Optimistic outlooks

 

Bright future for beer guys

PHOTO BY ROBB LONG

When the economy gets rough and finances get tangled, it’s usually not the best time to go out and buy a new car or a new house. But cutting out beer consumption? For many, that simply isn’t an option.

Just ask the co-founders of Fulton Beer, whose creations have gone from being served in a handful of bars mere months ago to now being so popular, there’s a waiting list of more than a dozen additional locations.

 

Fulton Beer

Opened: October 2009
Location: Based in Southwest, brewed
in Wisconsin and sold at about 60
(and counting) Twin Cities bars
Website: fultonbeer.com
Number of employees: Four
founders, but no full-time employees

 Optimism level: 4.5

 

“I think that just in general, the craft beer industry has weathered the economy really well,” Fulton co-founder and president Ryan Petz said. “It’s one of those affordable luxuries that people feel they can treat themselves to.”

If that remains true, the future looks bright for Fulton’s foursome (biologist Brian Hoffman, attorney Jim Diley, carpenter Peter Grande and soon-to-be business school graduate Petz). Their hobby-turned-enterprise, launched in October as the culmination of Petz’s self-made summer internship, is still steadily growing.

Fulton’s debut brew, the Sweet Child of Vine India Pale Ale, can now be found at about 60 Twin Cities bars. That’s almost double the number of locations it could be found in in March and easily beats Petz’s own best-case scenario of “40 or 50 bars.”

The company’s second brew, the seasonal Worthy Adversary, quickly came and went.

And the company’s third brew, the Lonely Blonde blonde ale that’s been scheduled for a June release, might have to be partially pushed back to avoid offsetting supplies of the now-popular Sweet Child.

“It’s just been an amazing experience,” Diley said.

It’s also been humbling, Hoffman said. The Twin Cities beer community — from bar owners to beer brewers to beer drinkers — has been more than receptive.

“It’s a really collegial sort of industry,” Petz said. “It makes it a lot less intimidating to get into the business when you feel like there are other sources of help out there, even though they may technically be considered your competitors.”

Optimism is high, Diley said, because optimism for the industry is high. Petz said he keeps waiting for something to go awry but that nothing bad appears to be on the horizon.

If there’s one problem, it’s that the company is being forced into doubling its keg supply so it can keep up with demand. Oh, and it might have to start following through sooner than expected on plans to donate a portion of its profits to a micro-loan program to help other entrepreneurs.

Not that those are bad problems to have.

“There’s always the sort of challenges that you deal with every day, that frustrate you,” Petz said. “But you take a step back and take a look at things, and I can’t see that we could’ve projected this to go any better.”

— Cristof Traudes

 

 

 

A service above 
the economy

There are two distinct forces at play when it comes to business at Kasia Organic Salon.

There’s the obvious, of course, that Kassie Kuehl’s three-month-old venture is located at 50th & Bryant, the corner still recovering from a fire that just knocked out five popular businesses. Neighbors are reeling, customer traffic is down significantly and Kuehl said Kasia’s bottom line definitely has been affected.

 

 

Kasia Organic Salon

Opened: February 2010

Location: 822 W. 50th St.

Phone: 386-4044

Website: kasiaorganicsalon.com
Number of employees: 4
(but growing)

 Optimism level: 5

 

“In a frugal consumer market, we’ve now lost even the frugal foot traffic,” she said.

Yet Kasia also is at the brink of growth. The customer base is large enough now that Kuehl wants to hire additional help, probably one or two more employees within the coming months. Perhaps more importantly, Kuehl said, she’s getting phone calls from people around the country asking for advice on what her business strives to do, keep chemicals out of the salon industry.

“What we’re doing is going to be the market in five years,” Kuehl said.

In her view, that second factor trumps the first, if not every other economic factor. She’s not trying to be defiant; she just offers a service that’s both rare and needed, she said. Kasia isn’t about providing a luxury.

“We have a different kind of clientele,” Kuehl said. “People are coming to us with no option because they’re having allergic reactions to everything.”

Her optimism comes from several sources, in particular the phone calls from around the country. But she also has seen an up-tick in page views of her salon and natural products’ websites.

“I know the interest is out there,” she said. “I wish [the business] could be bigger for people.”

To get there, she’s keeping her focus on the grassroots level. That means getting neighbors involved and expanding beyond simply giving a haircut to educating the public. Kasia already has hosted a pair of workshops — most recently on the importance of hormone health — while another is on the schedule. Kuehl consults directly with her clients on at-home remedies. A special make-up event is planned for the end of this month.

“We’re just going to continue to pull in the community,” she said. “We’re excited. I think it’s going to be a good summer.”

— Cristof Traudes

 

 

 

Reaching out for support

The signs of an economic recovery are hard to find at Tamah Burke’s tiny boutique, Rove Arounds, in Linden Hills.

Five months after opening, things are still slow, though interest seems to be picking up, she said. And one segment of her business — women’s wear — is growing.

“But I’m not getting enough through the door,” Burke said. “The rent in this area is high, based on location, obviously. I think economically people are still kind of cautious. They’ll be out and they’ll kind of poke around, but they’re not necessarily purchasing.”

 

Rove Arounds

Opened: February 2009

Location: 4305 Upton Ave. S. 

Phone: 920-4305

Website: rovearounds.com
Number of employees: 1

Optimism level: 5

 

An unseasonably warm spring has allowed Burke to get a better feel for what’s on the minds of passersby. With her door open and garments hung on sidewalk racks, she’s been carefully watching and listening. One of the biggest challenges she’s discovered is a misconception about her products.

“I’ve realized that because it’s custom and because it’s handmade, they’re assuming the price point is going to be out of their reach, which it isn’t,” Burke said. “Because the stuff that’s priced here is actually below what you’d pay off the rack at big box department stores.”

Custom children’s clothing is still the focus of her business, but she’s recently seen an uptick in women’s garment sales and custom tailoring. Many times those customers are moms, who initially come in the store while shopping for their children.

Burke said she also hosted a small party for a little girl interested in tailoring, something she never intended to do when opening the shop. The girl and a few of her friends picked out fabric and patterns and, with Burke’s help, cut and pinned everything together. Burke then sewed everything and had the garments done a week later.  

Though she doesn’t plan on becoming a party destination, Burke said she’d host such an event again, limited to four or fewer children because of the size of her space and resources. She is her store’s sole employee.

Burke has also started offering gift cards, meant primarily for customers who might have a hard time providing precise measurements or choosing patterns and fabrics when purchasing an item as a gift.

Still, she needs more customers. She initially forecasted being clear of her startup costs by year two, but at her current sales rate, that won’t happen.

The community has been supportive, she said, but not necessarily monetarily. She’s hoping all the kind people who have popped in to wish her well, or to browse, will start purchasing items and spreading the word about her business to others.

“The biggest thing I’d convey to those people is if you like the mom and pop thing and you want it to survive, you have to sustain it,” Burke said. “You can’t think about ‘oh I’ve been meaning to go to that place for a year,’ because a year makes a difference in a business. You have to support it.”

— Jake Weyer

 

 

Muddy spring means booming business

When you run a dog washing and grooming facility, muddy paws mean business. And this year’s early spring, which lured urban canines out to romp in the still-melting snow, has meant big business for Jodel Fesenmaier, owner of the popular Ollu Self-Serve Dog Wash on St. Anthony Main. She says that this past March, with its unusually high temps, triggered the most profitable surge yet for her seven-month-old start-up.

 

 

Ollu Self-Serve Dog Wash

Opened: Oct. 21, 2009

Location: 221 Main St. S.E. 

Phone: 331-1025

Website: olludogwash.com
Number of employees: 5

Optimism level: 5

 

“People were coming in directly from the dog parks,” she said. If you live in a Downtown condo, she pointed out, you have to clean your pet before bringing it into your building. For a few soggy spring weeks, Ollu’s self-wash option suddenly achieved necessity status.

And while Fesenmaier had anticipated a seasonal spike in business, she wasn’t prepared to leave things completely up to the weather. In late March, she launched a well-timed promotion through Groupon, the deal-of-the-day website specializing in crowd source coupons. Though the deal pained her business sensibilities a bit — she ended up offering a 50-percent-off discount to almost 200 strangers, promising the Groupon people a cut of the action — the move paid off.  Of the 189 Groupon participants, Fesenmaier said that 60 percent became new customers.

It was an interesting experience for a business owner leery of spending too much on publicity. Fesenmaier says she’s “not sure” if she would try Groupon again and she’s holding off on any new advertising commitments for the moment.

Still, the spring hasn’t been all daisies for Ollu. In early April, burglars strong armed their way through the salon’s glass exterior, taking off with the flat screen television that Fesenmaier had used to display photos of her four-legged clients. The incident marks the second break-in for the new business.

The theft was not a terrible blow financially, Fesenmaier said, but it has taken a bit of a psychological toll. She worries about the security of her business, as fire code regulations prevent her from adding deadbolts or bars to her front door. She said she has spoken to her landlord about increasing a security patrol around her building. In the meantime, Fesenmaier has had to replace the front door out of her own pocket. She says she’s uncertain as to whether she can make an insurance claim.

Theft aside, Ollu has had a strong run so far. She plans to hire a few more part-time groomers for the summer months, adding to her current staff of five employees.

“Since we opened last fall, I feel like we’ve gotten through the worst of it,” she said. “Besides, people are still spending money on their children and their pets. And here, peoples’ pets are their children.”

— Gregory J. Scott

 

 

 

Breathing a little easier

To call it do-or-die would be overly dramatic, but Joe and Desiree Ahrens felt a noticeable pressure on a recent Wednesday morning at their newly opened neighborhood gym, Lynlake Fitness. Deadlines loomed.

The gym’s open house weekend, which the couple had poured a draining amount of energy into planning, was set to kick off the following day. The Ahrens had invested the bulk of their promotional might into the event; Desiree had spent long hours designing and printing door hangers and brochures. There would be free group fitness classes, chair massages, sorbet and drawings for a number of prizes. The gym would also offer deep discounts on personal training and memberships.

 

Lynlake Fitness

Opened: Feb. 1, 2010

Location: 3012 Lyndale Ave. S.  

Phone: 822-3668

Website: lynlakefitness.com
Number of employees: 7

Optimism level: 5

 

In other words, the Ahrens were sacrificing a lot to draw a crowd. And that had them a little on edge.

So far, the foot traffic that the gym’s location, at Lake & Hennepin, was supposed to bring in hadn’t yet materialized. Joe said that new memberships and personal training clients had been coming in at “ a trickle,” but that the gym still hadn’t made its presence known enough in the neighborhood.

The first three months were about getting the gym’s services in place and hiring trainers. Now, the Ahrens were ready to introduce themselves.

“Everyone who comes through is impressed by the fact that we have a small, neighborhood feel with the amenities of a large gym,” Desiree said. “We just need to get the word out and the people in.”

Luckily, the open house did its job.

“We had a packed house at our free morning classes,” Desiree reported afterwards via email. “We sold a handful of group class packages and signed up another handful of club memberships. We also had one personal training client join. We had another couple dozen or so who gave us contact information and seemed genuinely interested in at least one of our services.”

With the open house a success, the Ahrens could breath easier knowing they had made it through their first big deadline as a business.

“It was a way to judge how our promotional stuff has been going,” said Joe, adding that many attendees cited being drawn by newspaper ads and door hangers. “It just kind of reassured what we were doing.”

But the next deadline is fast approaching. Desiree, who is pregnant with twins, is well into her final trimester. Initially planning on working herself as a trainer, the doctors had advised her to take a less physically demanding role and staff the front desk. Now they’ve told her to stop working altogether. She and Joe have had to add hours for a handful of part time receptionists. Their staff is currently up to one full-time personal trainer, two part-time trainers and four receptionists who work on a part-time, as-needed basis.

As for the economy and its rumored rebound, Joe and Desiree say their business is too new to feel any effects, good or bad.

“Of course, as a business owner, there are always days and nights when I worry and other times when I am on a high from how well it is going,” said Desiree. Overall, though, she says it isn’t difficult to keep optimistic. “As soon as clients see our place and join, they love it.”

— Gregory J. Scott

 

 

 ‘It’s looking up’

 

It’s barbecue season, and that’s good news for Chris Jackman (C) and Greg Alford (G), co-owners of C&G’s Smoking Barbecue.

“Things have picked up pretty good,” Alford said. “It’s looking up.”

 

C&G’s Smoking Barbecue

Opened: June 2009

Location: 4723 Nicollet Ave. S. 

Phone: 825-3400

Number of employees: 2
Optimism level: 4
 

 

C&G’s, the first restaurant venture for a couple of backyard-barbecue buddies, will reach its one-year anniversary June 8. It’s still working toward profitability.

Alford said there’s been a bit of a learning curve. The menu has been tweaked since the menu opened — the latest addition is catfish covered in black-eyed peas, one of Alford’s personal favorites. Specials have also been added, including a popular Monday and Tuesday offering of a pound of rib tips for $5.

“I did it for Monday and Tuesday because it was kind of dragging after the weekend,” Alford said. “Since I put that tips special in there it’s been pretty good.”

He and Jackman — the only paid employees who work alongside a handful of volunteering friends — have also learned how much food to stock and prepare as the customer flow has steadied. The restaurant had previously run out of ribs on a day when demand was unusually high, Alford said. He doesn’t want that to happen again.

He attributes most of the boost in business to word-of-mouth and repeat customers. The restaurant already has regulars, some who have returned with friends and family. Alford said he’s not sure if the larger economic recovery has anything to do with it.

“I never really looked at anything economically-wise like that,” he said. “I just believe there’s always a way to make some money if you just figure it out; what’s going and what’s not going. I think that’s what it is. If you wait until the economy is right, you’re going to be broke for a long time.”

C&G’s is still working on developing a website, which Alford said is on a long list of things to do for the new business.

“Money,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of things I want, but you have to make the right move at the right time and pace yourself. I don’t want to get too far out there too quickly.”

He said he’d like to put together some sort of one-year anniversary celebration, but no plans are in place yet.

— Dylan Thomas

 

 

 

Thrifty scavengers

Cullen Donovan spent years scouring thrift stores before he opened his own last year, so he knows a thing or two about shopping secondhand.

Here’s a piece of advice: Once you finally find that one cool, unique piece hidden among racks of polyester bellbottoms and XXL plaids, don’t get all wishy-washy.

“You’ve got to jump on it,” Donovan said.

 

Lost and Found Thrift

Opened: May 2009

Location: 2524 Nicollet Ave. S.

Phone: 886-1397

Website: foundthrift.com
Number of employees: 3

Optimism level: 5

 

The good stuff goes fast. That’s especially true at The Lost and Found Thrift, the store Donovan owns with friend David Schuster, since the two make an effort to keep prices low and the inventory moving.

“That was our goal, was to really move the clothes, not to kind of worry that this is an exclusive shirt, this is worth $500,” Schuster said.

There’s something of the thrill of the hunt in thrift shopping — a thrill some of the mall crowd may have discovered during the recent recession. Now that the economy is turning around, though, are those shoppers headed back to the MOA?

The co-owners said both sales and customer counts were on their way up with the economy. Donovan predicted shoppers who sampled secondhand during the down times will “at least keep that option open” in the future.

“They find out they can find [clothing that is] just as good, or even sometimes very unique pieces and fun stuff,” he said.

At a time when many consumers pay extra for products with an environmental benefit, attitudes toward thrift stores may be changing, Schuster added.

“Instead of [secondhand clothing] being criticized because it’s used, it’s positive because it’s recycled,” he said.

Schuster acknowledged there were “still a lot of questions” about their fledgling business, but the two recently celebrated a milestone. May 1 was The Lost and Found’s first anniversary.

“It’s really big, especially with other people, business owners telling us it’s the first year that’s going to really tell you if you’re going to make it or break it,” Donovan said.

“We haven’t killed each other,” Schuster said. “Sales have improved. The business is growing.

I’d say, in every way that I can see, it’s getting better.”

— Dylan Thomas

 

 

Catering to the sweet tooths

Sugar Sugar Candy owner Joni Wheeler recently spoke at Lake Country School in Kingfield, just two blocks from her shop, where she offered advice on entrepreneurship to a room of junior high school students.

 

Sugar Sugar Candy

Opened: October 2009

Location: 3803 Grand Ave. S.

Phone:823-0261

Website: sugar-sugarcandy.com
Number of employees: 1

Optimism level: 5

 

“I just said you have to do what you love,” Wheeler recalled. “If you’re passionate about it, then none of the other stuff, all the trials and tribulations, [they] really don’t get you down.”

Wheeler wasn’t being disingenuous, but she acknowledged experiencing few trials and tribulations since opening Sugar Sugar Candy last fall. Since then, she’s discovered Minneapolis has a near-insatiable appetite for her high-quality sweets, a mix of traditional, imported and obscure candies and chocolates.

“The whole thing has been charmed from beginning to end,” said Wheeler, who in April won “Best Candy Store” from City Pages. Around the same time, Food and Wine Magazine asked to include a listing for her store in an upcoming iPhone application.

Sugar Sugar Candy opened in the waning days of a recession, but at a store where the average purchase is around $5 or $6, it’s hard for Wheeler to tell if the economy had any impact. Both customer counts and sales have risen each month, she said, helped along by positive word-of-mouth and a raft of glowing reviews in the local press.

Trials and tribulations may yet come. Buzz fades, and good ideas inspire imitators.

But Wheeler, who spends much of her day searching online for new treats and trends, said she was ready.

“I think that by the time somebody’s copying me or by the time there’s another candy store … I’ll be on to something else,” she said. “I don’t mean another candy store, but I’ll be doing something different in here.

“I just keep moving ahead and doing the best I can do.”

— Dylan Thomas

 

A positive perspective

Curtis and Lisa Sanford are looking for ways to get more involved in the community and spread the word about their new veterinary hospital in downtown Minneapolis.

They will be at the Stone Arch Festival of the Arts set for June 19–20 with a “Ask the Vet” booth where people can pet care advice and giveaways.

 

Minneapolis
Veterinary Hospital

Opened: November  2009

Location:
1030 Washington Ave. S.

Phone: 746-0300

Website: mplsvet.com
Number of employees: 2 full-time employees in addition to Dr. Sanford and Lisa Sanford

Optimism level: 4

 

With more marketing and the busy season for veterinarians underway, the Sanfords are confident that their business will see more growth in coming months.

“Slowly, but surely things are turning around,” said Lisa Sanford, the veterinary hospital’s office manager. “The winter months [were] slow and we think the economy had something to do with that. People just do not have the extra income right now to do what might be required for their pets.”

The Sanfords have 252 clients to date. They have been in business for six months and are hoping to attract more customers now that Heartworm season is underway. Heartworm is a disease that pets can contract from infected mosquitoes.

The clinic is offering a 10 percent discount on all Heartworm-prevention items through the month of June.

The Sanfords say the love being part of the Bridgewater development, which has just added a grocery store to its mix of tenants.

“We are positive things will turn around and we are here for the duration,” Sanford said.

— Sarah McKenzie

 

 

On the upswing

Eric Muchowski, a father of three who manages three businesses, is seeing an uptick in activity for all three of his ventures — woodworking, a kung fu school and chiropractic practice.

 

Dovetail Design and Golden Leopard Martial Arts Center

Opened: October 2009

Location: 3920 Nicollet Ave. S.

Phone: 578-0805

Websites: goldenleopardkungful.com dovetaildesignsinc.com
Number of employees: 2 full-time employees in addition to Dr. Sanford and Lisa Sanford

Optimism level: 4

 

“It’s nice to see things picking up,” he said. “I’m not sure of it is economic recovery or normal ebb and flow of business that is often seen in my areas at this time of the year.”

The spring and summer months tend to be busier for his woodworking business, in particular.

He’s not anticipating significant growth in any one area. He’s satisfied with his current work load and enjoys having three different areas to focus on. “Having that mix makes it more enjoyable,” he said.

He’s added a couple new classes for his kung fu school Golden Leopard Martial Arts for kids ages 4 to 8. Teaching youth martial arts is a satisfying pastime for him. He enjoys helping the kids build coordination and agility.

He remains upbeat about the future of his businesses. “I’m optimistic that they will continue to grow,” he said. “It’s just a matter of being patient and continuing to provide the best service and product possible.” 

— Sarah McKenzie