Entrepreneur Times Three . . . or is it Four?Published 12:51pm Friday, November 9, 2012
Katie and I are sitting at the kitchen counter in her beautiful new home. Curious, I ask about the dream that brought them to this place, this Laundromat on the southern edge of Battle Lake.
She smiles and says that they had worked in the Alexandria area for a number of years. Katie worked with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for 20 years and was office manager for a law firm before that. Keith, a forester, worked for a paper company in Alexandria. They owned a home on Lake Miltona, a cabin, and hunting land. Their three children were grown, and Katie and Keith were enjoying the life they had made for themselves.
Then came the recession. Budget cuts at their respective employers soon ended in layoffs. But rather than panic, they decided to do what they had long wanted to do: work for themselves.
Katie says they set out to find a business that met three criteria: 1) located in the Battle Lake area, 2) an ongoing, established business, and 3) a place they could live on-site. Now more curious than ever, I ask about these three things.
Katie explains that she grew up in the Cities and moved to Mankato her sophomore year, but her family summered on East Battle Lake. She had fond memories of those summers and of Battle Lake. Second, they were trusting their livelihood to this new venture, and so wanted a business with a proven track record. And finally, Katie says they are customer focused and can better meet needs by being available. She adds, “And you can’t make money if you aren’t open.”
Thus in April 2011, Katie and Keith moved to Battle Lake, proud owners of Katie’s Laundromat and the building in which it is located, just east of Highways 210 and 78 intersections.
While the Laundromat was a turnkey operation and needed only a little remodeling, the living space was in serious disrepair. To realize their dream of living on-site, they had a lot of work to do.
In October 2011, Keith began renovating space within the building to turn it into a home. Katie says they worked four feet at a time, trying to figure out the best use of a great big rectangle. “We must have rearranged empty cabinet boxes a million times in designing the kitchen,” she laughs.
March 1, 2012, which was Keith’s self-imposed deadline, they settled in their new home. I look around as Katie and I talk. From the outside, I could not guess what lay inside. The place is stunning. The open floor plan contains Katie’s office, a living room, state-of-the-art kitchen, dining room and centrally located floor-to-ceiling fireplace. Neutral colors, granite counter tops, and stainless steel appliances are modern, but warm and inviting. I am enthralled with the space, but Katie says there is more to come – finishing touches and completion of their master bedroom suite.
The house is near enough complete, however, for their dream come true: Battle Lake, established business, on-site home. I sigh at the happy ending.
But Katie tells me the story does not end there. Shortly after moving to Battle Lake, she was called back to work. So four days a week, she drives into Fergus to DNR’s Fish & Wildlife division where she works with their budgets.
Meanwhile, Katie says, she started looking at the extensive space in the remainder of the Laundromat building. “We had hunting property where we had all these antiques and a home on Lake Miltona with antiques. Since we were selling both places, I thought a consignment shop would be a good fit.” And thus she opened Katie’s New 2 U.
She hadn’t planned on a large operation, but the business grew until now she has twenty-eight consignees. People bring in items three or four times a week. “We move a lot of merchandise,” Katie says, “and have turnover about every five days.” Luckily, she is a detail person. Every night, she does the books, entering sales for each consignee and paying commissions at month’s end.
Oh yes, and then there is the third business in the complex: Premier Meats. Katie explains she and Keith had considered adding a butcher shop sometime, but not now. But an informational meeting with Premier Meats led to a large freezer of meat and seafood, and a sign. Katie says the outlet works well because she’s in Fergus Falls four days a week and can pick up orders for people who want fresh meat, and the freezer case is full for others. Maybe someday, they’ll do something more extensive.
I think, surely, that must be it for businesses, and I ask about hobbies. Katie says, they love tennis, ice fishing and cribbage, but haven’t had a chance to do those things since moving to Battle Lake. In addition to Katie’s Laundromat, Katie’s New 2 U, Premier Meats, and her job with DNR, she does the accounting for two apartments they rent out and twenty-two loads of laundry on Sundays during the summer for resorts and others. (And Keith started his own business, which is another story.)
By now, I’m tired and wondering how she does it all. Katie says every part of her day is organized; if one cog is off, her day runs off course. But, she continues, they put forth a serious team effort and fill in where the other leaves off. More than that, she says, “We have an attitude of gratitude for each other.”
Still, she admits: “Some nights we come home after talking all day, and all we can do is grunt at each other.” But she says, it goes back to focus: “What we do is easy because we are doing exactly what we want – our dreams come true.”