity in metalwork has kept them busy year-

Matson Design Specialties, LLC | Waseca


So many families struggle with family members not being home enough and it takes its toll on relationships. Do we work weekends? Absolutely, we do, but not anywhere close to every weekend. round for the past three years – a boon for which they are grateful. Small family businesses can sometimes mean long nights and weekends at the shop. The Matsons are no strangers to hard work but have been able to purposefully create a balance between work and family. “My typical day begins at 6 a.m. when my alarm goes off and in the shop by 7 a.m. with a big coffee. And back home by 5 p.m. or so. Our biggest challenge is delivering our product on time and in perfect condition. Some days run a bit longer than others and the weekends are often prep time for the next week,” says Bruce. “Blood, sweat and tears are three things that are needed in starting a company,” says Zack. All three the Matsons have shed in keeping their business running. The younger Matson chimes in about how they balance work and family life. “In our field we have the luxury of not working too many weekends. Could we work weekends? Yes, however, family is pretty important. So many families struggle with family members not being home enough and it takes its toll on relationships. Do we work weekends? Absolutely, we do, but not anywhere close to every weekend. We schedule projects to make sure we have a little time off,” he says. “Also, during the week, we leave to make it home at a respectable time to make it home for dinner.” When not in the shop or out on location, the Matsons take time enjoy the great outdoors. Bruce says, “My son Zack, his wife, Cassie, and I enjoy riding our ATVs in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They have the best trail system in the country. My wife, Laurie, of 40 years, and I enjoy camping with our four dogs and just relaxing.” Technology like the internet and email have helped the success of their business. “At the touch of a finger you have information unlimited.” Using newer technologies, the Matsons advertise on social media and direct market to reach new clientele. This has allowed them to reach a larger client base with less effort than was previously possible. Without realizing, you may have seen the Matsons’ work in our area and beyond. You may have seen ornamental fencing, used a handrail they created at a local venue or unwittingly driven past a large metal sign they created. But few can make an onlooker’s jaw drop like Bruce’s favorite project. Bruce explains, “I’m proud to say I have done some high profile projects like the Frank Lloyd Wright house on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis. They needed some light fixtures that somehow went missing, so I made new ones to match the others.” A couple other of Bruce’s favorite projects can be seen at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen and a church



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on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. He’s also proud of two articles featuring his work in Midwest Home & Garden Magazine. Not all jobs can be as illustrious as working on an architectural masterpiece created by Frank Lloyd Wright. They can, however, be just as rewarding. Bruce uses his creativity, craftsmanship and decades of experience to complete each project. The elder Matson says, “The key to our success is our willingness to meet customers on-site or in their office to help with design and fabrication problems. I often tell customers that your problem is my opportunity.” This type of personal touch makes all the difference in the creative process and in the relationships with their clients. Zack remembered a different project as his favorite. “My favorite project was the Loring Green West project,” an immense condominium complex project located in downtown Minneapolis. He says, “It consisted of 350 aluminum guard railings that hung from the first floor, all the way to the 13th floor. We had the production going for speed, cranking eight to ten railings per day. One person was cutting pickets, another was cutting tubing, another welding, and another was tending to milling holes. The guard railings were then trucked on our 40-foot gooseneck trailer from our shop to D&K Powder Coating in Mankato. After being painted, they were trucked to Minneapolis, where they were offloaded at the job site.” Zack does much of the trucking of the materials himself, making the process both efficient and cost effective. Whether the client needs small ornamental light fixtures or hundreds of guard rails, Matson Design Specialties, LLC can fabricate most anything that can be made out of metal. Zack’s vision for their business is simple. “Work hard, deliver quality products and build a retirement.”

THE ESSENTIALS Matson Design Specialties, LLC 40185 State Highway 13 Waseca, MN 56093 Phone: 507-310-2000 Facebook: Matson Design Specialties LLC


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CONNECT Business Magazine



Bluetail Medical Group Dr. Kristin Oliver was keeping busy with her Orthopedic Regenerative Medicine Clinic in Missouri. But she started noticing a trend. “About two years ago it dawned on me that I was seeing almost as many patients from out of state as those from Missouri. Last year I was approached by the team physician for the Green Bay Packers to open a Bluetail Office at Titletown. Our first day we were full and have continued to be booked out in that market. I had seen a large number of patients from Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota and realized the market was similar to that in Green Bay,” she says. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Kristin Oliver attended Southern Illinois School of Medicine where she graduated with her doctorate of medicine. In 2007 she co-founded what is now Bluetail Medical Group. Dr. Oliver is now known as one of the nation’s leading orthopedic regenerative medicine specialists, having performed more platelet rich plasma and autologous stem cell procedures than any other physician in the United States. Now she brings this medicine to Southern Minnesota, setting up her practice in Mankato Clinic’s new North Mankato facility on Lookout Drive. “So far it has been wonderful! We have developed a great working relationship with Mankato Clinic, where we are currently seeing patients. I cannot say enough good things about the North Mankato administration and staff. They have made this move so seamless, it is remarkable. We have pretty much been full since opening in October,” she says. Dr. Oliver stresses that her practice prides itself on bringing the latest in technology, and warns patients to be careful when pursuing regenerative medicine–not all are created equal.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is to choose a regenerative medicine clinic that has experience and ethics. Do not fall for those folks who laud using stem cells from umbilical cord blood or placenta. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated there are no living cells and no stem cells in these products. The device we use to concentrate your bone marrow stem cells is FDA approved and having treated over 40,000 patients to date, Bluetail chooses only the best for its patients,” she says. Bluetail Medical Group 1575 Lookout Drive Phone: 888-344-0150 Web: bluetailmedicalgroup.com



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January | February 2020

To be considered for Hot Startz, tell us about a new business or new professional in the area by emailing editor@connectbiz.com.


Brew’d Awakenings Bistro A thriving catering business has led to another business venture for one busy Janesville woman, Kendra Hoehn. She and her business partner, Amanda Slaughter, opened Brew’d Awakenings Bistro in downtown Janesville at the end of September. “Two years ago, Infinity Catering officially started and has had great success. The rented kitchen being used was getting too small so we started looking at buildings in town to expand. We were approached by the current building owners to see if we wanted to open something in the other half of Wistes Meat Market when they reopened after the fire. They decided to limit their grocery availability and had commercial space to be utilized. Andy and Sarah Arnoldt have been great to work with and have helped us get up and going,” says Hoehn. Brew’d Awakenings Bistro is a small, quaint restaurant/coffee shop that serves tea, and hot and cold coffee, including flavored, all day. They also serve pastries, soup, salad, sandwiches, wraps and desserts. Located at 206 North Main Street in Janesville, Hoehn says she is happy to finally be open to the public. “Trying to get open has been the most challenging so far. It was hard getting the contractors lined up and stay on a schedule to finally get to opening day. We were hoping to open in June but so many different variables, it made us keep pushing the opening day back,” says Hoehn. “We knew that the community was eagerly waiting for us to open, but we have been pleasantly surprised at how supportive and welcoming the town has been, as well as the feedback we have been receiving.

Aside from Brew’d Awakenings and Infinity Catering, Hoehn is a mother of five and runs the lunch room at Trinity Lutheran School in Janesville. Brew’d Awakenings Bistro 206 North Main Street Phone: (507) 995-7137 Facebook: Brew’d Awakenings Bistro

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Heartland Retreat and Rental Hall Right in the heart of Elmore, Minnesota, sits a building ready to fulfill your heart’s desires: Heartland Retreat and Rental Hall. “For the retreat side of the facility I’m targeting quilters, scrapbookers, beaders, knitters, rug makers, etc. I’m also focusing on corporate retreats and training, families for holidays, weddings, funerals, reunions and get-togethers,” explains Lissia Laehn. “To rent it as a retreat, there needs to be a two-night minimum stay. You can rent the main floor rental hall portion, for a half day or full day. This is more targeted towards birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, confirmations, family get-togethers, community events, concerts or plays, or corporate meeting or parties. So, in summary, if you rent it as a rental hall, you have access to the entire main floor. If you rent it as a retreat, with a two-night minimum, you have access to the entire facility. The second floor houses 18 beds in eight bedrooms, three full baths, a lounge and game room. The main floor includes a 2,100 square foot workroom or banquet hall; a large, fully stocked kitchen; two bathrooms; a comfortable entry with seating and coat hall; and sanctuary that seats 120 with rooms for chairs, tables, games, etc in the back, open space.” She opened the facility in September. “I have been to many quilt retreats over the years and a few of them are in churches that have closed and been converted. When this came for sale, I sent it to my quilting friend and said, ‘Wouldn’t this make an awesome retreat?!’ Her response was, ‘Go for it!’ And the rest is history! Opening and owning a retreat facility was never on my radar. The opportunity just presented itself and I ran with it with the help of my family and friends,” she says.

She saw a need for a space such as this in her rural community. “Elmore and the surrounding communities don’t have a number of options for something like this. To find a facility that can accommodate up to 250 (on the main floor) is hard to come by in the rural parts. It’s unique in that you can rent the whole facility and have everyone under one roof, without strangers coming and going, like you would in a hotel setting. It’s much more intimate for a family get together. Years ago, too, women stayed at home. They could get-together with their friends for their hobbies anytime. Now women are part of the workforce and finding time to wind down and have fun with a hobby is harder to come by. This gives women the perfect opportunity to get together,” she explains. Heartland Retreat and Rental Hall 203 East North Street Phone: 507-525-3210 Web: heartlandretreatmn.com Facebook: Heartland Retreat & Rental




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January | February 2020

BULLETIN BOARD Local Chamber and Economic Development News

Check Out What’s Happening In Your ! y t i n u m m o C

New Ulm Area Chamber Sarah Warmka: The New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce welcomes Calm Lake Floats and Enterprise North, Inc as new members! The 2020 Chamber Annual Meeting will be held Jan 23. New this year: the Business of the Year will be chosen by voting at the Annual Meeting. The 7th Annual Women’s Networking Event, “Mingle With A Purpose: Heels and All,” will be held on Feb 20, with a leadership development workshop, “Digging Deeper with our Red Heels,” taking place on Feb 21. Save the date for the Home & Health Show: Mar 27-29.


Lake Crystal Area Chamber

Ned Koppen: The Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce will be holding our Annual Banquet near the end of February. We will honor area businesses with Large, Small, and New Business of the Year (Rising Star) Awards as well as Non-Profit of the Year. Last year, our honorees included Valero Renewables (Large Business), Culligan Water (Small Business), Graffiti Corner (Rising Star), and Martin County Historical (Non-Profit). Visit FairmontChamber. org for nomination guidelines and information.

Julie Reed: Two big needs are being filled in Lake Crystal in the upcoming months. We are excited and thrilled to be announcing Little Lakers Daycare and the Lake Crystal Pharmacy. The main office of current Crystal Valley Cooperative in Lake Crystal will become a child care center next spring. The boards of directors for the Crystal Valley Cooperative and the Little Lakers Early Learning Center are finalizing the agreement for the sale of the building to the nonprofit organization, the Little Lakers Early Learning Center. The Madelia Community Hospital and Clinic announced that they will be establishing the Lake Crystal Pharmacy at 210 South Main Street in Lake Crystal. The Pharmacy is expected to open in April of 2020.

Greater Mankato Growth Bridget Norland: Check out Mankato’s newest 10-day winter festival packed with a slate of activities for all ages and interests! Snow Kato Days will be held January 17 to January 26. Who’s up for a bold, crazy fun-filled winter? Current festivities include a medallion hunt, Jack Frost Frolic, daily prizes, curling, a snow sculpture contest, sled bowling, snowshoeing, hockey and much more. The community is encouraged to participate with their own events. Learn more at snowkatodays.com!

Henderson Chamber Jeff Steinborn: The City of Henderson is requesting through an issuance of the State of Minnesota General Obligation Bonds to raise State Hwy 93 south of Henderson, to improve access to the community. The Henderson Area Chamber along with the Henderson Community Foundation have set up a fund to purchase new Main Street Holiday lights. The Henderson Area Chamber meets monthly on the last Wednesday at noon.

Le Sueur Area Chamber Julie Boyland: Our Retail & Business Expo, always a sure sign of Spring, will be held on Thursday, March 26 from 3pm-7:30pm in the Valleygreen Square Mall. Come and showcase and connect with other area businesses. Food, beverages, prizes, drawings, and much more. Go to lesueurchamber.org for more info. The local Laundromat, located on the corner of Bridge Street next to the Mexican Restaurant Chabelita’s, is undergoing some remodeling and getting all new machines.

Maple River Chamber Chelsea Germo: The Maple River Chamber of Commerce will be hosting it’s Annual Meeting and Dinner on Monday, January 20, 2020 at the Snowbirds Club in Amboy. All businesses within the Maple River footprint are invited to attend. Please email mapletonchamber@gmail.com for more information. CONNECT Business Magazine


BULLETIN BOARD Local Chamber and Economic Development News

St. Peter Chamber

Region Nine Dev. Com

Ed Lee: St. Peter welcomes Extra Innings restaurant, Neisens Sports Bar and Restaurant, Olita Gifts, Her Happy Place Boutique, AT&T Mobile, Olita Gifs and Goods, Caribou Coffee, Hy-Vee, and Mobile Oil Change to the business scene. Winterfest, with the marquee events of Opening Ceremony, Medallion Hunt, Polar Plunge, and Winterslam Demolition Derby, is slated for late January and early February. Visit the Chamber’s website at spchamber.com for events and other opportunities. The July 4th celebration marks 50 years.

It’s a new year which means new projects and ideas. Let Region Nine Area, Inc. (RNAI) help! RNAI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that can act as a fiscal sponsor for local communities and other philanthropic groups. Working with community and business leaders in the region helps to develop strategies to better retain, sustain, develop, and improve the quality of life in rural communities in the region. Learn more at rndc.org/RNAI.

Marshall EDA Marcia Loeslie: The Marshall Economic Development Authority continues to see new and updated curb appeal to our business district as our Marshall businesses have taken advantage of our new Façade Improvement Grant Program. Also, we have seen many housing and business tax abatement applications as well. This shows Marshall as a thriving regional hub with a reputation for regional economic vitality. Marshall is a forward thinking, business-friendly community with retail, commercial and industrial development opportunities available.

Nicollet Chamber Alesia Slater: HAPPY NEW YEAR! As we reflect on 2019 we feel it was a successful year for the Nicollet Chamber of Commerce! We are looking forward to a great 2020. As we put the finishing touches on our calendar for 2020, we hope you are able to join us in 2020. Stay warm and enjoy the rest of the winter.

Redwood Area Chamber Anne Johnson: It’s going to be another great year in the #RedwoodArea! Redwood Area Chamber & Tourism has many events on the 2020 calendar, and plans to start its year with another successful Chamber Dinner event. 300+ business and community leaders will be in attendance for the much anticipated annual event that includes a multi-course meal, a huge silent auction and fun interactive live 56

January | February 2020

auction, and local entertainment. Scheduled for early 2020, “Cardinal Careers,” is an event which brings together high school students with local businesses and features “see and do” activities and local career pathway stories. This annual expo is part of the collaborative between Redwood Area Schools and the Chamber.

Sleepy Eye Kurk Kramer: The Downtown District in Sleepy Eye has seen a recent revitalization effort with the opening of a number new businesses on Main Street. The Sleepy Eye Coffee Company, Sleepy Eye Brewing Company, Powerhouse Nutrition, and Sleepy Eye Uptown are all newly opened establishments that join an existing number of antique and other shops that line Main Street (US Highway 14) in the middle of town. If you are looking for a weekend getaway, come check us out!

Small Business Development Center Julie Nelson: The Small Business Development Center and Connect Business Magazine are jointly bringing you the Southern Minnesota Small Business Awards. The awards, in six categories, celebrate the contributions that small businesses make in terms of employment, economic prosperity, and fostering a vibrant region. Award recipients will be honored at our National Small Business Week event May 5, 2020. Nominating your business, or a business you love, is easy. For details and instructions, go to the SBDC website at myminnesotabusiness.com/about/small-business-awards/.

Submit your chamber news to editor@connectbiz.com

Waseca EDA


Gary Sandholm: The Waseca EDA is posted an RFP for commercial development of the interchange of Highways 13 & 14 focusing on a hotel, convenience store and restaurant. The US Economic Development Administration awarded $385,820 to Waseca for a Recovery Coordinator as a result of Quad Graphics closing. Benya Kraus, a founder of Lead for America, will base Lead for Minnesota in Waseca. Farmamerica is starting a capital drive for Phase 1 of its expansion plans.

Drew Hage: The Windom EDA is excited to announce two ground breakings this past fall. A private development group is currently under construction on a 45 unit market rate apartment. The apartment features a community room, workout room, and 39 garages. The location is adjacent to our Community Center that includes senior dining and a senior center. The second project under construction is a new Avera Clinic. The clinic will be 12,500 square feet, and is adjacent to the Windom Hospital property. This will create a larger medical campus in Windom.

Springfield Area Chamber Denise Gieker: The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce has wrapped up another great year serving wonderful members. We have completed another eventful holiday season and added the Selfie with Elfie promotion, that was very well received, with our local businesses and residents. The Springfield Chamber is always focused on shopping local and is excited to see what 2020 will bring. For upcoming events check out our Facebook page at facebook. com/SpringfieldAreaChamberOfCommerceCvb/.

St. James Area Chamber Joe McCabe: Lewis Drug has opened its new store on 13th Avenue South. Drive through prescription service is available. Native Girl Farms has signed a purchase agreement at the former Tony Downs Food processing plant and anticipates production up and running by June of 2020 for a hemp growing and CBD production facility. The St. James Chapter of Women of Today have joined Chamber as a new member. Save the date: June 20, 2020 Railroad Days Parade–150th anniversary of the City of St. James.

St. James EDA Jamie Scheffer: The St. James EDA has been working closely with stakeholders in Watonwan County on a county-wide grant received from SMIF to address the child care crisis. St. James Public School is expanding their Community Child Care Center by 35

slots, Madelia is pursuing school age child care, and Noah’s Ark in Madelia expanded their infant slots. In addition, the EDA is managing a county-wide revolving loan fund for child care providers and workers to pay for their CDA credential training upfront. The City also engaged the public about how to address a tax forfeited commercial building in our core downtown which resulted in a partial demolition and restoration work. The community will continue to be engaged with the help of Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership on how to use the space.

Discover Waseca Tourism Ann Fitch: Plans for Sleigh & Cutter in February are well underway. Discover Waseca Tourism will work with UM Extension on a tourism assessment that will be conducted throughout 2020. Make Clear Lake in Waseca your ice fishing destination this year.

City of Winnebago Jean Anderson: After 25-plus years of working and owning Roerig Hardware, Steve Malchow sold the store to Teresa Newville and Shane Roberts. They are a great, energetic couple who appreciate the importance of a small town hardware store. Please stop in and welcome them to the community and see the new changes! Heartland Senior Living (formerly Parker Oaks) added twelve new assisted living units and a new dining area to the facility. It’s a great new addition to the community combining the old with the new and generating a truly gorgeous addition to Winnebago. CONNECT Business Magazine



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The Benefits of Entity Formation A common question that I am asked by small-business owners, and by those looking to start a new business, is whether it is truly necessary to go through the hassle and incur the expense of forming a business entity for their business. After I explain that forming a business entity for the business is almost always the right choice, the next question is invariably, “What type of entity should I form?” And the answer to that question for most small-business owners will be the trusty limited-liability company, or LLC. This is due to several reasons. For example, an LLC has greater tax flexibility than a traditional corporation because business owners operating through an LLC can take advantage of pass-through taxation. This means that the LLC does not pay any tax on the business level as would a corpo-


January | February 2020

ration. Instead, the business income and expenses “pass through” to the owner and are included on the owner’s personal tax return, where the owner would be subject to personal income tax on any business profits. While a certain type of corporation, the S-Corporation, can impart the benefit of pass-through taxation, an S-Corp is subject to certain ownership restrictions that do not apply to LLCs. Further, LLCs offer greater flexibility in regard to the management of the company as compared to a corporation. While forming an LLC is certainly not required to operate a business, it is highly recommended, if for no other reason, than to take advantage of the “liability shield” afforded to an LLC. (Full Disclosure: while an LLC is afforded a liability shield it is not the only business entity to which the liability shield applies. As this article is focused on the humble LLC, the discussion will focus on the LLCs going forward. In general these principles would apply to other types of business entities as well.) The presence of this liability shield offers a powerful incentive for a business owner to operate out of an LLC. The function of a liability shield is right in the name – it shields the member or members of the LLC personally from the debts and liabilities of the business. Take for example the hypothetical situation of a small-business owner operating a retail store out of a single-member LLC. It’s December in Minnesota, and a pedestrian slips and falls on the sidewalk in front of the store and subsequently sues the business for failure to deice the sidewalk. Because the owner set up the business through an LLC, the pedestrian can only go after the business – they cannot go after the personal assets of the store owner. For another example, that same small-business owner orders product for his store but is unable to pay the supplier. The supplier can sue the LLC to seek the amounts owed, but it cannot sue the owner personally. Again, the owner’s personal assets are protected. The pedestrian and supplier in the above hypotheticals would love for the business owner to operate as a sole proprietorship


as they could then pursue both the assets of the business, as well as the business owner’s personal assets. However, as powerful as the liability shield is, like all good things in life it takes work to maintain and does not come without limits. In order to maintain the liability shield, a business owner must maintain certain legal formalities to ensure that business is kept separate from the owner personally. If these formalities are not kept, our hypothetical plaintiffs could potentially disregard the liability shield and pursue the owner personally. As the function of the liability shield is protection from personal liability, the purpose of the formalities are to ensure the separation of the business from the owner personally. For example, one formality is ensuring company funds are kept separate from personal funds. This includes ensuring company money is used to pay company debts only and personal money is used for personal debts only. Another formality is ensuring that the LLC hold at least an annual meeting of the LLC’s member(s), and that the important business decisions of the LLC undertaken during the year be recorded in the company minutes. The meeting requirement is not as onerous as it sounds and can often be accomplished in a writing signed by the member(s). Finally, a business owner seeking to utilize the liability shield must conduct business in good faith. Owners operating in a reckless, wrongful, or fraudulent manner may find the liability shield to be rather flimsy. LLCs can be powerful business tools, but like all such tools, require periodic care and maintenance to ensure maximum utility. Blethen Berens has a wealth of experience in business organizational matters, and we would be happy to discuss your specific business and business situation with you, and recommend business solutions that are tailored to your needs. Contact us at 507-345-1166 or at blethenberens.com. Jake joined the firm’s general litigation department in 2016 and represents clients in a wide array of litigation-related matters, including plaintiff’s litigation and litigation defense. Jacob also includes business law and estate planning as part of his practice.

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