Living The Dream – Connect Business Magazine
When I called out to cities and business organizations in the region to ask for business story ideas for women, I was stunned by the response. Twenty-four hours later, I had over 100 enthusiastic suggestions in my email. More came in as the week went on.
It seems that this is a story ripe to be told. No wonder when women entrepreneurs and business owners are transforming their communities and shaking up the market. You can see them crushing their targets in retail, finance, restaurants, agriculture and more.
As Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox sang, “Sisters do it for themselves.”
My dilemma? How to pick just a handful of stories from this huge group of wonder women. Fortunately, this magazine releases a new issue every other month. I hope to cover them all eventually.
This story features five female entrepreneurs from southern Minnesota. They each have unique and compelling stories of growth, resilience and celebration to share. To enjoy!
Peggy Hildebrandt, Connors Plumbing & Heating
The smallest choice can change the course of a lifetime. For Peggy Hildebrandt, of Connors Plumbing and Heating Inc. in Waseca, that crucial decision came in 1991.
“My father needed someone to answer the phone, and I was available,” Hildebrandt said. “I thought I could help out for a few weeks while I was looking for a real job, and here I am 30 years later.”
Hildebrandt was a business major with business dreams. But she found that she enjoyed working with her father at his plumbing and heating company. She spent five years learning the ins and outs of the business and bought it in 1996.
“Daddy was almost retired and he was willing to try new things. It was a nice atmosphere for me to grow up in,” said Hildebrandt. “It was just great timing.”
Today, Connors has 18 employees and an apprenticeship program to develop new talent. It supplies plumbing, heating and air conditioning to customers within a 30-mile radius of Waseca. Hildebrandt hopes to add an electrical division soon.
“We have a fantastic group of professionals,” says Hildebrandt.
This year Hildebrandt celebrated 30 years with Connors. She still applies the lessons she learned from her father: delivering a quality product, leaving customers’ homes better than you found them, and treating employees well.
“We want to be successful as a company, have a really good product,” said Hildebrandt. “But in the end we work to have a good life. We also want that for the people we work with.”
Connors Plumbing & Heating
407 5th Ave. SE
Waseca, MN 56093
Phone: (507) 835-2540
Kristi Feist, Humble Heart Quilt Shop
When the 2009 recession hit and Kristi Feist became unemployed, she decided to make her own luck. With her latest unemployment check, Feist rented a window display and opened the Humble Heart Quilt Shop in downtown Wells.
It was the realization of a lifelong dream and an instant hit with the community. Within a year, Feist had bought the property that housed her shop. Since then she has been growing.
“Every job I’ve had in my life, good or bad, easy or hard, has led me to this,” Feist said. “I feel so blessed to be able to do what I love every day.”
Today, Humble Heart has three employees and provides home decor, gifts, craft supplies and quilting fabrics and services. Her clients range from young girls looking for doll clothes to teens looking for school supplies to adults looking for fabrics and gifts.
“We’ve become the best place to find that original gift for everyone,” Feist said. “I love seeing my customers with a smile on their face.”
Feist recently bought and renovated a larger building, which she used to triple her store. The new space will allow her to add quilting classes, bus tours, and retreats in the future. It opened in 2020, just in time for Feist’s first Quilt Minnesota Shop Hop.
“Hoppers came past the carloads,” Feist said. “We had hoppers from all over the state and even from South Dakota and Iowa. There were even a few ladies from Texas.”
The shop hop was a boon to the entire city, bringing more than 1,000 people to shop and eat in downtown Wells. Multiple shop hops are planned for 2021 and Feist hopes to add even more in the future.
Humble Heart Quilt Shop
49 S Broadway
Wells, MN 56097
Phone: (507) 553-6021
Shellee Daley, Shellee’s greenhouse
“I’ve always had a love for nature, animals, plants — everything,” Shellee Daley said. “Every spring I get inspired when I am outside and see and hear how God’s landscape comes back to life after the long winter.”
For 26 years, Daley has been pouring her love of nature into Shellee’s Greenhouse in Madelia. There was no conservatory in town, so Daley asked her husband to build her a small hoop greenhouse on their farm. She opened for business in 1995.
“My plant expertise comes from more than 40 years of experience and independent research,” Daley said. “My mother always had a garden when I was growing up. I’ve kept doing that over the years, experimenting with different varieties so I can pass that information on to my customers.”
Gradually, Daley’s greenhouse expanded and took over farm buildings while adding more plants, garden decoration and lessons.
“We have a 101 year old barn that we use for all our garden supplies, land and cash register. In addition, we have turned a pigsty into a growing and shopping area. The spaces around the buildings are used to display all of our plants,” Daley said.
If it’s green, Daley has it. She has a huge variety of plants, from standard garden supplies such as annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetables to native prairie plants, certified pollinators and succulents.
Shellee’s Greenhouse’s customers are just as diverse.
“My customers range from kids picking out a plant for mom or grandma to my older customers getting plants for their urns and gardens,” Daley said. “Some come just to say hello or to stroll through the beautiful flowers. People love our little farm.”
609 W Main Street
Madelia MN 56062
Phone: (507) 642-8719
Facebook: Shelle’s Greenhouse
Nancy Wendt, The Accounting Center
Nancy Wendt discovered her passion for bookkeeping in high school and has never looked back.
“I became addicted to bookkeeping after taking a class in high school,” Wendt said. “I’ve been working in accounting ever since.”
In 2002, Wendt plunged her passion into her own business and opened The Bookkeeping Center in New Ulm. It offers a complete line of accounting and payroll services, as well as individualized QuickBooks training.
“We serve entrepreneurs and small businesses who don’t have the time, desire, or skills to set up, manage, and maintain their books or payroll,” Wendt said. “We currently have clients in manufacturing, many different service industries, retail, home healthcare, agriculture, non-profit organizations and more. Everyone’s needs are so vastly different, but ultimately they all need accounting.”
As the company grew, Wendt added two full-time and two part-time employees. She recently completed a three-year project that moved her company to a cloud-based accounting and payroll system.
Although The Bookkeeping Center sells services, its main asset is its reputation for solid business relationships based on integrity and reliability.
“The relationships we build with our customers are by far the most important part of success,” Wendt said. “Even though we are considered an outsourced service provider, we want to feel that we are as much a part of their business as their employees.”
Wendt is considering a gradual retirement from the company. She has yet to set a date, but she has prepared her replacement and, along with her other employees, ensured a seamless transition. Her daughter, Katie Wersal, will be her successor. But Wendt isn’t ready to step aside just yet.
“I’m still in love with accounting,” Wendt said. “If I hear that a customer is having trouble getting a report or finding information about their business, we can easily and usually very quickly provide the information they need. I’m glad to know we can help.”
The Accounting Center Inc.
1600 N Broadway St.
New Ulm, MN 56073
Phone: (507) 233-1301
Laura Spitzer, Indulge Salon & Spa
Laura Spitzer has always known that she had a beauty salon in the future.
“I wanted this to be my career since the young age of 3,” Spitzer said. “I got a tube of lipstick and a comb, and that’s all it took.”
Spitzer started her journey at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis and went to work at Liv Aveda in Mankato. Missing her family and hometown, she moved back to Fairmont to open her own salon.
“I was quickly thrown in. I was only 19 years old and started a business,” said Spitzer. “I remember driving to my father’s work, sneaking in to see him, and panicking. He just looked at me and said, “I have no doubt you can do this.” So I did.”
Spitzer opened Indulge Salon & Spa in 2007. Two years later, she bought the building that houses it. Since then she has been growing.
“My mom and I joked, ‘Who would have thought we’d fill the space and now need even more?'” Spitzer said. “We hope to add many more soon with an expansion project in the works.”
In recent years, Spitzer has endured difficult times. In 2019, her fourth child, Emmalyne, died at 8 months old. The Spitzer family has established a non-profit organization, Forever, Emmalyne in his memory. Six months later, COVID-19 hit, forcing her business to close.
“It was quite a challenge,” Spitzer said. “I am eternally grateful to my employees at Indulge. They dragged me through that time so we could stay as we are.”
Today Indulge has a team of 15 employees and a loyal clientele that keeps her appointment schedule full.
“The relationships I’ve built over the years with my customers and staff make my heart so happy,” said Spitzer. “There is no part of me that doubts this career choice. I am convinced that if you do what you love, it will never feel like work.”
Pamper Salon & Spa
203 Downtown Plaza
Fairmont, MN 56031
Phone: (507) 235-5266