Tim & Tami Tupy (Photo by Jonathan Smith)
For a lot of people, the pursuit of a healthy work/life balance seems like an impossible goal. For anyone balancing a career and a home life, it can be quite the balancing act. Well, imagine being the owner of two vastly different, yet both successful, businesses.
Finding a balance might seem particularly hard in that situation. For Tim Tupy running his two businesses is balanced by, well, running.
Whether he is part of a team, like in the Ragnar where he runs three legs ranging in distance from 11 to 13 miles each, or in individual races, he laces up to wind down. Experts agree that running can be instrumental in maintaining a life balance.
Let’s review what the experts say is true about running: it makes you less stressed out, it energizes you, it boosts your confidence, it eases anxiety.
It may come as no surprise to those that know him that his businesses, Liv Aveda Salon and Spa and Mankato Brewery, also help people in many of the same ways running can. The salon and spa, of course, is where people can go for services to make themselves feel better, to relax and unwind.
The same can be said for the brewery. So, while at first glance, it may seem like the two don’t have a lot in common: a salon and spa…and a production brewery, when you think about it, they do.
“Both of my businesses are in the business of helping people relax. We treat people not as customers, but as guests. We want them to feel welcome from the minute they walk through the door, whether at Liv or at the brewery. They are coming here for a reason. We want them to have that time out from life…we want them to feel like they are on vacation. We try to create that atmosphere here inside our walls.”
Liv Aveda Salon and Spa offers the full gamut of services including hair care, facial care, massages, body treatments, nail care, body waxing, even make up.
Mankato Brewery is a production brewery that makes a lager, an IPA, an amber ale, and a rhubarb sour (yes… rhubarb) year round. Plus it offers seasonal and special event beers throughout the year. In addition, the Mankato Brewery has a taproom that features 12 draught lines, bottled Craft Soda, water and views of the brew house and tanks.
“They actually are very connected as businesses,” says Tupy. “Getting your hair done or getting fresh color or a fresh cut or getting a massage, all those things can make you feel better. Same thing with beer! You might go out to celebrate or lift your spirits if having a bad day. And I’ve found although neither is considered a ‘need’ they have been somewhat recession proof.”
Balance for Tupy also comes from his partner in life and in Liv, his wife of 21 years, Tami.
In this interview, Tim Tupy talks about having one foot in each business, while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground, and how he strives to help the community he and his wife are happy to call home.
Let’s start from the beginning, where you grew up, your early life.
I grew up in New Prague, Minnesota on a small family farm. I have a fraternal twin brother. I went to high school in New Prague and then went to Minnesota State Mankato and graduated with a finance and computer science degree. After graduating, I looked at moving to the Metro area, but I really liked Mankato. So initially took a job at Rickway Carpet just so I could stay in Mankato and look for a job here. Then after a couple of months, I got a job as a business analyst with MCTC, which of course is now Consolidated Communications. After a while I moved from being a business analyst into product development for Midwest Wireless.
Is this about the time you met your wife, and now business partner?
I met Tami 25 years ago. At that time she worked at a small salon downtown called Hair Masters. One day, the owners brought them in and told the stylists they were selling the shop. At that point in her career, Tami was not wanting to start all over at a new salon. So we started to think…’hey what if we bought it?’ So it all started under Tami’s name as a sole proprietorship. It was a real learning curve for both of us. She was knowledgeable about what to do, but we didn’t really know how to run a business. It was a crazy time. We were young, we didn’t own a home yet so had a hard time getting a loan. We had no idea how to handle employees. But we did it. We got the loan, had five employees and ended up owning it for nine years.
You must have enjoyed being in that industry, as that led to your current salon, Liv Aveda.
Yes, 17 years ago in March, we opened Liv Aveda Salon and Spa. Whereas Hair Masters was in her name, Liv is a 50/50 ownership structure.
At that time in 2002, there weren’t any other spa type salons in the area. You could find hair salons or nail salons, places that offered one thing or another. But there were no full-service salon and spa. We had a vision to offer not only hair and nails, but also massage, facials, waxing, all of those services under one roof.
Again, we had a learning curve to navigate. Hair Masters was a small, one dimensional shop of 850sf. When we started Liv, we had a 3,800sf space. It seemed huge to us at the time, but we quickly realized we needed more space, so in two years we doubled in size. Then in three years after that we had to expand again. Now we have 10,000sf, with 11 spa treatment rooms. It’s a far cry from when we started with 850sf and five employees at Hair Masters!
How many employees do you have now?
We have 65 employees. We really try to help them understand you can make this a career. It’s not just a job as I think is one misconception. We offer great benefits including medical and dental, paid vacation, and a retirement plan match. I think some people don’t want to go into this industry because they think they can’t make a lot of money, but that’s not the case. There is the potential to make a lot of money doing what you enjoy but more than that, you can make it a good career that allows you to have balance in your life as well.
Plus we reinvest in our employees with continuing education. Our employees are important to what we do here so we really want them to feel valued.
Are you like everyone else…you need employees?
Yes, we are not immune to that. Right now, all of our service providers are women. Not by design of course, but that is just the way it is. That is just who we get applying. I know more and more men are entering this field and we hope they find their way to us. But for now we are all female staff.
Staffing is a challenge, we are always looking for good service providers to join our team. We try to use Mankato as a recruiting tool. You know there used to be a massage school in town, but there’s not any more. So we have to attract from outside Mankato. We tout it, and we believe it, as a great place to live. Mankato is close to the metro area, yet far enough away to have a more relaxed feel and a more relaxed pace to life. There is nothing like a three-minute commute to work.
Have you always been Aveda?
Yes, always. At Hair Masters we carried maybe three different lines for a couple months but we found it got almost too confusing for people. Oftentimes you may have three products that do the exact same thing. So, which one do you get? So when we opened LIV we quickly decided to just offer Aveda products. We believe in the products 100-percent. Even better, Aveda is based in Blaine, Minnesota so when they have owners’ circles and meetings, we always attend! We get to continually have input in the company and the products it offers. Having the headquarters just up the road saves us on travel costs because we just have to get in the car and take a short drive. It’s empowering as a business owner to know we help provide influence and have a direct line to the corporate mothership.
Like many industries, yours is constantly changing. So having that corporate mothership nearby helps you keep your finger on the pulse of everything as well.
Certainly, the spa experience has evolved and grown over the years. We started out with a full complement of offerings from hair to nails to massage. But we have added services as we’ve seen appropriate. For instance, in this last year we added lash lifting.
I know your business plan is based on what you call the Aveda Service Wheel.
Yes, we can offer the best in services, but if the overall experience is not great, then it doesn’t matter that they like the way their hair looks when they leave. It’s everything else that goes on around that service that keep people coming back.
So that starts with venue. Is the venue nice, comfortable, clean? Does it offer our guest the feeling of ‘getting away’. Next is staff. We make sure every guest is greeted when they walk in, offered a beverage and just overall personally attended to. Listening is a big part of that. Do we ask and then listen to what the guest wants? It’s part of our job to ask key questions, offer solutions, perform the service and make sure they have everything they need before they walk back out of our doors, including their next appointment.
So it’s not just about recruiting new customers, it’s about retaining the ones we have.
How does your industry weather the ups and downs of the economy? It’s been 17 years so I’m sure you’ve had to ride some waves.
During the recession of the 2008, we were somewhat insulated surprisingly. People seem to prioritize these types of services. When economic times are good, well that’s good for us because they might try new services. But when times are bad, these servcies are something people will prioritzie. If they are job hunting, they want to look good for example. And coming here can help alleviate stress they may be feeling. There is a thing called the Lipstick Indicator.
That is an actual term used by economists. Basically, the lipstick indicator is an economic indicator that suggests an increase in sales of small luxuries such as lipstick in times of recession or a period of diminished consumer confidence. People may not always want to splurge on a massage for example, but they always need haircuts!
So for many reasons, we are somewhat “recession proof.” So any economic waves we ride, really have to do with increased competition in the market. We welcome competition, and again, just try to counter it with providing not only the best service, but the best experience we can.
How do you know when to add a service and what services to add?
We’re always keeping up with industry trends and new service options. Many of the new trends come from following industry specific trade publications and attending industry education conferences. It used to be where new trends and services started in the West or East Coast areas, and we in the Midwest would start to see this influence a couple years later. With social media and other media outlets we find that the trends hit the Midwest a lot sooner. Fashion influencers are now reaching a large audience within hours of finding a new service. Lash lifting is a perfect example. We started doing lash extensions years ago, but more recently we started lash lifting to give the guest what they wanted from their lashes with what they have already and not gluing on lashes. Hair color trends are also something that is constantly changing. We are bringing in industry professionals multiple times a year to work with our team to train on new techniques and new colors.
You mentioned when you started there weren’t any other full service salons in the area. Now there are. Do you like a little healthy competition?
Competition is always great. By increasing the awareness of all the services we offer, the more likely we can get a potential guest to know who we are and what we do. We find the majority of our new guests are from referrals of existing guests. The majority of our effort goes into the current guest to make them happy and for them to refer their friends and family to us at LIV AVEDA Salon & Spa.
Now let’s switch gears a bit and talk about your other business venture, Mankato Brewery.
I had been a homebrewer for years and had been encouraged by friends and family to open a brewery. I was a hobby brewer for about 10 years before I opened Mankato Brewery so it just sort of grew from that passion. Mankato Brewery was the first production brewery in Mankato since 1967. It seems natural as my great great great grandfather opened the first Brewery in New Prague!
Oh interesting! So it runs in the family!
Yes, he, his name was Albert Minar Sr., opened Minar Brewery in 1884 in New Prague.
Just like Liv was the first full-service salon in Mankato, Mankato Brewery was the first productinon brewery in Mankato since 1967. And this was at a time before craft brewing really took off.
It wasn’t something I just jumped in to. In fact, I started my business plan for a brewery in 2010. In 2010, there were 12 brewers in the whole state. By the time I officially opened Mankato Brewery in 2012, I was number 20. And, of course, that was just the beginning, today there are nearly 200!
Tim Tupy calls his taproom the best kind of marketing there is.
You are quick to point out that Mankato Brewery is a production brewery first and foremost.
So at the time we started there were two different ways to set up a brewery. We could be a brewpub, which is where they have a restaurant that also produces beer right there on-site. We didn’t want (that), and frankly it will never be in our plans to be that type of business where food is served. When you add in a restaurant it is just a whole other ballgame with Department of Health and many other agencies involved. Our location is perfect for production and a place to stop in for a beer where it’s made. So we began as a production brewery, which means we brew and package the beer and then work with distributors to sell off premise. That’s all we did to start when we opened in January of 2012.
But by May of 2012, state legislators passed the Minnesota Pint Law. That was behind the explosion of craft brewers popping up all over Minnesota. The Minnesota Pint Law allowed breweries to sell beer on their premises if they had an on-premise license from their local municipality. The Pint Law is not about selling packaged beer, such as six packs or self distributing.
That’s when we decided to turn part of our facility into an area where people can come and try our beer. So we began operating as a small tap room. But we have a clear focus, we will never have a restaurant or offer food. Our space doesn’t support it and … we just want to focus on the beer. People can come for a drink after work, or perhaps a drink before going somewhere else for dinner. We’ve also turned into a destination for people visiting the area. More and more people are putting us on their list of places to visit. So just like with LIV, we try to make it a great experience for everyone. Many of our customers are stopping into the brewery and making a night or weekend in the community. It’s great when people come in and tell us they are in the Mankato area because of our brewery and staying for the weekend to experience all the city has to offer.
You are still a primarily a production brewery though.
Production is in excess of 90% of our business. We now work with 13 distributors and we are in all of Minnesota, except the Iron Range, western part of Wisconsin along the river, as well as eastern third of South and North Dakota. We just launched into Northern Iowa in the Lakes region. We just sort of grow out organically. Once we are doing well in an area, we just sort of branch out from there geographically.
How much do you produce now? How does that compare to when you started?
Today we’re producing almost six times the amount of beer from the first year we opened. Our flagship beer Mad Butcher IPA has been growing by double digits every year and is continuing at a record pace again this year. In August 2019 we’ve already produced more Mad Butcher IPA than we did in all of 2018. It’s also crazy what a new style of beer can do for production. This year we launched our first sour beer. We initially were thinking it would be a limited run with hopes of eventually making a year-round sour beer. So, in January 2019 we launched our Rhuby Sour, a sour beer made with rhubarb. It took off so fast with a lot of rebuys from fans that we quickly decided to make it a year-round beer. In our first 6 months Rhuby Sour has jumped to our #2 beer in sales for the year. That’s just crazy when we continue to see the amazing growth of our seasonal beers and of course Mad Butcher.
Since you work through distributors, how is marketing?
Primarily, I go to events where people can test out our beers. But really our taproom is our marketing. That’s where people can come and try different brews. Then they will know what to order when they are out and about and see it someplace.
We’re always doing nano test beers to help with the feedback. This is where our brewers can create a new beer with little risk by just serving it in our taproom. We always brew beers that the brew crew enjoys to drink themselves. Initially it was limited to just what we liked to drink as we didn’t have the taproom to lean on for our research. Today we also work with our distributors to help us with what they are missing in their portfolio and/or what they enjoy from our test nano beers. Our distributors are our partners. Locally we partnered with Tow Distributing. They do a great job working with the community as a partner and a solutions provider. We went into the business to make the beer and we lean on our distributor partners to focus on the order taking and delivery. We all focus on what we do well. That’s the key to our success.
There was a learning curve, wasn’t there, in what type of beer local consumers wanted from you?
Initially we launched with a German Style Kolsch. We really liked the beer. It was light and refreshing, but that style has a strong finish that’s true to its style. The beer originated in the Cologne region of Germany. We imported all the malts, hops and even the yeast from Germany. Seven years ago we don’t think the market was ready for a beer of that style. It looked like a light domestic beer, but didn’t have that light familiar taste. That style might do better today, but we’ve been keeping so busy with all our other beers we make. Fans are always asking, “What’s New?”. It’s a challenge to keep up with the core beers that keeps the business going, but also to stay relevant with new beers. It’s the team at the brewery that’s responsible for all new beers and everyone has the ability to provide input on new beers.
What is most popular?
Most popular is our Mad Butcher IPA. It’s a beer that we’re really known for. It’s so great to be all over the region and telling people that we’re from Mankato Brewery and they tell us, “Mad Butcher IPA is my favorite beer of all time!”. I believe this will be a big sour year for us. Rhuby is a big seller. It has real rhubarb in it and even has the red hue to it. Also, we’ll have Caked Up at the Minnesota State Fair this year again. It is super popular and production can barely keep up with the demand.
How many employees?
We have eight full-time staff and large contingent of part-time staff or as we call them, brand ambassadors!
Another big part of your business plan for both enterprises, is community service.
We are big supporters of our community. We’re always partnering with local non-profit groups to use our space at the brewery to help raise money. Sometimes they just need a space to hold their party and we partner with a local catering restaurant to offer food choices for the supporters of the non-profit. We’ve also made special beers for local groups to help bring awareness to their special cause and use beer to give the supporters something fun to talk about, and maybe take some home with them. We also do a Barks and Brews event every Wednesday in June. We partner with a brewery superfan that does all the planning to help raise money for local animal shelters. We offer the space for the event that brings dogs, beer and music together. It’s always nice to see what we do to help others in our community.
Breweries By The Numbers
Minnesota is experiencing a dramatic growth in breweries and brewpubs opening in the state. To put it in perspective, in 2008 the state had less than 10 breweries. Now, a little more than a decade later, the state has more than 170. Twenty-nine of those coming in 2018 alone.
According to growlermag.com, roughly half of the breweries that open in 2018 are located in small towns outside of the state’s major metropolitan areas.
Here are some more numbers of interest for 2018:
Barrels of beer produced: 600,000+
Beers released: 2,900+
Breweries and brewpubs in operation: 170+
New breweries and brewpubs: 29
Brewery closings: 5
According to data from the Brewers Association, here are the states with the most craft breweries:
5. New York
Minnesota comes in at number 15 on the list.
Also according to the Brewers Association, the craft beer industry adds almost $800 million into the state economy.
Liv Aveda Salon & Spa
1839 Adams Street
Mankato, MN 56001
Phone: (507) 388-1559
1119 Center Street
North Mankato, MN 56003
Phone: (507) 386-2337