An interview with Toni Amenrud, Kitchen Tune Up franchise owner
How did you hear about Minnesota Job Partners and the CLIMB program? I heard about you through a work relocation group, The White Box Club. I had contemplated starting my own business for years, but I was scared to take the leap. CLIMB (Converting Layoffs into Minnesota Businesses) gave me the emotional and financial support to do it well.
Launching a small business is a bold career move. How did you choose a franchise? I had been working on and off for years with friend who is a franchise broker. I called him to explore some options, first a Cold Stone Creamery. But he said the food business is tough. Instead, he suggested Kitchen Tune Up because I like home improvement. In January, I did my research. After a series of phone calls with Kitchen Start Up, I drove to their headquarters in Aberdeen, SD and signed a contract in mid-February. I was decisive because their new and growing franchise seemed right for me. What services were most useful for you as an aspiring entrepreneur? My Career Coach Meg was my cheerleader! She had walked in my shoes in a previous life and knew what I was about to embark on. She saw opportunities and proactively presented helpful services. All backed by financial support to help me launch my business. CLIMB paid for my LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. It provides a framework for me to design healthy, efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. Minnesota Job Partners also paid for my membership in the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce, which is a great place to network with other small business owners. I also met with consultants who helped me with branding and marketing. How do you find customers? To get customers, I have an agency that optimizes my digital presence, so I show up on searches. I also pay into a national advertising fund that does digital pushes for home remodelers. I have tried print magazines like SaveOn, which covers the eastern suburbs. I have sponsored golf holes and participated in silent auctions, city events, and regional home shows. I got certified as a Woman-Owned Business and that gives me access to bid on government-funded multi-unit housing projects. Any suggestions for other CLIMB participants? The learning curve has been substantial. My advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs is to hire someone with experience in your chosen industry. Their expertise provides better customer experiences, so they are worth the money you would pay them. We have been blessed with the best customers, but they should not have to experience our mistakes. Did you find mentors to help you succeed? Starting your own business, especially later in life, is a huge leap and commitment. I was amazed by the number of people who wanted to help me. The other program I was introduced to is SCORE Twin Cities. CLIMB and SCORE are a powerful combination. CLIMB helps you create a business plan. SCORE pairs you with a mentor. Imagine co-developing a business plan with the support of your CLIMB counselor and SCORE mentor. That would be an awesome startup team! Where are you now? Is your business profitable? It takes time to get up and running. But the startup investments we made during the first two years are paying off now. Our third year is more profitable. We now have three parts of our business: residential remodeling, multi-unit housing, and insurance claims. Our goal is to grow all three parts as equal business units with full teams. If this goes as planned, I plan to take this business to retirement. But I dream big. I have big-picture industry goals that I want to explore while still running my business. CLIMB is part of the state-funded Dislocated Worker program. We provide aspiring entrepreneurs with training and consulting to successfully launch or grow a small business. Call 612-676-3700 to find out if you’re eligible for our services.