• Kate Rose

Fall Fun with Venture North Clients

The temperature is dropping, the days are getting shorter, and the fall colors are really putting on a show! In Northern Michigan, our local businesses have everything you need to stay cozy, eat seasonally, and enjoy autumn to the fullest. 

Here are 3 Venture North clients bringing you the very best seasonal offerings:

Get Your Honeycrisp On: Start your day at a pumpkin patch, a corn maze, or an orchard out in Leelanau and then swing by the little green building in Empire to find apples dipped in honey caramel. While you're there, sample some truffles over an espresso, coffee, or a drinking chocolate. Want something unique to do with the kids over the holidays? Schedule a "Kiddos Chocolate Making Class"! Grocer's Daughter (Empire)

Prep Your Ride: Before the roads get icy, have your heating system checked, put those rubber car mats in and install some snow tires. The folks at NAPA-certified 1st Chance Garage in Lake City can help. Dennis and his team of qualified technicians are ready to provide timely, honest, reliable, and reasonable auto repair services.

And you might just be greeted by their shop cat, Gemmy. She's a social media influencer.

1st Chance Garage LLC (Lake City)

On Your Mark, Get Set, BAKE!: Thanksgiving is around the corner and that means a lot more family to feed around the table. Fresh Coast Market (formerly Fieldstone Market and Deli) offers over 70 varieties of cooking spices, herbs and flavorings for all your culinary adventures. And if you get all your sides from their prepared foods section, your secret is safe with us. Fresh Coast Market (Traverse City)

A Chat With Kristen at 1st Chance Garage, LLC

How did 1st Chance Garage get started?

My husband Dennis taught automotive service technology for years and he was ready to be self-employed. He’s certified in engine repair, brakes, electrical, heat/AC and engine performance, among other things. I have a business degree and a history of entrepreneurship, so we opened the shop for him. I began my business planning through the SBDC and our advisor connected us to Venture North for start-up funding. Our original loan was for 4 years and we were able to pay it back in 3! We purchase the property and now we’re working on an expansion with more help from Venture North.

Paying off your loan a year early is pretty astonishing, how’d you do it?

That was really something. We just took it one day at a time, focused on treating our customers right and we were smart about our partnerships. With the help of the SBDC, we made a business plan and got answers to any questions we had along the way. We got NAPA-certified and that earned us our major equipment purchases. And when the time was right, we took the equity from the property to pay off the loans. 

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Finding qualified and certified technicians to keep up with the demand! My husband used to teach for Baker College and 2 out of the 3 programs he taught don’t even exist anymore. It’s important to find great technicians because our focus is on customer loyalty and service. We don’t pad the invoice or drive the price up because we’ll never see them again. I know they will be back and that gives us continuous business. We want people to have that dealership atmosphere without the price. So, another grant through Venture North is helping us run an ad campaign to recruit more staff.

What has been the response from the community?

There are a lot of people who say that they won’t take their cars anywhere else. Even when we’re booked up, they will wait because they trust us. Sometimes we get elderly customers or women who were taken advantage of at other shops and there’s no place for that here. A lot of folks come in to socialize because we’ve made it a nice clean space with a friendly atmosphere. There’s a second building on the property and we’re planning to expand and open a coffee shop as a “Phase 2”. And, of course, there’s also been a great response to Gemmy, our shop cat. She’s a huge hit, especially on Google and Facebook. 

How have your lives changed, running a small business?

Dennis never wants to work for anyone else again, he’s in love with the self-employed life! We’re a good partnership because he’s taught me far more than I could imagine about “the other side of the wall”, and I’ve helped him with the business side. I can’t say enough about the SBDC’s introduction to Venture North and having a good business plan from the start.

Enjoy the season and remember to shop local! - The Venture North Funding Team

37 views0 comments