Shoreview-based Deluxe Corp., valued by stock market investors at $3.3 billion, began a century ago with a dream and a $300 loan.
Deluxe became a larger business over the years through its check-printing business.
As the check-printing business has declined, Deluxe's growth is driven by its small-business services division, providing financial forms, website services, search engine marketing and more to a growing list of small-business customers.
And, in an innovative twist on the 100th corporate anniversary theme that usually involves a lot of intramural history, Deluxe has launched www.SmallBusinessRevolution.org, a look at 100 small businesses this year through mini-documentaries and photo essays that celebrate small businesses and the impact they have on their communities around the country.
It made sense to Deluxe because it was once a small business and its customers tend to be small businesses, which still account for most of America's commercial enterprises, its employees and a lot of the economic-and-innovative juice that lubricates the economy.
"We felt this was appropriate this year because we wanted to honor the business we serve rather than just focus on our history," said Amanda Brinkman, the chief brand and communications officer for Deluxe. "Small business plays an important role. We wanted to help create this revolution to celebrate and support small businesses. So we set out to find creative stories around the country.
"Some may be our customers, but we're not using that as a filter. We wanted more importantly to choose businesses that have great stories to tell. The campaign will culminate with a 22-minute documentary in September that will tell the stories of the remarkable impact of small-business America."
The first video is of Kim Bartmann, the veteran Twin Cities restaurateur who last year opened Tiny Diner, a 56-seat restaurant that's received good reviews for its zesty approach to standard American fare and which resurrected an abandoned gas station site on E. 38th Street that straddles the Bancroft and Powderhorn neighborhoods of south Minneapolis.
Bartmann, who owns a total of eight Minneapolis restaurants, spent a year talking her reluctant banker into Tiny Diner. And she needed a friend to put in some equity to get the project rolling.
The acquisition-to-redevelopment costs were about $500,000 for a new restaurant that fits well in a generations-old neighborhood. That's in addition to an outdoor patio topped by a $250,000 solar array that's making a nice dent in Bartmann's monthly electric bill.
"I'll get back 90 percent of that cost over time [through Xcel rebates and tax credits]," Bartmann said. "Otherwise, I lack risk aversion. I just tend to move ahead. But I was sure about this restaurant. I always listen to the neighbors. And I was sure the neighborhood people would enjoy and support this place. I don't know St. Paul or the suburbs. But I know Minneapolis and the neighborhoods pretty well.
"As a small-business person trying to set stakes in the ground in sustaining my restaurants, any sort of storytelling, anything we can get out there about what we're doing is helpful," Bartmann said. "We do quite a bit of newspaper advertising with community and entertainment newspapers. But most effective marketing is, for lack of a better term, tangential. It's storytelling about things you do and the people involved. It's not just burger-and-beer for $10. There's no story in that. People want to connect. The Internet, new media can help. But people don't come to us for pretty light fixtures.
"One couple said [Tiny Diner] in the neighborhood, a restaurant they liked, was a tipping point for buying a house in the neighborhood. We're a neighborhood connection. People come in here and stay for two hours. That's how I try to promote and do my business."