April 2005

Cover Story

Bottom line

Greg Gartner knows his weaknesses.
His gifts for developing and selling innovative new products helped win his Stillwater firm, Gartner Studios, a place as No. 192 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in 2004. The seven-year-old company makes specialty paper products for computer printers sold through mega-retailers such as Target and Office Depot.

Although the firm's history has been one of unabated growth, its founder was self-aware enough to hire a president this year to help him make up for his biggest weakness: operations. The process of going from raw materials to finished products has never been his favorite thing.

"I understand it but it's just something I get bored with", says the 39-year-old entrepreneur.

His firm's biggest operational challenges began in 2001 when it started outsourcing most of its manufacturing to China and Taiwan. Off-shoring presented major logistical challenges, which eroded the cost advantages involved and diverted Gartner's attention.

Carl Monty, the firm's vice president of sales, says Gartner couldn't focus on his strengths: product development, sales and strategic planning. "The things we have more difficulty with are on the production side, the manufacturing side and the inventory side," Monty says. Continue reading →

Letter From the Editor


This month, Upsize begins an exciting new project: a search for the best ways to build a small business, with a big party in October to recognize smart business growth and the people who make it happen.

We?re launching the Upsize Business Builder Awards & Seminar, presented by accounting firm Wipfli. Every Minnesota-based business with under 100 employees can take part, so no excuses: This is your chance to get recognition for your company?s brilliant moves. Continue reading →

Back Page

Back page

Randy Nordquist on running his family’s 100-year-old sign company with modern-day design sense Randy Nordquist can be forgiven for extolling the beauty of the St. Paul skyline: His company, Nordquist Sign Co. Inc., made most of the signs that distinguish it from sign-free downtown Minneapolis. He runs the company founded by his great-grandfather, Gust, who […] Continue reading →


Foot in the door

Getting the attention of real estate brokers isn?t always easy when you own a small, growing business. That?s beca?the commission might be $3,000 and I?m running around like a dog,? says Paula Anderson with a laugh.

She founded Square Feat LLC three years ago to represent tenants, and she likes to start with companies in their early stages and help them grow into their space all along the way. Anderson tells how to make the most of your real estate spending, whether this lease is your first or your 15th. Continue reading →

Study groups

Dr. UEL), the new, non-profit bioscience incubator, located in St. Paul between the University of Minnesota?s Twin Cities campuses. Continue reading →


Dave Wagner operated his podiatric laboratory in two suites of an office building in White Bear Lake for most of the two decades he had been in business. But when his lease expired and a larger tenant wanted to expand, Wagner?s landlord politely told him he might want to find a new office.

Wagner, owner of Hugo-based North Star Podiatric Laboratories Inc., considered many options, including another traditional lease or even building his own office.

But in order to make the latter pay off, he says he learned you almost have to build a 20,000-square-foot edifice ? something that doesn?t make much sense for a small business.

Then he learned about the growing trend toward office condominiums. ?We weren?t really ready at the time to buy, but the opportunity came up,? he says. ?You can purchase a smaller chunk of the building. It really made some sense for us to go that route.? Continue reading →

Business Builders


Most entrepreneurs who start businesses spend a lot of time thinking about potential markets, potential customers and potential profits. They don?t usually think about potential problems with their partners.

Maybe they should.

Lawsuits between shareholders of small, successful corporations are always emotionally and financially draining. But they are more common than you might think. Not every lawsuit can be avoided, but many business breakups could be made less painful if the owners reached agreements on important issues when times are good. Continue reading →

Human resources

Anyone who has seen the show knows the scenario. A group of nervous employees enter and take a seat at the boardroom table. Donald Trump and two of his top executives take turns berating the employees on their poor performance on a recent project. Continue reading →

Employee benefits

Meteorically rising health-care costs have gotten employers? full attention. But while employers focus on health care, employees fret about whether they?ve stockpiled enough for the retirement lifestyle they?re dreaming of.

Employees are indeed stressing about shouldering the responsibility for their retirement as funding has shifted from the government and employer to individual employees. Ready or not, individuals are increasingly being put in the driver?s seat to create their own financial futures. Continue reading →

Careful: Laws apply when raising money from friends, family

Does the following remind you of anyone?

You have a great idea for a new business. Terrific product, great sales strategy, right place and right time. You just need money to make it happen. Unfortunately, you are not independently wealthy, so you need some help. You ask your family to invest. They do.

You tell all your friends about this great idea and they invest. You talk about it at your kid?s hockey practice, church and the PTA and get other people to invest. All this new money helps you start your business. Continue reading →



Chris Plantan founded Russell + Hazel (named for her grandparents) in Minneapolis in 2001, and started turning out good-looking office supplies that sell for high profit margins through gift boutiques and even museum stores. With 10 employees, the shop reached about $1 million in annual revenue. Continue reading →


They hired three new employees in January at Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, the Minneapolis architecture firm, and in May will start adding two or three a month as new projects get underway. Continue reading →


Paul Steinhauser believes that the supposed conflict between economic growth and the environment is a myth. He?s the general partner who built White Bear Racquet & Swim Club in 1988. By 2001, he says, the club had a good reputation with members. But Steinhauser was thinking bigger. Continue reading →


The former prime minister of Estonia, Mart Laar, is among the speakers at the PUSH 2005 Conference in Minneapolis June 12-14, an annual event about the future organized by Cecily Sommers, who owns brand agency Unit 1 Inc. in Minneapolis. Continue reading →


David Burley and his partners opened a third restaurant in mid-February, Longfellow Grill on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

Like its sister restaurants Highland Grill and Edina Grill, it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Unlike those restaurants, it has a full bar and an outdoor seating area for 60 that Burley adores. Continue reading →

Real estate

Jerry Nelson, long in the real estate business, wasn?t in love with retail when he bought in 1999 Java Jack?s, a coffee shop in south Minneapolis. ?I was nervous about the retail. Retail is a draining business,? he says. Continue reading →

Dear Informer

Try to avoid overkillwhen hiring lawyers Continue reading →

2-minute meeting

Entrepreneurs, lawyers cook up dinner at Gray Plant event About 50 business owners and their attorneys sautéed and fricasseed a Caribbean-style dinner in January at Kitchen Window Culinary Arts Cooking School’s second-floor demonstration kitchen, in Calhoun Square in Minneapolis. Under the direction of Scott Rosenbaum, executive chef, they learned to keep cooking the onions until they’re brown […] Continue reading →


Before choosing a telecom firm, sort out major industry changes

It?s a tale of an incredibly shrinking industry.

A burst of telecom mega-mergers ? most notably AT&T with SBC, MCI with Verizon, and Sprint with Nextel ? has recently dominated business news headlines. At the same time, several smaller local companies have undergone their own less flashy combinations. Continue reading →