May 2004

Cover Story

Getting a life

Karen Oman was fed up. Fed up with the 60-hour workweeks as a CPA in corporate America. Fed up with the lack of control in her life. Fed up with not having enough time to spend with her family. She knew there had to be a better way, but she also realized it would be up to her to create it.

?Professional CPAs have hard lives. Almost any other profession you go into, there seems to be a flexible way to make it work,? Oman says.

(In a 2003 poll by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 31 percent of CPAs said they worked more than 50 hours a week, with another 28 percent putting in closer to 60 hours.)

?I was working long hours,? Oman says. ?In one particular job, I?d come home every night after a long day and open my briefcase at 10 p.m. and close it at 1 a.m. My husband said, ?Quit or die.??

She quit that job and joined Cowles Media Co. (now part of McClatchy Co). as a senior financial analyst and eventually was laid off.

?At that point, I consciously decided to leave corporate America after 15 years,? says the 50-year-old Oman. ?I always said I was being pulled up the ladder, and the higher I went, the harder it was to make my home and work life mesh. Toward the end, one thing that happened was I was so distracted that I forgot about my daughter?s Christmas play and she was playing Mary. I was going like 100 miles an hour from work. I missed the whole play. I knew then that I needed to change my life.? Continue reading →

Letter From the Editor


The three winners of this year?s Upsize Growth Challenge came to the first workshop seeking advice from our panel of experts. They ended up sharing an impressive amount of wisdom themselves.

Consider the idea that sales growth inevitably slows ? one of those business truisms that sounds logical on paper but feels bad in real life. Continue reading →

Back Page

Back Page

In the last quarter of 2003, Tom Schmidt moved his company?s offices up the street from Urban Retreat, his original salon and spa business in Minneapolis, and boosted his office staff to 12 from two. He opened the Pagoda, a spa and hair salon in Uptown. He opened a second Schmidty?s, his salon and spa exclusively for men, in the downtown Minneapolis Marshall Field?s store. He plans to add a half-dozen more Schmidty?s locally before raising money and expanding around the country.

When asked how he?s done it, he laughs, grimaces, brushes his hair off his forehead, shakes his head and says, ?Let?s just say it?s been an interesting year.? He dreams about someday retiring and just doing funky haircuts again ? on dogs. Continue reading →


Upsize Growth Challenge: Workshop one

To win the Upsize Growth Challenge, the owners of three different companies wrote compellingly about the many tactics and strategies they?ve concocted to meet their goals.

One truth applies to all three winners: They have ambitious dreams for their companies and they actively pursue resources and information to help them get there. Continue reading →

Upsize Growth Challenge: GateKeeper Systems Inc.

After proving the viability of its product in one market, GateKeeper Systems Inc. now aims to diversify its customer base, cut costs and find more sources of recurring revenue.

The Apple Valley company develops systems for vehicle access control at airports, and it is one of the top three vendors of these products. Its systems are being used or implemented by major metropolitan airports in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, London, Las Vegas and Houston, among other cities. Continue reading →

Upsize Growth Challenge: Floorworx Distribution Services

David Miller built his commercial hardwood floor refinishing business to more than $1 million in sales by 2001.

Using a mantra that emphasized service and expertise, he beat out big competitors to snare accounts including Abercrombie & Fitch, the national retailer. That is Miller?s specialty: primarily retailers with wood floors that others ignore becathey?re too small or awkwardly shaped. Continue reading →

Upsize Primer: Employee Benefits

Susan Bjork came into Eagan-based Lancet Software with one task: Figure out a way to lower health insurance costs for the firm''s 19 employees while still providing the kind of coverage they could get by working for a larger firm.

?We had what I like to call the Cadillac of all plans,? says Bjork, human resources director for the software design firm. ?It was great coverage, but we were paying a lot of money for it. What we had to do, and what every single small-business owner needs to do, is examine the employees? needs, what they can afford and then take a look at all of the options, including the ones that aren?t the most obvious. It?s important, especially with how expensive health insurance costs can be.? Continue reading →

Focus: Mergers & Acquisitions

Scott Schneider can?t see into the future. And that can be frustrating for him and other small-business owners, especially when thinking about selling a company.

?It?s something we all wish we can do,? says Schneider, the former co-owner of TEC Interface Systems, a prosthetics designer and manufacturing firm that sold to Otto Bock Health Care?s Plymouth outfit in January of 2003.

?Instead you have to try and evaluate exactly what the future will be like for you, your employees and your company if you sell or merge,? he says. ?That can be the most difficult part for small-business owners.? Continue reading →

Business Builders


Businesses today generate ever-growing volumes of records. Corporate employees in the United States sent nearly 3 billion e-mails per day in 2000.

Although many business records have almost eternal life, people often don?t realize that their own records can come back to bite many years later. In fact, most internal documents are discoverable in litigation ? meaning that in a lawsuit, a disgruntled employee, shareholder, competitor or other opponent can get relevant documents simply by asking. Continue reading →


Scene One. Late summer 2003. It?s a glorious morning and the key executives of ABC Financial Services are looking forward to a productive annual planning session. The group meets at a comfortable off-site location to prevent the frequent interruptions that marked last year?s on-site meeting.
Each has assessed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats affecting the company prior to the meeting and comes prepared to discuss such questions as, Should the company expand into different distribution systems? Should it grow by acquisition or by internally sustained growth? What?s the company?s exit strategy? What?s the most efficient way to invest the company?s capital? Is the branding strategy working? What are the staffing needs? Continue reading →

Human resources

So you have established a bonus plan for your employees. Congratulations ? you?re in good company!

A recent study of more than 3,000 employers nationwide shows that 75 percent of organizations have some type of bonus or incentive plan in place below the officer level. This percentage has continued to rise, even through the recent economic downturn. Continue reading →



Open source software ? the kind that doesn?t come with licensing fees such as Linux, Apache and Samba ? has gained enough acceptance to support a new Twin Cities business. Continue reading →

New products

Katherine Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post and Newsweek, inspired Chris Bevolo to develop and launch a ?collaborative consulting model? called MindTank. Continue reading →


After 22 years offering eat-in and take-out dining in south Minneapolis, Broders? Cucina Italiana is adding delivery service, starting with two test neighborhoods Continue reading →


The road will be long to full job recovery in the Twin Cities, according to a new report by the Great North Alliance of Minneapolis.

In the final quarter of 2000 Twin Cities jobs peaked at 1.8 million, says Douglas Petty, CEO of the not-for-profit that works on ?critical issues affecting our region?s economic competitiveness.? Three years later, we?re below that high-water mark by 54,000 jobs. Add to that number those entering the labor force due to population growth, and another 60,000 jobs are needed to return to an equivalent employment level of the peak. Continue reading →


Borrowers who use Small Business Administration-backed loans faced lower loan caps in the first quarter? $750,000 rather than $2 million ? in the 7a program. Continue reading →


When a new ad campaign for Pagoda in Minneapolis drew complaints, co-owner Tom Schmidt didn?t panic. Continue reading →


Greg Hennes, CEO of Art Holdings Inc. in Golden Valley, was reassured after an early March meeting in Chicago with fellow vendors and Marshall Field?s execs. Continue reading →

Dear Informer

DEAR INFORMER: My orders are growing for products that we install in customers? homes. But too much time is spent on return trips to make adjustments that should have been caught earlier. Any ideas?

DEAR quality control: First, hooray on your growing business! It?s not unusual for quality problems to grow along with revenue, especially during the first major surge in orders. Now, dig in quickly to find out which jobs are going wrong and why. Continue reading →

2-minute meeting

?Ain?t no party like a storage administrator party. Woo-oop. Woo-oop.? So joked an actress from Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop, hired to fire up the crowd at Compellent Technologies Inc. launch party in February at the gorgeous Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Continue reading →


Service should take precedence over costs, technology

"Service, service, service, with some service on the side." That's what small-business owners should expect from their Internet Service Provider (ISP), says Bil MacLeslie, general manager of Minneapolis-based Visi.com, an ISP.

Don't get distracted comparing costs or caught up with the technology; those are secondary issues. ISPs should be regarded no differently than a diaper service or a lawn care service, he says. At the end of the day, small businesses will benefit from a provider that offers high-quality maintenance and responds quickly when there's a problem to be fixed or a question to be answered, he says. Continue reading →