Edie Ramstad owns a fast-growing business in Ada in northwestern Minnesota.
Ironically, what has become her creative, successful Weave Got Maille jewelry business almost failed five years ago because the solo entrepreneur couldn't manage its growth.
"I know how to make jewelry and we were growing fast," said the crafty maker of chain maille jump rings, kits, supplies and more.
"I was just overwhelmed," she said. "I needed help with web design, a high-end telephone system, bar codes and things I didn't know how to do. I sometimes think so many small businesses fail as the founders get overwhelmed."
Ramstad, 61, had moved to Ada from Arizona in 2011 to marry an area wheat farmer.
An energetic woman who was an experienced jewelry maker, she decided to resurrect her business in the town of 1,700, located about 45 miles northeast of Fargo.
"He wasn't going to move his farm to Arizona, so I moved to the middle of a wheat field," Ramstad said. "I needed to do something. I had taught jewelry making and tinsmithing and goldsmithing. I would teach making jump rings for chain maille. I started teaching six to 10 hours a week in January 2012. I wasn't even going to have a website."
Things got a little out of hand. And her entrepreneurial instincts overtook Ramstad. A small business was born and a few students became employees.
"By 2013, we had hit $25,000 in revenue a month, just making jump rings," Ramstad said. "A company was bugging me to make them and I started expanding into wholesale. I had four employees and I was working 60 hours. Overwhelmed and exhausted."
One Friday night in 2013, Ramstad called her accountant to say she was going to shut down the business on Monday. She wanted to work out a generous severance plan for the employees.
Ramstad was unsure she had it in her to pull together everything required to build a sustainable business that wouldn't kill her. In addition to internal challenges, the local post office was having trouble handling her volume and need for late-hour service.
Regardless of her late-Friday decision, Ramstad decided she would drive on Saturday morning to Fargo to attend a session of the Kauffman Foundation's "1 Million Cups" program for entrepreneurs to get together and talk about common challenges.
It was a revelation. Kauffman Foundation troubleshooters and fellow entrepreneurs at the meeting encouraged her and explained how she could obtain an efficient internet telephone system, deal with the postal service and more. Ramstad found solidarity and a bit of confidence.
The mayor of Ada came to see her, and Ramstad received encouraging calls from U.S. senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota after she decided to get back to work. Klobuchar has visited the business a couple of times in recent years.
The well-regarded Kauffman "cups" program of the Kansas City-based foundation, for the last six years, has worked over thousands of cups of coffee with grass-roots entrepreneurs in 180 small cities, from St. Paul to Fargo to Reno.
Today, Ramstad operates two Ada-based craft businesses that will top $1 million in sales this year, employ 16 people, including two remotely, in Storm Lake, Iowa, and in Texas, who serve customers in dozens of states and foreign countries.
"We feel like the remote employees are part of our group because we can see them and they can see us on a big monitor we have in the packaging area," Ramstad said. "One of our remote employees is trained to answer phone questions about orders and what products work best for what they need.
"We also offer live chat on our website and we're the only company in our industry that does that."
Think of Ramstad as Ada's version of a craft-oriented "Amazon" of a business.
Ramstad's creativity and drive along with internet services and valued employees have created jobs and economic value in Ada, still best known as a game, if not explosively growing, community. "We are kind of out in the middle of nowhere so we do a lot of high-tech things to survive as a business," Ramstad said. "Our software program we built is based on poster notes.
"And we support Ada. We start new employees at $12 and most make $15 to $20 an hour plus benefits. We put free movie passes into the first paycheck for the town movie theater. And we pay the monthly membership fees for employees at the Dekko health club."
Two interesting entertainment-trade customers for Weave Got Maille: costume designers at HBO's "Game of Thrones" and the Marvel's "Avengers" series.
Amazing what you can find at the intersection of commerce, drive and supportive neighbors on the windswept prairie.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.