We take another look at our Year One entrepreneurs
One year down, hopefully many to go
It may be seven years in dog time, but for a start-up business — especially one born into this hobbled economy — it’s practically middle age.
Ollu, the self-serve dog wash and grooming salon on St. Anthony Main, celebrates its first birthday this October. With 11 months of successful entrepreneurship under her belt, owner Jodel Fesenmaier is taking an appropriately mature approach to the anniversary. She’ll allow herself a moment to smile. But just a moment.
“Every entrepreneur thinks the first year is going to be tough,” she said. Yes, the last 11 or so months have been a challenge. “But you gotta keep on it and not let things slide. I’m really focusing on the next year. I’m making sure that growth is continuing and that we’re meeting projected goals.”
The one-year anniversary party, then — a Halloween-themed affair, loosely planned for the weekend of Oct. 23 — will double as a marketing event, with Fesenmaier hoping to win a new crop of customers for 2011. The timing works nicely, too; the lead-up to the winter holidays, she says, “is when the full-service grooming picks up quite a bit.”
But the business’ seasonality has been far from predictable. The summertime boom Fesenmaier anticipated never materialized. It turned out the spring, with its muddy, melting snow banks, was a better time to be in the dog-washing game. After a big surge in March, Ollu has plateaued over the summer months, enjoying slight gains in June, July and August.
For Fesenmaier, who remains leery of overspending on advertising, the summer was another opportunity to experiment with publicity a bit. She hit up the near-weekly neighborhood festivals and block parties, clad in a pink Ollu T-shirt and passing around doggie treats and coupons. At July’s Northeast Dog Parade, she had bone-shaped snacks wrapped in a coupon for a free doggie ice cream at the salon.
“Only a handful of people actually redeemed those coupons,” she said, “but I think overall, it was effective just getting the word out.”
Fesenmaier worries that the neighborhood hasn’t fully discovered the salon, and that many would-be customers are still unaware of Ollu’s full-service grooming.
As for working with the city, which can be a headache for many first-time business owners, Fesenmaier has no complaints. “Everything’s been really cool,” she said.
The only downer of the year has been a pair of break-ins, the most recent of which, in April, saw the theft of a flat-screen TV, which had previously displayed photos of Fesenmaier’s four-legged clients.
The threat of a higher deductible kept her from making an insurance claim, she said. And the paranoia over security lingers
“It’s frustrating,” she added. “Because it’s like, what do you want from a dog wash?”
Ollu Self-Serve Dog Wash
Opened: Oct. 21, 2009
Location: 221 Main St. SE
Planning for new digs
On a Tuesday afternoon in late August, Jim Diley stood on a concrete slab and looked out toward Target Field. A few minutes later his business partners, Ryan Petz, Peter Grande and Brian Hoffman, pulled into a small parking lot beneath him with a couple growlers of beer.
The four men are the owners of Fulton Beer, and a just a few days earlier they had signed a lease on a 6,000-square-foot facility where they intend to build a brewery. Diley was standing on what will be the loading dock, a place where they will transfer kegs of their brews onto trucks and out to the 70-plus Twin Cities bars that have Fulton tap lines.
If things go according to plan, a lot more bars will be serving a lot more Fulton Beer, and soon Fulton lovers will be able to buy a six-pack of bottles from their local liquor store.
If it’s up to the Fulton four, the new brewery, which is just north of Target Field at 414 6th Ave. N., will be up and running this winter. But Petz said much of the company’s plans hinge of gathering financing to get rolling. Microbrewery equipment alone runs $250,000 to $500,000.
Fulton plans to build a brewery that can produce 80 kegs per batch. Currently, the Fulton owners drive out to Black River Falls, Wis. once a week. They contract with Sand Creek Brewing Co. to use their equipment. It takes them 15 hours — at least — to make it there and back. All four have full-time jobs, and sometimes the trips can take nearly 24 hours.
But the new brewery won’t end the trips to Black River Falls. Instead, it will allow them to brew all their kegged beer in Minneapolis while using Sand Creek to make bottled beer that they can sell in liquor stores.
It will also allow them to deliver kegs to more bars. Fulton currently has a waiting list of local establishments who want in on the action.
Petz said Fulton never expected to be leasing brewery less than a year after it sold its first keg. It was just three years ago that brewing the beer was just something they did for fun from their Fulton residence.
“We didn’t foresee having a waiting list at this point. We were just hoping people would buy it,” Petz said. “We just thought, ‘what if not a single person buys our beer?’ We knew people liked our beer, but it was just kind of scary.”
People have indeed bought the beer. And while Fulton is enjoying quenching the thirst of Twin Cities beer drinkers, it’s gotten some help from the Minneapolis City Council. In July Fulton and two other local craft brewers — 612 Brew and Harriet Brewing — testified before the city for an ordinance change to allow microbreweries to sell growlers of beer from their facilities. The City Council listened, and it passed the change.
Minneapolis is currently without a production brewery, and has been since James Page left seven years ago. Fulton could be the first one, although 612Brew and Harriet Brewing are also looking for brewery sites.
Fulton has been around longer than those two companies, but the group is not worried about their competition.
Hoffman said plenty of Twin Cities bars are dying for a full lineup of local brews, and right now there are relatively few microbreweries in the metro area.
“There’s a lot of room in the market here for local beer,” he said.
Opened: October 2009
Location: Opened in Southwest, moving to the North Loop neighborhood
Moving ahead after storm damage
Disaster for The Lost and Found Thrift came through the roof.
After closing on Aug. 10, in the midst of a torrential downpour, the waterlogged ceiling above the store’s shoe section collapsed. The time code on the security camera footage put the collapse at about 10:30 p.m., shortly after the heaviest rains fell in a system that eventually dumped more than 4.5 inches of water on Minneapolis.
Owners Cullen Donovan and David Schuster opened the store the next morning but would close it indefinitely within 36 hours. City inspectors found more water pooled between the building’s roof and store’s ceiling and warned them it could come down at any time.
“It’s killing us because [we] want to be open,” Donovan said in early September as a crew worked to repair the leaking roof. A section of the store beneath the collapsed ceiling was isolated behind plastic sheeting and awaiting mold remediation.
“Nobody wants to walk into a store that smells funky and then shop for clothes, because it’s just going to turn them off,” Schuster said.
The two business owners had bigger concerns in September, but like the other Year One businesses they were asked about their experiences working with the city. Schuster said it was at times “very challenging.”
“A prime example is the fact that we still have yet to receive our renewed business license,” he said.
Their original license was set to expire erroneously in one month, even though they had paid for one year and one month. Then, two months before the corrected license was to expire, the city sent Donovan and Schuster the paperwork for a license renewal.
“I did that promptly and I have yet to hear back,” Schuster said.
When he called the city recently to inquire about the status of their license, Schuster was told it was “pending.”
Schuster said the city employee’s response to further questioning was to give him another phone number to call. It was that type of jumping through hoops the business partners said was most frustrating.
The bigger frustration in September was watching the back-to-school shopping season pass while The Lost and Found Thrift sat idle.
“Any time we come in there’s people looking in the windows, trying to come in,” Schuster said.
The Lost and Found Thrift
Opened: May 2, 2009
Address: 2524 Nicollet Ave. S.
Ambassador for ‘informed beauty’
Instead of People Magazine and US Weekly, the coffee table customers sit around while waiting to get a haircut at Kasia Organic Salon is filled with information about the minerals in hard water, tips on nutrition and the effects ammonia-based hair coloring has on skin.
Salon owner Kassie Kuehl says changes in the environment have made people more reactive to chemicals. It’s her job to inform them and supply them with products that will not give them headaches, itchy skin and allergic reactions.
“Informed Beauty” is her company slogan. She’s relying on an educated Southwest community to spread the word found on the coffee table and in conversations with Kuehl and her stylists.
“Informed Beauty just circles around a lot of who are client is and that we are committed to educating you, not just throwing hair color on your head,” Kuehl said. “We want to tell you why, and why it’s important and why your investment is important to you and your health.”
Kuehl needs the word of mouth because Kasia doesn’t get the exposure she had planned for when she leased a salon at the corner of 50th & Bryant. Just a day after she opened, five
businesses, including popular restaurants Heidi’s and Blackbird Café, burned down. The
lot still sits vacant.
Informed Beauty is working. Kuehl said clients and revenue have increased slowly. She hired an additional staffer in August and plans to add an assistant soon. She’s expanding her own product line of organic products.
“The economy continues to be volatile and we continue to slowly gain numbers,” she said. “We pretty much are flat lining and then slowly progressing.”
Kuehl doesn’t know what will be built on the vacant lot across the street, but she’s preparing for something. She’s expanded her retail offerings in anticipation of increased foot traffic. She’s been working with a local chemist on new organic products.
This fall she is launching three therapeutic essential oil blends that can be diffused into the air to remove harmful viruses and bacteria from the air. She’s also working on an organic shampoo to be released this winter.
She launched a nontoxic sunless tanning lotion in August and before that she introduced soap nuts, which are a nontoxic alternative to laundry detergent at half the cost.
“Right now the biggest project for Kasia and the brand is continuing to move forward in our product development,” Kuehl said.
Kasia Organic Salon
Opened: February 2010
Location: 822 W. 50th St.
The ‘candy bartender’
For two women browsing Sugar Sugar Candy on a weekday afternoon, the rainbow-colored assortment of classic candies was having a near-psychedelic effect.
“This is a trip!” one gasped to the other in nostalgic glee. “It’s like a flashback!”
Store owner Joni Wheeler, who sells Baby Boomer-era candies such as Turkish Taffy, Necco Wafers and Clark Bars alongside hard-to-find imports and hand-crafted, boutique sweets, said her customers’ ecstatic reactions no longer surprise.
Like deep-seated scent memories evoked with a whiff of grandpa’s pipe smoke, favorite childhood candies, once rediscovered, can stir the psyche. Customers have cried browsing Wheeler’s shop.
“It’s a very emotional thing,” she said. “I feel like a bartender — a candy bartender.”
Wheeler’s white-painted, highly curated candy store led a charmed first year with raves in press both local and national, including a shout-out from USA Today in June. In September, she was eagerly planning a celebration for the shop’s Oct. 30 anniversary.
“I want to celebrate because I never had a grand opening,” she said. “I want to mark the one-year because I’m very proud.”
Asked about her interactions with the city, Wheeler thought back to a year ago and said: “Honestly, I was afraid because I didn’t know what to expect.”
In the end, city staff members, particularly those in the licensing department, were “incredibly helpful,” she said.
“They know that the process is scary,” she continued. “They know how much rides on it, and they all were just wonderful for me.”
Wheeler found it “a little bit frustrating” that city code contained no specific definition for a candy store. Sugar Sugar Candy was dealt with as something between a convenience store and a coffee shop, and she had to comply with some regulations for businesses that prepare food on the premises, even though she does not, she said.
Still, she added, installing a sanitary sink in the bathroom — one upgrade requested by the city — “turned out as a bonus for me.”
There were some small disappointments in the first year, too.
A $500 cotton candy machine seemed not worth the investment, so plans for gourmet cotton candy fizzled. And the refrigerator-freezer storing popsicles in exotic flavor combinations would just not get cold enough, so it and the popsicles had to go.
No big deal, said Wheeler. It reminded her to concentrate on her core business.
“At this point, nobody’s missing a popsicle,” she said.
Opened: October 2009
Location: 3803 Grand Ave. S.
(** Note: This contact information was listed incorrectly in the print edition).
Eric Muchowski wears three hats as an entrepreneur, but his top priority continues to be his family.
The father of three said his businesses — a woodworking venture, a kung fu school and chiropractic practice — are all progressing along at a good pace.
“There continues to be the craziness of trying to run three businesses, but we are working on some fine tuning and scheduling that will hopefully take care of some of that,” he said. “As far as businesses go all three have been maintaining or getting slightly busier over the summer.”
Golden Leopard, the martial arts school, has slowly been growing its student base. Muchowski plans to add more beginner classes for adults and youth soon. He also will offer a couple of beginner Tai Chi classes this fall, too.
As for Dovetail Designs, his custom cabinetry and woodworking business, there has been small up tick in business since earlier in the summer.
“It’s back to the point [that] I am not able to fit all requested jobs into my schedule,” he said, adding that he’s not certain whether there will be as much demand for his work later this fall and winter.
His chiropractic work has been holding steady.
When asked about what it’s been like working with the City of Minneapolis, Muchowski didn’t have much to say.
“Since we moved into this location I have not had to much direct dealing with the city,” he said. “I just hear about others dealings. Some bad, others not to bad, but unfortunately not too many good experiences.”
Dovetail Design and Golden Leopard Martial Arts Center
Opened: October 2009
Location: 3920 Nicollet Ave. S.
A slow season
The Minneapolis Veterinary Hospital in the Bridgewater was hoping to pick up more customers this summer, but it’s been slow going for the startup.
“The slow economy and job market have put a strain on people’s household budgets,” said Lisa Sanford, the veterinary hospital’s office manager. She runs the business with her husband Curtis Sanford, a veterinarian.
May was a pretty good month for the Sanfords — the time when clients come in to get heartworm medication for their pets. Still, they were hoping to see more people walk through their doors in June and July.
“It is a little surprising to me that not everyone who lives in Minneapolis is willing to treat for heartworm,” Lisa Sanford said. “It is very prevalent around here and many people do not know the severity of it.”
She is hoping activity picks up this fall.
“There is always an ebb and flow in the veterinary business and we learn to adjust to it,” she said. “August was better and it looks as if things are picking up here in September.”
As for working with the city, Sanford said they haven’t had a lot of contact with them.
“I would like to know what they are planning to do with Washington Avenue though,” she said. “I know a lot hinges on the Vikings stadium and we are watching that closely. It would be a good thing for this area.”
The Sanfords are also planning more events with other businesses in the Bridgewater and would like to see more festivals and dogs walks in the Mill District.
Minneapolis Veterinary Hospital
Opened: November 2009
Location: 1030 Washington Ave. S.
Closed but not dead
Last time we checked in with Joe and Desiree Ahrens, the husband-and-wife owners of LynLake Fitness were exhaling a sigh of relief. A successful open house weekend in early May seemed to promise a much-needed boost to the Uptown gym’s stalled first three months in business.
The feeling, however, didn’t last. By the end of the month, the Ahrens had closed the doors at 3012 Lyndale Ave. S. The neighborhood, increasingly dominated by big-chain, luxury fitness facilities, had lost its only mom-and-pop gym.
“Long term, we could have really drained it out,” said Joe Ahrens. “We had to make the decision to pull the plug or dig a bigger hole.”
The Ahrens decided to pull the plug. But their business wasn’t entirely dead.
LynLake Fitness is still operating — paradoxically, in a building on south Nicollet. Prior to opening the Uptown gym, the Ahrens had operated another fitness business, Ahrens Exercise Physiology, Inc., which opened in 2005 and offers one-on-one personal training in private suits. With the fuller, Uptown gym closed, the Ahrens decided to consolidate the two operations into one spot.
“The expansion didn’t work, so we’re back to the core business,” Joe Ahrens said.
The new LynLake Fitness, in addition to personal training, retains the small group classes of the full gym, as well as offering metabolism assessments, nutrition plans, athletic training programs and lifestyle coaching.
According to the Ahrens, the incongruous name LynLake Fitness was kept because the couple had invested too much in the business’ branding — its website and promotional materials — to let it go to waste.
Most of the staff has been let go, although one full-time trainer has been transferred to the Nicollet Ave. location. The Ahrens have sold back the fitness equipment that they had purchased for the gym; they’re still negotiating with the leasing company over the equipment they were renting. And they’ve safely arranged with their landlord an exit from their commitment to the Lyndale Ave. space.
“The take-away is, when you’re starting a business, you’re all excited about the possibility and the growth that you think might happen. But, you know, be ready for it to not work out and have a back-up plan,” Joe said.
Opened: February 2010
Location: Formerly 3012 Lyndale Ave. S., now 4804 Nicollet Ave.
A strong summer
Now open for more than a year, C&G’s Smoking Barbecue is holding its own with a strong base of regular customers and plenty of newcomers who are still discovering the restaurant, said Greg Alford, who owns the business with friend Chris Jackman.
This summer turned out to be better for the restaurant than last summer, Alford said, probably because it’s a bit more established. Fall of last year was tough, he said, so he’s not sure what to expect this year as the weather cools. He might tweak the menu a bit as he did last year, when winter favorites chili and macaroni and cheese were added. A smoked turkey sandwich might make the menu this year.
Jackman said he’s looking into creating a children’s menu as well.
“A lot of the time people can’t figure out what to get for the kids,” he said.
Also on the horizon for C&G’s is a cook-off Oct. 2–3 at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
On working with the city, Alford said the process to start C&G’s went smoothly because the space was previously a restaurant and no liquor license was requested. Alford and Jackman haven’t received any assistance from the city for their business, but they haven’t sought any either.
The friends and backyard chefs used their own money to launch the business and are optimistic it will continue to grow.
C&G’s Smoking Barbecue
Opened: June 2009
Location: 4723 Nicollet Ave. S.
A sales spike
After a “pokey and weird” summer, business in September picked up sharply for Rove Arounds owner Tamah Burke, who recently launched a new women’s clothing label, Sumptuary Apparel.
Children’s clothing was the focus almost exclusively when the little Linden Hills boutique opened last year, but women’s garments have since become a big part of the business. Burke’s store, once filled front to back with children’s clothes, fabric and patterns is now split down the middle with children’s options on one side and women’s on the other.
She said she spent the summer cementing the new women’s brand, which essentially follows the shop’s niche, funky, custom-tailored, one-off theme.
“It’s all the same things that go into the children’s wear because people were asking for it as adults,” Burke said.
Burke hosted a trunk show to launch her new label in early September and plans to host other trunk shows for various designers she stocks at least once a month for groups of up to six women. She also does one-on-one consultations to go over the right clothing shapes for different body types and takes measurements to make sure the clothes fit perfectly.
“I’m pretty excited about this,” she said. “I wasn’t intending to do women’s wear when I started, but I’m actually really enjoying it.”
She said she doesn’t plan to back away from children’s clothing, which saw a surge in sales when school started.
“I still love the kids stuff, so I don’t want to abandon that,” Burke said.
Burke, a former restaurateur who funded her business without any help, said she planned to explore the city’s options for business assistance. As a clothing retailer, she had no city regulatory hurdles to jump through when opening her shop.
“It’s a lot easier than a restaurant,” she said.
Opened: November 2009
Location: 4305 Upton Ave. S.