April 2004

Cover Story

Homeric feat

Ken Plunkett and Dan Peterson grew up together in Moorhead and played on the same baseball team. Decades later, they teamed up again and are running St. Paul-based Grand Management Co., which operates 10 restaurants and is rolling out two new concepts, one regionally and the other nationally.

The men, who?ve been involved in Midwest restaurants and bars for more than 30 years, say becoming business partners in 1995 seemed natural. It started when Plunkett approached Peterson about investing in the White Bear Lake Decoy?s Grill & Bar. At the time, Peterson was running Joe Senser?s Grill and Bar. That proposition was all it took to kick off their business relationship. Today, they anticipate Grand Management?s sales to approach $40 million by year-end and they employ 1,310 people.

They drastically increased their company?s size only recently, in 2002, with one bold move when they acquired Sidney?s, a five-store restaurant chain. They describe their efforts to make that buy as a ?financial odyssey.? Continue reading →

Letter From the Editor


?The way we succeed in work and in life is the same. It?s principally about knowing your purpose, and keeping your promises around that.? So says Lois Quam, who became an unexpected source of wisdom for small-business owners who push themselves around the clock.

I say unexpected because Quam is not a small-business owner. She is CEO of Ovations, a $6.5-billion division of UnitedHealth Group in Minnetonka. Her husband, Matt Entenza, is the DFL leader in the state House. They have three young sons. It?s as close to a 24/7 lifestyle as anyone?s likely to experience. Continue reading →

Back Page

Back page

David Unowsky has turned to desperate measures in the last few years to save his St. Paul bookstore from financial ruin. First he sold its old name, The Hungry Mind, to raise quick cash. He expanded to a new literary center on Washington Avenue near downtown Minneapolis, then closed that store when retail activity proved scant. Now he?s pursuing financial backing and trying to put aside his ?hippie? mentality in favor of hard-nosed management, all while working to maintain his bookstore?s mission. Continue reading →


Made to order

Small-business management packages are designed to give business owners a total view of their enterprises. No type of company needs that kind of information more than a manufacturing firm.

Manufacturers have to track costs more closely than other firms, including raw materials or component costs, machine costs and inventory costs. Continue reading →

Management muscle

Large companies have always had more choices when it comes to business management software. But a lot more options are springing up for smaller firms.

For those with a little more spending money, a new option is ERP, or enterprise resource planning, software. ERP refers to prepackaged, integrated information systems that serve all departments in a company.

Historically the exclusive domain of giant companies, ERP is now offered for firms with as few as 10 employees by major vendors such as Irvine, California-based Best Software Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and Shakopee-based Open Systems. Continue reading →

Fine print

Nita Singh founded her company, American Business Communication Inc., to help business customers sort through the confusion after regulators broke up Ma Bell ? the ?telecom bomb,? as Singh describes it. More than a decade later, it?s grown to 18 employees and annual revenue of $3.5 million, and Singh says confusion still reigns. She tells Upsize how to guard against ?bill creep,? how to money on your wireless plan, and why next time you might want to chuck your PBX. Continue reading →

Wright County: Reaching out

Aaron Weiche grew up in Buffalo, where his family owned the only radio station in town. The 30-year-old lifelong resident of Wright County remembers in the 1980s when Pamida came to town.

?It was a big deal then to have a place like that to go to,? says Weiche, sales and marketing manager for Delano-based Intrcomm Technology, a company that provides communications products and services to businesses.

Wright County still has the small-town feel that Weiche recalls, but it is growing faster than ever before, meaning there are more opportunities for small businesses to grow. People still know your name, but with new faces and new businesses entering the county, it takes a little longer to get to know your neighbor. Continue reading →

Wright County: Firm foundation

Matt Kramer recently made a five-stop visit to businesses in Wright County. He?s commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Among those visited were companies operating in four different industries in four different cities: the T.C. American facility in St. Michael Ultra Machine Co. in Monticello Product Technologies Inc. in Maple Lake and Von Ruden Manufacturing in Buffalo. He also stopped at the Minnesota WorkForce center in Monticello. Continue reading →


Remember when your Rolodex was enough?

These days your customer list could fill several Rolodexes and you might have to ask your sales manager who was the last person to talk to a customer. But everyone can have access to basic customer information in addition to details about payments, invoicing, and purchasing trends when you a customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Chances are, you?ve already got a CRM system of some sort. But the choices and capabilities of these types of systems have greatly expanded in the past few years. These days, business owners have options such as off-the-shelf databases, custom-built software applications, and everything in between. Continue reading →

Business Builders


Now that large companies like Microsoft have announced plans to scrap their stock option plans, other companies may be tempted to follow their lead toward alternative employee incentive programs, such as restricted stock grants.

But not so fast. Stock option plans can be an attractive way for smaller, growing, private companies to create equity-based incentive for employees without significantly affecting their cash flow. Since cash is king in an early-stage growing enterprise, stock option plans can be a powerful tool for creating incentive to those in a position to make a difference. Continue reading →

Sales management

?All Marketing does is produce useless brochures,? complains Sales.

?All Sales does is complain about our brochures,? counters Marketing.

In many businesses there?s a growing rift between sales and marketing. Sales sees Marketing as ivory-tower know-it-alls who stay away from the real action. Marketing sees Sales as demanding egomaniacs who are never satisfied with the tools they provide.

The two resemble bickering twins, joined at the hip yet arguing incessantly. They can get along better if they first understand where the other is coming from, and then take some simple steps. Continue reading →


In the current economic climate it is more important than ever for taxpayers to take advantage of every possible tax break. A frequently asked question that we hear from our clients is, ?What else can I write off??

If you own a commercial or residential rental real estate property, the answer may be a cost segregation study. Although cost segregation studies have been a tool in property valuation arsenals for more than two decades, Congress specifically prohibited component depreciation under the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Continue reading →



Ginny Emrich was looking for a modest increase in space to transform her hair salon and spa business into Spa Bella Casa, which offers spa services exclusively. The city of Minneapolis had blocked her expansion at the existing location near 50th Street and France Avenue. Continue reading →

Real estate

Business owners who use the space they buy (as opposed to investors who don?t occupy it) purchased more than 3 million square feet of industrial space in the Twin Cities in 2003, similar to the amount in 2002 but a major uptick from the years before that. Continue reading →


Ruth Lane and four other Minnesota entrepreneurs joined 22 counterparts from around the United States for a trip to France in January. The mission: to encourage entrepreneurship in France, where a workforce that prefers governments jobs to starting businesses crimps the economy. Continue reading →

Health benefits

Faced with rising health insurance costs, many employers shop for a new plan (62 percent last year, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report) or increase the amount employees pay for their plan (51 percent ).

They often overlook a more useful route: analyzing data from claims actually made. So says Mickey Webb, vice president of employee benefits for CFG Insurance Services in Minnetonka. CFG has rolled out a new Web-based tool, called My Benefits Analyst, that helps employers dig in and analyze claims data. Continue reading →


Holes in 14 ?critical infrastructures? identified by the U.S. government ? such as transportation, food systems, water systems and energy pipelines ? present opportunities to small-business innovators.

That?s according to Brian Isle and Bonnie Bennett, Ph.D., co-owners of the not-for-profit Adventium Labs in Minneapolis. ?They?re considered critical because having an attack on any one of them would cause considerable disruption,? Isle says. He notes heightened interest in the security of such systems. ?Up until 9/11 most people said, ?Yeah, it?s important,? but didn?t take it seriously. Continue reading →


Minneapolis author Bev Bachel?s first book is Ms. Foundation?s official choice for ?Take Our Daughters & Sons to Work Day,? this year slated for April 22, the national program to motivate young people about careers that drew 14.4 million participants last year.

The book ? ?What Do you Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go For it!? ? was released by local press Free Spirit Publishing. The Ms. Foundation?s selection will have ?a significant impact on sales,? figures Bachel (pronounced BAH-kel), because it?s offered on the Web site for the highly promoted day. Continue reading →

Dear Informer

Here’s how growing firms can beef up management team DEAR INFORMER: I need to put in place a management team to go from a 60-employee company to double that over the next few years. I have an in-house recruiter who’s doing a good job, but I have such a thin management staff. DEAR GROWING: Such an ambitious […] Continue reading →

2-minute meeting

On his way to speak at Trend Agenda 2004 on the coldest day of the year, Brian Collins traveled past a time-and-temperature clock on Hennepin Avenue. ?They?d replaced it with a big witch?s tit,? Collins said, thus kicking off an event at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis that organizers said offered a ?wide view of the extraordinary changes we?re undergoing today.? Continue reading →


Choose a developer who can handle long, complex process

The commercial real estate development deals that make headlines involve big-money contracts, large tracts of land and heavyweight players. It?s easy for small businesses to assume the game is too big for them to play. Continue reading →