In the 1700s the word entrepreneur entered our vocabulary, meaning adventurer. The meaning has been honed over the centuries and is now widely regarded as one who launches and runs a new business. However, entrepreneurs remain adventurers at heart. Taking on great risks based on an idea or expertise one has developed in hopes of making a profit. The word “risk” should not be taken lightly here. According to statistics over the last five years; 80 percent of new businesses made it to the second year, 70 percent to the third year, 62 percent to the fourth, and by the fifth year, 56 percent were still in business.
Here are some more points to ponder, 69 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs start their businesses at home. According to the National Small Business Association’s 2017 Economic Report, the majority of small businesses surveyed were LLCs (35 percent) followed by S-corporations (33 percent), corporations (19 percent), sole proprietorships (12 percent), and partnerships (2 percent). When asked what is the best way to learn more about entrepreneurship, 51 percent said “Start a company.”
Each issue of Connect, we bring you stories of local entrepreneurs. What made them take on the risk, the adventure? Where did they go for help? And how do they plan to survive?
For adventurer/entrepreneur Brook Devenport, her foray into owning her own business was so she could do things on her schedule. A busy mom of three, time was more important than treasure.
“Early on I really liked the idea of making my own schedule, particularly around my family and their activities. As it began to evolve, it became clear that I could run the business successfully working at hours and times that worked for me by appointment, and not necessarily the typical work week Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00, which really made this business ‘doable’ for me,” says Devenport.
The niche Brook, and her husband Dan, came up with to start the business, was to take the “showroom” to customers. With a van full of samples of every variety of blinds, Brook would take her show on the road, meeting customers in the home. It was a business model that worked, even as their product offerings began to grow.
“Our niche is window coverings. Blinds, shades, shutters, drapery and motorization. We do offer custom bedding and pillows as well, but our staple is window coverings. There is constant “growth” in staying on top of industry trends and ensuring we are offering the latest services in a way that flows efficiently. Motorized options have become popular for both our residential and commercial clients. We now work with many area contractors at the beginning of the building process to include hard wiring throughout their project so that the window coverings can be motorized without ever having to charge, or change batteries,” says Brook.
Although it started out just a family affair, Blinds & More now has a team of nine people, and a physical location on Belgrade Avenue in lower North Mankato to meet clients by appointment.
The Devenports purposely have controlled the growth over the years, to make sure they didn’t lose sight of their reason for starting their own business: time management. But as the kids have grown, so has the business. Something they identify as a challenge.
“Knowing where to grow, when to grow and how to grow are some of our biggest challenges. We have had some successful areas of growth and some areas that did not go so well…balancing the risk of trying something new with the possible reward of financial and business success is a weekly challenge for us. I’m always thinking about the business, it’s hard to turn my brain “off” at times,” says Brook.
Brook’s number one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs, is to dive deep into the community you are located in. Community, she says, is what you need to support you not only financially, but emotionally as well.
“The more you are involved in our community, the more connections you have and people you know. And in a world that is constantly growing, that is never a bad thing to have. Even though we advertise quite a bit, most of our business actually comes from referrals! Our community has so many opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved in. Get involved! Over the years I have been involved with Minnesota River Builder’s Association (MRBA), Business Networking International (BNI), Greater Mankato Growth (GMG), my kids’ PTA/PTO’s and Booster Clubs.
Community involvement, they believe is a big reason for their success. The Devenports offer these groups as suggestions for budding entrepreneurs: Zonta, Women Entrepreneurs in Business (WEB), Greater Mankato Cavaliers, Greater Mankato Ambassadors, Young Professionals (YP), Rotary, Toast Masters, 1Million Cups, Regional Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation (RCEF), Junior Achievement (JA) and Realtors Association (RASM).
Blinds & More
424 Belgrade Avenue
North Mankato, MN 56003