May 2005

Cover Story

Unlikely heroes

Envision the most unlikely turnaround prospect you can for two former software entrepreneurs to try and resuscitate.

How about a 58-year-old company that distributes stodgy Old Economy wares such as steel warehobins, racks, shelves and lockers? Throw in deep morale problems and soured vendor relationships, and the scenario gets more interesting.

Such issues likely scared other prospective buyers away from Modern Bin ? The Material Handling Group, a Savage-based company that was closing its doors in the spring of 2004. The firm?s owner wanted to retire and was making plans to liquidate the firm. Most of the workers had been laid off, and salaries and benefits had been slashed for the remaining employees.

?It wasn?t a very pleasant place to work,? says Howard Stafne, the firm?s director of operations.

Sales had dwindled to about $75,000 a month, or an annual run-rate of $900,000, from the firm?s peak monthly sales in 2000 of $1.25 million or $15 million a year. And the firm was losing money. Continue reading →

Letter From the Editor

Just say yes

Dr. Gary Smith drew knowing laughs when he offered this truth about operating a small business: Survival mode is easier than growth mode, becawhen your company is merely surviving the answer to everything is no.

Can we buy this piece of equipment? No. Hire new employees? No. Get more office space? No. It doesn?t take a rocket scientist ? or a physicist, which Smith is ? to come up with that answer. Continue reading →

Back Page

Patricia May, Precision Language Services, on translating the world’s cultures

Patricia May, president and CEO of Precision Language Services in Lakeville, moves documents from any one language to any other language using the services of 2,500 translators. Along the way, the woman fluent in German and Russian gleans insights about cultures around the world. Continue reading →


Tech buyer's guide: get a grip

Steve McFarland runs a technology consulting firm, Orbit Systems Inc. in Eagan, which will hit about $6.5 million in sales this year, up from $5 million last year. So it was surprising to hear him talk at first about etiquette ? not software, tools and gizmos ? when the subject was how small companies can handle their flood of e-mail. Simple, low-tech steps can help, he says. Oh, and he eventually described some neat gadgets to boost personal productivity, too. Continue reading →

Tech buyer's guide: Telephone service

When Robb Leer was a reporter for KSTP-TV, the station took care of his every telephonic need. But when he out on his own last year, he was unprepared for the bombardment of telecom offers he was going to receive.

Leer?s needs weren?t complicated. He needed call forwarding, conference calling, faxing and other fairly basic business services. Continue reading →

And they're off

An ambitious growth plan is the common denominator for the three winning companies of this year?s Upsize Growth Challenge. Otherwise, they?re markedly different.

DeJarlais Enterprises, Crystal, is a 33-year-old family business that repairs industrial machinery in the five-state area. Mike DeJarlais, president, bought the firm from his father seven years ago, and Becky Lawrence, his sister, keeps the books.

They want to market the company?s services to a diverse range of customers, especially emphasizing the many services offered. Then, they want to identify and attract outstanding service technicians who can speak as easily with the company president as to mechanics in the shop. Continue reading →

Tech buyer's guide: Data storage

Pete Semington is no techie.

But the owner of Dunn & Semington, a Minneapolis-based printing company, used to spend a weekend each month going back and forth from home to the office in order to back up data, graphics and other materials relating to his clients? work.

?It was such a tedious process,? Semington says. ?I hated it. I was just sick of it. You need to do it. If anything happens, you have to have a way to pull yourself out of it.?

So he kept his eyes on the Internet in hopes that a better data storage option would arise. And, after researching several different systems, he finally found what he wanted in a product called the RocketVault. Continue reading →

Tech buyer's guide: Internet access

Richard Ervasti has been a musician, worked in radio and done voice-overs. But ever since the Internet came online in the mid-1990s, he?s been angling to find a piece of the business.
For the past three years, Ervasti has been designing, and is now launching, Quty.com, an Internet auction site he hopes someday will compete with eBay Inc. With a business like buying and selling items at an online auction, having good Internet service is vital. Continue reading →

Business Builders

Include “must items” to create a strong buy-sell agreement

What would happen to your business if one of your partners wanted or needed to move on ? right now?

If you had made some agreements at the beginning of your partnership, this would not be a time to worry. A buy-sell agreement doesn?t prevent succession or estate problems in the event one of your company?s owners encounters one of the three D?s (death, divorce or disability), but it can help guide you through the situation. Continue reading →


As the owner of a growing business, you have a great deal to worry about ? from bringing in new business to finding affordable office or warehouse space to putting the right people in the right positions. Continue reading →


Conducting a marketing campaign without first conducting systematic, disciplined market research is a lot like throwing darts at a wall ? blindfolded.

Doing so can be a waste of time, effort and money on marketing and lead generation tactics that carry the wrong message and are not accurately targeted. Continue reading →



After a full summer of carting kids to soccer camps and art camps and music camps a couple of years ago, Teresa Fudenberg and her friend Mary Kay duChene started talking.

?We were joking around and saying we should be able to go to camps,? Fudenberg says. She?s a marketing consultant, and duChene is a life coach. ?Women, especially moms, always have trouble taking care of themselves.? Continue reading →


Sara Ausman worked for 12 years for Minneapolis-based Marquette in private banking, until that bank and many others were gobbled up in consolidation. She joined Excel Bank, then based in Edina, three years ago. Continue reading →


The Protomold Co. Inc. has set a blistering growth pace in the United States: Sales should reach $18 million to $20 million this year, up from $10.7 million last year, says Brad Cleveland, president and CEO. The company started in 1999. Continue reading →


Mary Grant, a marketing expert who started The Guest Register in 2003 to handle responses or RSVPs for brides, likes to build relationships in which she returns the favor of a referral. That?s difficult in this case, because a bridal consultant is typically hired early in the wedding run-up, more than a year in advance, while her service comes in toward the end. Continue reading →


Following his wife?s hunch, Doug Arndt started displaying his company?s services at home and garden shows a few years ago.

His company had put in new epoxy floors, plus new flatwalls with hooks, in a number of mostly commercial buildings. But residential customers were expressing interest, too, so a 10? x 10? home-show booth seemed worth a try. One picture prominently displayed showed an aircraft hangar they?d remodeled, featuring a beautiful Viper aircraft. Continue reading →


Companies with ?stagnant inventory or non-productive fixed assets? have a new way to get rid of them: They can call the Auction Stor, a Hopkins firm started last September that sells assets on eBay with an emphasis on corporate clients. Continue reading →

Dear Informer

Getting big customers takes time, follow-through DEAR INFORMER: How can I get the attention of large-company customers? My calls and e-mails get completely ignored. DEAR LEFT OUT: Never stalk. Always prepare. Call at 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. And never say no. That’s the short answer from a business owner who’s managed to get large national […] Continue reading →

2-minute meeting

Woman’s Club networkinggroup lobs wide-rangingquestions at Yours Truly Continue reading →


More business owners take control of Web site content

Doug Campbell, CEO of athletic training machine manufacturer and retailer Airborne Athletics, remembers the not-too-distant past when he outsourced his Web updates.

Whenever he wanted to tweak the content of his two business Web sites ? www.aircatvolleyball.com and www.drdishbasketball.com ? Campbell would send text and images to Golden Valley-based Artropolis, where Web designers would make the changes. Continue reading →