Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Smith.
Hi Chris, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
It all began on Windows 98 MS Paint which my dad would stick me in front of when he was running machining equipment – ha, Just kidding, I won’t go back that far! Let’s jump to college – I graduated with an Associate of Arts Degree in Communication Art and Design from Central Lakes College in 2013. I was lucky enough to land a job at a screen print shop immediately. I worked there for about 5 years and grew from a production artist to leading an art team and doing sales on some huge accounts. I got to travel for trade shows and visit my largest client often ( Landry’s – “Billion Dollar Buyer” show – they own Rainforest Cafe, Bubba Shrimp, T-Rex restaurant, and a TON of other cool franchises.) I started to get an itch to own a business of my own and do more than sit at a computer. I leaped around chasing possibilities of owning a business but lots of different paths didn’t end up working out. I took on a part time job at another screen print shop for a while when I heard of a local “Destination Downtown Business Competition”. I applied with the idea of a Makerspace but with my own twist for a retail and custom job shop. I didn’t win the competition but I technically got second place. This put a fire under me… Since I made the business plan even with no money saved up I was able to open up with the help of SBDC and the Entrepreneurship Fund as we secured a micro-loan.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Our largest hurdle was literally opening up a co-op style business 2 weeks before the pandemic caused shutdowns in my state. I had to revert operations to my background in graphic design. With the help of my girlfriend Alexis Weber we were able to leverage the equipment I had in the shop and developed our own products to sell online. We got lucky with some product trends and were able to just barely keep up with all the overhead while having very little in person income. Recently I have decided I will be creating a new business called Artisan Wholesale which will be just for the products I produce, as well as, products from other makers who want to sell wholesale quantities. This will allow me to separate things and allow me to keep MN Makerspace focused on memberships and the workshop. I’m very passionate about creating opportunities for those with ideas to bring them to life and have access to the tools to do so.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I’m on the edge of that classic saying “jack of all trades, master of none”, however, I feel I am specialized in graphic and product design with a heavy crossover of manufacturing and technology. I am fluent with most Adobe products, Fusion 360 developing CAD/CAM, Audio and Video are also a passion of mine. ( It’s important to keep doing things that are “fun” focused and I do so every Monday by playing music with some close friends.) I’m also a board member for Brainerd Community Action (BCA) and Destination Downtown Business Coalition (DDBC). BCA helps non-profits and acts as a fiduciary sponsor for many community-driven projects. We also are in charge of Fourth of July fireworks, a large art and craft show amongst other things. In DDBC we focus on making downtown a destination and put on events, co-marketing and just overall try to beautify the area. I guess I’d say I’m most proud of how involved I am locally and just how many products and designs I have in people’s homes around the globe.
Any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general?
I’d say it never hurts to find someone interested in the same things as you and simply ask if you can pick their brain or even offer to intern with them. Just try to be aware of your own work and not copy what they do. Another route is to search for local clubs/groups or volunteer places to meet people. For the business side of things I’d check the SBDC government website to find your closest representative – they are often free to work with.