Hope Olson: Artist’s unique style attracts customers across Midwest

Hope Olson: Artist’s unique style attracts customers across Midwest

When Hope Olson is asked to explain “tablescapes,” her emerging artistic style, a style quickly catching fire in West Michigan, she pauses, admits it could take a while, and then delivers an elegant, emotionally-moving description that makes you want to buy one on the spot, except she doesn’t carry around 24” x 36” canvases in her back pocket.

Olson, a Holland-based artist focused on acrylic painting, is captivating because she shows rather than tells.

Her arms are animated, she’s slowly shifting from left to right, stopping, almost visualizing a previous piece and trying to recreate it now, right here, on this table, which is fitting because tables are almost sacred to her, and as it turns out, many of her customers.

Tablescapes, in a sense, are still life paintings reimagined, emblazoned with a modern attitude.

Olson says she “utilizes altered perspective, abstracted form, and unusual color in her paintings to echo stylized designs and patterns seen printed on tablecloths, wallpaper, dishes, and stained glass, all objects that can be found on and around the tables we frequent.”

In other words, your high school art teacher might not like it.

But, get this, Olson’s typical customer isn’t an art teacher.

Or art critics.

“You have to enjoy what you are making,” Olson said. “I tend to think you paint what you want to paint. And find your people.”

Olson’s people are regular people, both local residents and out-of-state tourists. They have regular problems. Her tablescape masterpieces put them at ease. Move them. Remind them of better days with family.

Which means the walls where her artwork hangs, Button Gallery in Douglas, Mich., don’t gather dust.

“It’s been fun. I really like the results of them,” Olson said, sipping on an iced coffee, unwinding after a day of painting because it’s Monday and, well, that’s the day she paints each week. “They have been selling well.”

So we can table this discussion if you want, but why…exactly…tables?

“People sit at tables with people they love,” Olson said. “Even though there are no people painted into the artwork, there is evidence people have been there.”

Wow, I get it. Now I have to pause. That’s such a true statement.

It’s like Olson’s re-discovered a timeless truth, and with each painting she sells, shares it with one more person.

During an age of increasing screen time, over-booked schedules and declining social skills, gathering around the table is a lost art. It shouldn’t be. Maybe, just maybe, Olson’s work is sparking a quiet revolution, a return to what’s worked for thousands of years.

“At the table, we keep our most necessary and most beautiful belongings within arm’s reach: a slice of bread, a glass of water, an antique vase with the garden’s hydrangeas,” Olson said. “These surfaces provide a literal support for us to gather with our children and friends or to sit in a moment of solitude with a coffee and the newspaper. When we are nourished at a table through food, conversation, or rest, our spirits and bodies can be restored.”

Moving up by moving away

Perhaps the tablescape style, her unique spin on a traditional category, was born from Olson’s pattern of avoiding the easy and comfortable and normal path.

She draws maps instead of following them.

Olson was born in Ann Arbor but moved to the Chicago area when she was young. She has loved to paint since then, but didn’t pursue it as a full-time occupation.

As college approached, she wanted to attend a Christian school in the Midwest with an interior design major. She used a basic college search Web site and filled out all the information about her interests. Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois was her choice and the choice.

“Essentially that was the only school that came up,” Olson said with a laugh.

So she went. She majored in interior design and minored in marketing. But she couldn’t shake the feelings of her first love.

“In college I was missing painting so much,” she said.

Thankfully, she could fit in some art classes as electives. And those around her began to notice her talent. One professor thought she should do art professionally. With that boost of confidence, she began selling art pieces even while in college.

 

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Then it was time for the real world. And once again Olson didn’t let fear hold her back.

Instead of settling for a comfortable life in suburban Chicago, she decided to move to Holland about three years ago. Other than her sister, who had settled in West Michigan, she didn’t know anyone. She thought a new location would motivate her. Drive her. Spark creativity.

“I forced myself to network,” she said. “I am so happy here.”

She took an administrative assistant job in the area. And just like in college, she kept her art alive. Instead of focusing on realistic watercolors, though, her past sweet spot, she experimented with new styles and tablescapes emerged.

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Entering Art Prize totally made sense. But she hesitated.

“Really, I was scared,” she recalls.

She doesn’t enjoy driving into larger cities. Or finding parking in them.

Yet in 2016, she took a leap again and entered Art Prize with three acrylic pieces. She met other artists. Learned to explain her art work to strangers. Plus, wait for it, landed free parking.

Fast forward to 2017.

Now that Olson is represented by Button Gallery, she’s crushing it even more. Think $675 for a 24″ x 24″ piece and $840 for a 24″ x 36″ piece. Besides her unique style, she is also local to the gallery, which is extra appealing to visitors.

Looking ahead, Olson hopes her work appears in more galleries along the Lakeshore. Maybe she will get into teaching art, too. Workshops. Ultimately, she’s grateful for the opportunity to make art and share it with the world, even with a day job.

“I get to do what I like to do part of the week and that’s a win for me,” she said.

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The Rosa Pak: Q&A with Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design

The Rosa Pak: Q&A with Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design

Last month I was standing in the back of 5 x 5 Night, the West Michigan business pitch contest, chatting, eating and sipping when one presenter caught my attention.

Maybe it was because she was a parent working full time.

Maybe it was because she was pursuing an apparel business just like me.

Or maybe it was because she was suggesting her business was about more than just the product.

Probably that one.

Anyways, fast forward to the end and Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design didn’t win the $5,000 prize for her innovative Rosa Pak, a professional backpack designed for the modern woman. However, she impressed a lot of people, including me.

So I reached out and she impressed me even more.

If you are a working woman, fall 2017 can’t come quick enough. Enjoy!

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When did you come up with the idea for Parker Design?

I had a product idea before I had a company idea. The idea for a professional backpack for women, which we now call the Rosa Pak, came to me back in January. I was at a corporate event, and I started noticing majority of men carried backpacks, but majority of women either had large tote bags or carried their notebook and laptop in hand. Once I had the product idea, I pitched it to my now co-founder, Brian and we formed Parker Design. What started as a backpack transformed into a fashion brand on the mission to positively impact the world. It was a really fun experience because we went from a product, to a company name, to a real social mission around a company instead of the other way around.

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Why does the market need your company?

More and more jobs are becoming mobile and more and more people are traveling for work or have the capability to work outside the office. Most of these people are required to work or travel with a laptop. A backpack is definitely the most comfortable and ergonomic friendly, but as a woman there aren’t many options for a backpack that is functional and stylish. I realized I was sick of lugging around my laptop, notebooks, planner, etc. in a tote bag, but I didn’t use a backpack because I couldn’t find one with the right style for work. Workplaces are also shifting to a more casual setting so backpacks instead of briefcases are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace.

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Describe how your 5 x 5 Night experience helped your business.

It is very hard to get your name out there when you are just starting out. 5×5 Night allowed us to network with a broad group of people. Through 5×5 night I have continued to stay in touch with Start Garden who has introduced us to accounting services, and the accounting services then introduced us to legal services. It is so great because you never know how one connection might introduce you to another. I also met another entrepreneur at 5×5 night and we are planning on meeting up to discuss our success, struggles, and anything we can learn from one another.

You mention the #workingmom on a regular basis. How does that reality shape your business?

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My main motivation for starting Parker Design, is my daughter, Parker (Hence the company name ). I want to help people understand that you don’t have to sacrifice being a good mom to have a great career and vice versa. It is all about work-life balance. Since I am still working full time, most of my work for Parker Design comes in the early morning, late at night, or on the weekends. This allows me to still be engaged and spend quality time with Parker. It also allows me to be more focused on the tasks at hand with Parker Design because I know I do not have unlimited hours. It has been engraved in our minds that the more time we put into our work directly reflects the outcome, but I truly believe it is the quality of work and not quantity that allows you to be successful.

Anything else you would like to add that I didn’t ask you about?

I always get so inspired hearing about other people’s journeys. If you would have told me a year ago today that I would be co-founding a company making backpacks, I would have told you you were absolutely crazy. I knew I had always wanted to do something for myself and I was always trying to discover what my passion was, but I didn’t have an obvious skill like painting or cooking to pursue. I finally realized my passion was in entrepreneurship and cultivating a culture I could be proud to work in. I hope to inspire other’s like myself to take that chance and just go for it!

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Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad is different and she knows it, embraces it, and flat-out owns it.

She grew up in Holland, but isn’t from Holland. Her parents are from Chicago and she isn’t Dutch and she is absolutely cool with that.

Call it a transplant edge.

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Don’t get her wrong, though, she has a love affair with West Michigan. After graduating college, she stayed here. Got married. Bought a house. And, yes, she posts photos of Lake Michigan sunsets on Instagram.

Yet instead of simply talking about her crush, Ulstad acted on it.

Her sweet spot? The environment.

Her strategy? Firsthand involvement.

She sacrifices Saturday afternoons to pick up trash in the Macatawa River. She persuades government officials to follow sound environmental practices. She writes columns for the newspaper to educate the general public.

Not bad for a Millennial, you know, the generation that always gets criticized.

The best part is Ulstad, program assistant for the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), carries herself in a classy, sincere manner, never looking down on you, but always looking to inspire you and teach you and encourage you.

In other words, she’s hooked on positive, everybody-wins projects in the community. Simple as that. Thankfully, unlike many areas in the country, most people along the Lakeshore are too.

“I think that our area collaborates so well for the reason that in general those that live here tend to share the same value of being a good neighbor,” Ulstad said. “I think our current leaders in the community recognize that West Michigan has had a long standing tradition of collaboration and I think they strive to maintain that same spirit.”

And sustainability projects in particular are gaining traction, thanks in part to Ulstad, also a member of the Holland Community Sustainability Committee. In her view, when the environment is improved, more money, less problems.

“In general, it makes me incredibly happy to see movement on the sustainability front,” Ulstad said. “Not only is it better for the health of the planet and ourselves, but it can improve the pocketbook by opening up the door to new technologies, businesses. It can also increase ‘livability’ which draws talented young professionals as well as those who may want to retire here.”

Improving Holland one project at a time

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Which brings us to meetings.

I have been known to skip a meeting or two, unless catered food is involved, but Ulstad, she thrives in meetings, wouldn’t miss them for the world.

“I love meetings,” she said.

I shoot her a surprised look. She can explain.

“I love things that happen in them,” Ulstad said. “I love the input. I think it’s great. You collaborate. You come up with something you didn’t have before.”

Like bike lanes, she is stoked bike lanes are happening in Holland, her face literally lights up at the thought of those lines separating cars from bikes.

Or take Project Clarity, a sustainability project she is crazy proud to be involved with.

The $12 million community effort, which has already raised more than $10 million, has a goal of restoring the water quality of Lake Macatawa and the Macatawa Watershed. The lake and surrounding rivers have struggled with high levels of phosphorus for years. Which impacts water quality and recreation and commerce.

Project Clarity’s multi-phased approach is supported by plenty of local heavy hitters – the MACC, the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway, Hope College and Grand Valley State University to name a few.

“Clean water is something that everyone can get behind,” Ulstad said. “This project has been inspiring to me since its success comes from so many passionate individuals and organizations, government partners, businesses and higher education working together.”

Catching a theme?

Then there’s the Holland Sustainability Framework, a new template for the city of Holland to use when planning projects. In 2013, the city council asked Ulstad’s committee to start developing the checklist, which covers quality of life, environmental awareness/action, economics, transportation, smart energy, community & neighborhood, and community knowledge.

“Is it possible to add sustainable pieces to the project?” Ulstad said. “You can’t expect someone to think of all these things all the time.”

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And finally light pollution in Holland.

Which I know nothing about. Enlighten me, I said.

She acknowledges the pun with a smile, then explains.

Light pollution, basically excessive artificial light, affects the way we observe the night sky, can impact plant health, even animal health. New technology and designs are helping reduce the impact, Ulstad said, but those must be balanced with the public’s perception of bright street lights equaling safer streets.

One simple method to fight light pollution is Earth Hour, a global grassroots movement encouraging residents and business to turn off their lights for one hour. It celebrates energy conservation, showcases the night sky and highlights our impact on the environment.

Ulstad loved the idea, dreamed about bringing it to Holland, shared it with the Holland Community Sustainability Committee, and eventually helped organize a local event on March 25.

“I love Earth Hour because it’s completely customizable,” Ulstad wrote in a March 19 blog post for Hope College. “If your concerns are about bees and pollinators, make it about that. If you care about light pollution or wildlife habitat, make those the focus.”

Yeah, she blogs too.

Ultimately, Ulstad is a sustainability rockstar. She cares about the area. And she’s glad she’s protecting it for future generations.

“At the end of the day I’m so incredibly happy that my parents moved here 30 years ago,” Ulstad said. “West Michigan is such a beautiful place, with less traffic, a wonderful downtown and people who wave and say hello. I always wonder how different a person I may be if I didn’t grow up here fully immersed in the lake, the dunes and the forest. Michigan has a natural beauty that isn’t easily found elsewhere.”

Mic drop.

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Just Say Yes and Figure Out the Rest: The Photos of My Tulips & Juleps Marketing Extravaganza

Just Say Yes and Figure Out the Rest: The Photos of My Tulips & Juleps Marketing Extravaganza

The hot word in 2017? No.

That’s right, say no to most things, but yes to only a few important and meaningful and serious things.

I’m cool with that advice and agree with it – to a point.

However, after a recent string of events, I believe sometimes you should just say yes and figure out the rest.

Please, allow me to explain.

Back in March, I was asked to help blog about Tulips & Juleps, a Derby-themed fundraiser being organized by Tulip Time and Holland Young Professionals.

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I was flattered. Yet I didn’t think I had the time.

My day job was busy. I was acquiring new content marketing clients. I had a long vacation on the horizon.

Saying no would have been easy and socially acceptable.

But, I said yes. And I am so glad I did.

I met amazing people like Hannah Rogers from Tulip Time and Paul Marantette from Coppercraft Distillery and the ladies at Younkers of Holland.

I strengthened friendships with my man Brad Preston and Slate Owner Stacy Mulder and uber-talented Holland Young Professionals members – president Nicole Paquette and board member Kellee Kortas.

I landed amazing access to Coppercraft Distillery before it re-opened, twice, and the chance to enjoy an in-studio TV interview at WZZM 13.

However, above all, watching more than 200 people pack into Boatwerks, including many men, and raise $8,700 for the Holland Young Professionals endowment fund, that was special. Rewarding. Worth it.

So enjoy the pictures from my Tulips & Juleps journey and please, say yes and figure out the rest.

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A private, even-before-the-soft-opening bourbon tasting at Coppercraft Distillery.

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Starting to create some social media buzz.

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Coppercraft Distillery soft opening. Flowered shirts not required, but strongly encouraged.

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Nicole Paquette speaking about Holland Young Professionals, on TV, while keeping that hat out of her face. Amazing.

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This is where I told Meredith TerHaar she was with it and had it going on. Also amazing. 

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Why are we smiling? 1) We have great teeth. 2) Possibly the best 3 minute taped segment in WZZM 13 history. 

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(Above and below and below) Need fashion advice? We can help. Just let us finish some full-lengths first. 

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Gameday. Too many talented and good-looking people for one backdrop.

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Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Story By JEREMY GONSIOR/Photos by JOEL RODEHEAVER at Union Ave Creative.

It was cold, cloudy, and rainy outside, but inside the restaurant it was warm, vibrant and full of laughter because Abbey Johnston and Greg Mutch were there.

The leadership experts, both based in West Michigan, are executing an ambitious project: Inside Leadership, a transformative program featuring group learning sessions, individualized coaching, and a sweet Leadership 360 tool.

Yet they don’t seem tense or worried or afraid.

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Greg Mutch

One minute they are deep in discussion about the latest opinions in leadership development. Then, when you least expect it, they crack a joke that is so hilarious you stop writing or stop eating or almost spit out your water.

Halfway through the conversation, to those around us, it looks like old friends are having a reunion over spring break. But I have never met Mutch and only briefly talked with Johnston a few times.

Even crazier? Mutch and Johnston met only 18 months earlier.

That’s how in-sync they are, how much chemistry they have, and how motivated they are about making leadership training significantly better.

And that energy spills over to those around them, providing a group synergy that makes time fly by. I can only imagine what multiple hours would be like with them.

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Abbey Johnston

How did this happen, how did this perfect match occur?

“Work Tinder,” Mutch says with a straight face.

A moment passes and we all laugh. No, seriously, how?

Envision a movie montage with The Chainsmokers latest hit playing in the background. Then images of mutual friends. Introductions. Conversations. Johnston letting Mutch say a few words during one of her trainings. Soon mutual respect. Then a refreshing connection.

Mix that all together, shake, and add a joint passion around a unique leadership viewpoint and you have a dynamic partnership.

“I think what we found out when we started ‘work dating’ was we connected on the leadership development philosophy we take,” Johnston said. “This was pretty thrilling because, quite frankly, our philosophy isn’t necessarily mainstream. It’s transformative and revolutionary – but not mainstream.”

Disrupting the typical leadership training model

Enter the “Inner Game” philosophy.

Most leadership programs focus on the “Outer Game,” how to build external competencies – team building, collaboration, vision, etc.  Therefore, around the country every week, leaders attend a conference that appears will finally address one of these problematic areas in their life, Johnston said.

“They return from the conference – with energy – and a lot of information…and we see a difference.  We see them trying,” she said. “Then a week or two later our leaders behavior returns to the problematic patterns we were experiencing before the conference. This is a common scenario.”

And Inside Leadership has a name for it: limiting assumptions.
“It might be easier for people to understand them as blind spots,” Mutch said. “When our operating system runs with those blind spots ‘unexamined’ then they slow us down, hold us back, and create collateral damage to reduces our overall leadership effectiveness (and business results).”
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To combat this broken system, Inside Leadership reverse engineers the typical leadership development philosophy. They learn who the leader is on the inside, what is causing their ineffective attempts at these competencies, to spark action on the outside. In other words, the stronger the “Inner Game,” the stronger the impact.
“Performance is an outcome of an inner game. Performance is driven by our ‘internal operating system’: our beliefs, story, values, passions, strengths and weaknesses,” Johnston said. “We can be consistently hitting the target as leaders – making great strides – but not quite be hitting the bullseye. We can’t fully live into our leadership potential if we haven’t grasped what our potential is.”

They also believe leadership is not positional, rather leadership is influence and showing up and impact.

“In that way everyone has the opportunity to be a leader,” Mutch said.

What Inside Leadership looks like

The cutting-edge program began where many interesting projects do: a college campus.

They started offering a version of Inside Leadership at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). After successful cohorts, word got out and they decided to expand beyond the campus setting.

“We had such remarkable results from the specific program we launched at GVSU. There was a lot of energy around it,” Johnston said. “We’ve been doing other variations of leadership development with other groups and companies.  However, what we launched with GVSU had a specific format that we knew we could effectively deliver for others.”

Inside Leadership, a 4-month program already underway this spring, moves beyond the typical workshop-driven leadership training to offer a more experience-based training. Plus, there’s a community of 10 – 12 individuals formed around it.

Let’s not forget out-of-this-world PowerPoint slides.

Oh, and as we touched on earlier, drumroll please, fun.

“While we dig deep in our sessions we also have a ton of fun. Greg and I love to get ‘real’ but we also love to have a ‘real’ good laugh,” Johnston said. “I think we have done a good job with balancing intensity with a little bit of banter.  One of Greg’s values is irreverence – need I say more?”

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The fall cohort, which is open for registration now, kicks off with a 1-day retreat on Sept. 6, followed by individual coaching sessions to debrief your personal Leadership Circle Profile 360 results. Then group engagements, coaching sessions, and finally a half-day retreat. At the end, participants receive a Leadership Circle Profile 360 and StrengthsFinder assessment.

Plus they are more awake. Understand how they can grow their potential. Effectively aim their influence.

If the momentum continues, Mutch hopes Inside Leadership could expand stateside first and then even globally.

“We are exploring some additional cohorts regionally (Traverse City and Detroit), but the experience could be adapted and delivered anywhere (Ireland is on that list),” he said.

Back to lunch. Mutch jokingly brainstorms how to better market testimonials on the Web site. What if they add the signature “Mom,” after their testimonials? They don’t currently list names, it’s anonymous, so why not? Johnston cracks up, can’t stop laughing.

As we wrap up, it’s clear: Inside Leadership is blowing up. Get your autographs while you can.

“I love what I do,” Johnston said later. “I am honored and privileged every time I engage in this space. Our participants are brave and offer us endless amounts of insight and inspiration. #blessed.”

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Ryan Wenk: How ‘right person, right seat’ fuels Worksighted’s explosive growth

Ryan Wenk: How ‘right person, right seat’ fuels Worksighted’s explosive growth
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Ryan Wenk

As Ryan Wenk prepared to graduate from Northwood University, he developed a list of 50 companies he was interested in working for.

They were different sizes and different industries, but all based in Michigan. Wenk reached out to them all, eventually talking with 10 businesses, before booking meetings with about five companies in his original top 50.

One of the meetings? A relatively small tech company, with just over 30 employees at the time, based in Holland, Mich.

Worksighted.

Barry Rice, director of sales and marketing at the time, helped Wenk learn more about Worksighted’s past and future, and what potential opportunities might be available when he graduated.

Once he did graduate, Wenk had offers from companies on Michigan’s East Side, but he couldn’t quite shake his positive experience with Worksighted. So he made a phone call.

“I had a good feeling this would be a good fit for me. Quickly after, I had an offer from Worksighted – within a week I accepted the offer, graduated, and moved to Holland, a place where I knew no one,” Wenk recalls. “Looking back it is pretty unbelievable at times, in some ways I got lucky, but in a lot of ways I setup myself up for success by knowing what I wanted in a career, and being proactive to find a place that would align with my vision.”

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Welcome to the team, Employee #34.

Since that special moment nearly three years ago, a moment that seemed almost destined, Wenk has helped promote the heck out of Worksighted, a firm that has almost doubled to about 65 employees and increased its revenue to an estimated $12 million in 2017.

He’s the marketing manager now, experimenting, talking strategy, and, like everyone at Worksighted, blazing new trails. The company is only 17-years-old after all.

“Having the opportunity to develop a strategy and execute on it at this level, this early in my career is amazing,” Wenk said. “Since every day presents a new challenge, we also have the opportunity to learn something new every day. Having a direct impact on the success of Worksighted on a day-to-day basis is the most valuable thing to me – I’m enjoying the ride and loving every second of it, including the failures.”

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Image at Worksighted headquarters in Holland

Creating a job for himself

Wenk didn’t start as marketing director, of course, he had to earn it.

But thanks to Worksighted’s innovative, wait, let’s try a different phrase, employee-focused work culture, that’s better, Wenk had the leadership support to find the perfect spot for him.

Which brings us to Right person, right seat, a core company principle.

Wenk began his Worksighted journey as a sales representative, meaning he helped qualify potential clients and set appointments for senior representatives.

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Six months in he discovered, however, it was difficult to land appointments because Worksighted had a limited brand awareness. Even though marketing hadn’t crossed his mind as a full-time career path, he had marketing experience in his internships, so Wenk recognized an opportunity.

Honest, open communication is encouraged at Worksighted, allowing him to approach leadership with no worries. He pitched them the value in having a dedicated marketing person on the team – someone to align sales and marketing to build brand awareness and continue growth. He felt he should transition into it.

In other words, right person, wrong seat.

“It’s not that I don’t think I could have been successful in sales, but marketing is a more natural fit for me,” Wenk said. “The leadership team knew I was a good culture fit, and were willing to take a risk and let me develop the marketing. Eight months later, I was officially moved into a dedicated marketing position.”

Right person, right seat.

Wenk started learning marketing hands-on, just the way he likes it.

“I learn through doing things, not through reading online or in class,” he said, speaking from a conference room with an orange accent wall to his left, a slim laptop in front of him, keeping an occasional eye on the Tuesday happenings at the company. “I am given the freedom to try new things.”

What he’s selling

People. Simple as that.

Sure, Worksighted has incredible IT support services that help businesses grow by aligning their technology with their business goals. Employees manage IT services for companies and help implement new IT projects for companies.

If they didn’t take care of business there, Worksighted wouldn’t have clients in Holland and Grand Rapids and Lansing and the Detroit area. Or be opening a satellite office in the Wixom area.

That said, competing IT companies also offer similar services. So why Worksighted?

Well, Wenk is confident Worksighted’s people stack up. Their skills first and foremost. But their passion, that’s the secret sauce, my friend.

“People come to work every day and love what they do,” he said.  “The difference is the people who deliver the services.”

That leads to next-level customer service. And happy customers.

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Mike Harris, co-founder and vice president of Worksighted, touched on this during his speech at TEDxMacatawa on Tuesday. He said businesses today must deliver outcomes, not just value. And they must have a strong belief in the outcomes they care about, gain alignment around it, build trust, innovate, pull in new people from outside and then, and only then, deliver incredible outside value.

“The days of a job is just a job are over,” Harris said. “A job is a cause.”

He promoted the idea of growth through coaching, letting employees drive and figure things out, because they might just be more careful and effective in some areas than the business owner.

“Trust them,” Harris said.

Worksighted trusted Wenk to deliver on his desire to transform the company’s brand awareness. And he has. And he will continue to. He’s motivated because he’s not marketing a widget, he’s marketing people he enjoys and a home away from home.

“If you are not really passionate about what you are marketing, it’s not going to be as quality as it could be,” Wenk said. “I haven’t dreaded coming to work one day since I have been here.”

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Heather Gill Fox: Promoting economic growth, embracing Holland’s diversity

Heather Gill Fox: Promoting economic growth, embracing Holland’s diversity
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Photo Credit: Elisabeth Marie Photography

Cover photo Credit: Christina Leskovar Photography

BY JEREMY GONSIOR

It’s Tuesday and for Heather Gill Fox that means “meeting day,” an interesting, jam-packed day of, well, meetings – meetings with family, friends, organizations and businesses.

Sometimes they are back-to-back, but that doesn’t stop her from being early to the next one, arriving at the coffee shop well before the person who had ONE meeting all day.

But with everything Fox is trying to accomplish in 2017, it makes sense. She has to be focused.

Organized.

Structured.

You see, this year is truly a game-changing year for her.

First, she’s establishing herself as one of the youngest and newest members of the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Then this summer she becomes president of the Holland Young Professionals (HYP), after serving as vice president for the last year.

Two important organizations, representing two different worlds. And yet, Fox is there, bridging the gap, serving as the unofficial liaison between the groups, advocating for fresh graduates trying to become established and established businesses trying to stay fresh.

She literally lights up when she talks about the challenge, a privilege she doesn’t take lightly.

“I am excited. I am ready,” Fox said, as she smiles and raises both her hands in the air, fists clenched, shaking them ever so slightly, exhibiting genuine joy about the opportunity. “I am waiting to see where my mark is going to be.”

An overarching theme, no matter what the board: Holland is changing, changing for the better. The community is comprised of more than just white-collar, college graduates with flexible schedules, Fox said. And Holland residents are talking about challenging issues, trying to solve them, not sweep them under the rug, and in the process breaking down barriers.

“It’s cool to see that start,” said Fox, general manager at The Rental Company in Holland.

Two specific issues are especially important for Fox to address in HYP and the Michigan West Coast Chamber.

The first is establishing a strong economic base by slowing resident migration to larger cities and offering a welcoming culture to professionals interested in moving here.

“Talent acquisition is a huge concern for the area – attracting and retaining,” Fox said. “We need to bring in people from the outside.”

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Photo credit: Christina Leskovar Photography

Another big picture issue? Acknowledging and embracing and reconciling the different backgrounds present. In other words, white Dutch residents are a piece of the puzzle, not the puzzle.

“We have such a diverse community,” Fox said. “So challenging the assumption that it’s a Dutch community. There are many cultures to celebrate here.”

Life after college

Fox came to West Michigan, like many Holland “transplants,” to attend Hope College. The Rockford, Illinois native started juggling commitments early, knocking out three majors – Communication, International Studies, and German.

And, like many recent college graduates, the city she studied in didn’t seem appealing – at first.

“I kind of thought I would be anywhere else,” Fox said.

Then the Rental Company stepped in.

Her boss, Owner Robyn Allison, encouraged Fox to get involved in the community. She started to fall in love with the area’s wonderful nature and the heart of Holland, while acknowledging its pain points, in her opinion, attracting and retaining top talent, and embracing diversity and equity, as mentioned earlier. The hands-on experience changed her.

“It really helped me to buy in,” she said.

Fox began her leadership involvement with HYP as the Membership Chair, overseeing the organization’s shift from a paid membership model to a sponsorship model.

Then she was elected HYP vice president in 2016. Fox said current HYP President Nicole Paquette influenced her significantly, helping her become more confident, especially in the art of public speaking. In turn, Fox has inspired Paquette.

Nicole Paquette

“Her passion for equity and her thoughtfulness and encouragement towards everyone she encounters are just a few of the qualities that make her an incredible leader,” Paquette said. “Heather is a natural connector and it shows through in her leadership style – she’s very effective at connecting people, causes, and solutions, and HYP has been a great space for her to live that out loud and further her investment and innovation in our community.”

While the HYP board has been more hands-on, the Michigan West Coast Chamber has been more strategic, Fox said. Different, but in a good way.

“It’s definitely been a learning curve for me,” she said.

Michigan West Coast Chamber President Jane Clark said Fox was a strategic addition to the Chamber Board given her extensive involvement and leadership position in HYP.

Jane Clark

Jane Clark

“We appreciate the perspectives she brings to our Board as a successful young leader in our community,” Clark said. “She’s a graduate of our West Coast Leadership program, a regular program attendee, and our liaison to the many partnership programs the Chamber has with HYP.  We love her commitment to making our community a great place to live and work, and her passion and energy are contagious!”

Looking ahead, no matter what committee or board she is serving on, Holland can count on one attribute from her: excitement.

“I am really excited to see where the community is headed and be part of the voice for young professionals,” she said.

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Slate: Masculine, modern and exactly what Grand Rapids men need

Slate: Masculine, modern and exactly what Grand Rapids men need

slate

Walking south down Ionia Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids has been remarkably familiar for a while.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Buffalo Wild Wings. Hopcat.

All great places, but all familiar, offering familiar pub food, familiar beer, and familiar decor.

Three months ago, however, a new business entered the neighborhood and familiar is the last word used to describe it.

Open the door to Slate, 44 Ionia Ave SW Suite #2, and you are suddenly transported to somewhere far from West Michigan. Think Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Toronto, downtown Charleston, South Carolina, or wait for it, maybe, just maybe New York City. I know bold, lofty comparisons, but I have visited those epic shopping districts in my day and the store stacks up.

It’s tough and modern and edgy and chill and most notably, an escape, a breath of  fresh air for men who want to make a lasting first impression, yet cringe when they think of settling for the mall – again.

In other words, exactly what Slate owner Stacy Mulder set out to create with her contractor.

I wanted a refined, masculine feel and they totally delivered. Seeing all the inventory in the space was so fun and was definitely a “pinch-me” type of moment.

Right away you notice the shiny floors. Wood displays hung on white walls. Rugs. Couch. Exposed duct work.

And, of course, Mulder, dressed to the T, sporting fancy shoes and a bright smile, ready to provide personalized service, you know, what you have to beg for anywhere else. Slate is the best of both worlds: big-city style mixed with a dash of small-city hospitality.

Why it’s about time

Don’t worry it’s not a suit store. It’s bursting at the seams with gear you can wear to the brewpub, The Lumineers concert, or Sunday brunch with the family.

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We’re talking T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, hats and accessories. And not from brands your eyes glaze over when you read them. Express has its place, just not in Slate. What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas, thankfully. That’s where Mulder discovered plenty of brands she couldn’t live without.

Zadig & Voltaire.

J Lindeberg.

life/after/denim.

And that Grand Rapids hadn’t even lived with.

“My goal was to bring in brands that weren’t already in Grand Rapids,” she said.

Fashion-conscious men in West Michigan are searching for something different, according to Jenny Van Veen, an experienced retailer who owns Frances Jaye in downtown Holland, an independent store that offers stylish men’s and women’s clothing.

A lot of men who come into the store tell us that it’s hard to find unique and high quality men’s products in the area. I think they’re looking for clothes that are modern, comfortable, and cool but casual. We try to cultivate a collection that is trendy without being flashy, and has options for men who want the preppy look or guys with a more rustic style. We have some men’s clothes that could be worn in a job interview, and other styles that are perfect for a day on the beach or a hike in the woods.

Online reviews, which have already started to appear for Slate, seem to confirm the need and suggest Slate is succeeding at filling it.

“I’ve made several visits and attended the grand opening,” one Facebook review reads. “The staff goes above and beyond to help you out. The selection is perfect- there’s everything from tailed topcoats, to the softest jeans you’ll ever feel.”

 

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How Slate was born

Like most great things, Slate didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t result from a straight, easy path.

After high school, Mulder studied interiors, collaborative design and jewelry design at Kendall College in Grand Rapids. Those studies didn’t seem promising so she tried a more traditional approach, switching to a marketing major at Grand Valley State University.

I wasn’t a big fan of “real” school, so within the first few weeks I applied to FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in downtown LA, got accepted and dropped the classes that wouldn’t transfer. I studied fashion merchandise marketing for about a year.

Then Mulder made another tough decision: she moved back home to Grand Rapids.

I was ready to just start working. I was able to do marketing for my dad (Snap Fitness franchisee). I definitely was ready to leave LA. I just needed to figure out what I wanted to do for a career long term besides just working for my dad.

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Mulder chose to live downtown when she returned and noticed many men who worked or live downtown as well. Then a routine activity – walking her dog – sparked an interesting thought.

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“It just dawned on me that we need a store specifically for men’s casual, everyday clothing,” she said. “I have always loved shopping so it seemed like it was totally up my alley.”

And her friends and family didn’t think she was crazy. In fact, they were supportive, just like they’ve always been, Mulder said.

Slate held its grand opening on Dec. 3. It was a big deal, with Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss in attendance. Bliss said she was encouraged by what she saw.

Slate is an important part of the continued growth of our city and a great addition to our local economy. As a community, we support the entrepreneurial spirit – and we thank Stacy for joining the growing list of small businesses that call Grand Rapids home and playing a key role in the vibrancy of our downtown.

Like her friends and family, the neighborhood businesses have also been supportive, enjoying the foot traffic the store is bringing to the area.

Moving ahead, Slate is focusing on its recently launched online store and hosting events, such as Sip & Shop, where men can come after hours and shop, at a discount, with refreshments.

Mulder is thankful for Slate, the opportunity, the next step, and the clarity she feels right now, right here.

“It was fun out in California,” she said. “But there’s no place like home.”
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5 Grand Rapids bloggers to start following now

5 Grand Rapids bloggers to start following now

Blogging is an amazing way to connect with people, share important stories, and inspire people to act.

But actually doing it is difficult.

It takes discipline. Creativity. Effort.

Consequently, a lot of people start a blog and quickly stop updating it a few weeks later.

However, these Grand Rapids-based bloggers have bucked the trend. The bloggers produce stellar, actually incredible, content on a regular basis.

I haven’t met them all, but I am proud of them, proud of them for representing the blogging world, right here in West Michigan.

So… start following!

#health / #nutrition / #realfood

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1. Kelly – Kelly the Kitchen Kop

I first encountered Kelly when she was a guest speaker for my grad school class on entrepreneurship. She talked about how cool it was to be a full-time blogger. Hard, but cool. Kelly has been doing this for 10 YEARS. That’s a long time in the blogging world. She has hundreds of recipes, tips, information and resources you can, uh, digest.

 

#grandrapids / #parenting / #travel / #family

mid city love

2. Nichole Kladder – Mid City Love

I have been following this blog for awhile and, like Grand Rapids has, it keeps getting cooler. The design is crazy professional. So are the photos. West Michigan is a wonderful place to raise a family and this blog offers a unique lens… snapshot… viewpoint of what’s happening at the ground level. Here’s great line from the most recent post:

 I’m an even bigger fan of the unconditional love marriage has brought to our lives. I personally think marriage unfairly gets a bad reputation and if I can step on my soapbox for a moment, I completely disagree! Marriage rocks and Valentines Day is a solid excuse to shout it from the rooftops!

Wow. As Rob Bell would say, “So good!” Do yourself a favor and fall in love with Mid City Love.

 

#business / #publishing / #art / #creativity

chadallen

3. Chad R. Allen – Chad R. Allen.com

Chad entered my world after I heard him on The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins, a podcast with a strong audience across the country. When he mentioned he lived in Grand Rapids, I was like “must. reach. out.” I did and we connected over some crafts. Chad is full of ideas and super experienced, learning from and rolling with some of the most successful online entrepreneurs today. His blog helps creatives discover how to share their work with the world and, if they want to, get published. Chad’s online community comments regularly so that’s a nice element to follow as well. Connect with this guy before he gets too big!

 

 

#nightlife/ #events / #culture / #grandrapids

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4. Sara Visser – The GR Guide

Before fall of 2016, I considered myself fairly in the know when it came to Grand Rapids activities. Then I stumbled across The GR Guide. This blog ninja-kicked me in the face. Sara not only writes about amazing events and places in Grand Rapids, she experiences them, offering photos of her at Griffins’ games or restaurants or coffee shops or wherever. What’s different about her blog is it’s organized into short sentences under sections labeled events, local links and “my latest obsessions this week” (best heading ever). If you are looking for something to do this week, and your default isn’t dinner and a movie, check out Sara’s outstanding work.

 

#self-improvement / #habits / #women / #business / #grandrapids

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5. Kristin Jones – KristinJones.co

I am a huge fan of intentional living and self-improvement and taking control of your life. I consume that content regularly through books, podcasts, and blogs. So I was intrigued when I discovered Kristen was covering this topic locally with posts like “How to have more happiness & ease throughout your day.” Yes, please. Now her audience is more “empowered babes” but even if you’re not, she has posts like “Favorite coffee shops in Grand Rapids MI,” an extremely practical post for a professional obsessed with coffee, such as myself. Now, go, improve your life!

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Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Leaving downtown Grand Rapids, it’s easy to stop paying attention and focus on just getting home.

Understandable after a long day of work, but a mistake.

A mistake? Yeah, you read that right. There are hidden gems popping up everywhere in the neighborhoods adjacent to the ever-popular downtown. 

One of those, a place I literally just learned about it, is The Cheney Place.

Located about a mile and half north of Devos Place on Monroe Avenue, this venue is not your mother’s, father’s, grandmother’s or grandfather’s event space. It’s an urban boutique space. What Pinterest would look like in real life.

And it’s all run by a Millennial with cool frames, the Jenna Sage.

What makes The Cheney Place keep growing? Let’s hear from Jenna in her own words.

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

When TCP first opened, it was family run by a mother-daughter team. An old co-worker of mine was the first non-family employee and when they expanded she recommended me to come in and help with event coordination.

It started very part time about three years ago and has morphed into my beautiful thing I’d call my dream job. I’ve been around through the transition of owners, lots of design changes, employees changes, and growth, so really I’ve been around for it all since the venue is only 4 years old.

Right now, I’m managing the space, working with all of our clients from bookings, design elements (floor plans, vintage furniture, linens) to putting their day of team together. I also oversee our really cool team of coordinators and interns. While I love working with clients, as the venue grows, so does my role so I’ve transitioned a few times to create new jobs and even create new elements of the business.

The Cheney Place is a space truly like no other. The building is a 50,000 square foot old furniture factory… come on, that’s pretty cool! Our clients get 20,000 square feet of event space for ceremonies, receptions, cocktail hour or even just a meeting.

Even just as an empty warehouse, the space has so much potential and our clients can feel it. What’s even better is our second floor is always decked out with vintage and mid-century furniture, chandeliers and cool plants… it basically says cool vibes and take my picture (if it could talk, haha).

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

Our real asset is our team, each member is hand selected for their role. We do what we do because we actually love it. We’re in hospitality to serve people… mainly that looks like taking care of everything a bride could worry about on leading up to and on her wedding day!

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

I’ve spent the past three years working at one of the coolest venues in Grand Rapids so of course, I’ve met a ton of cool vendors. It’s really being here long term and connecting over and over again with the same cool vendors that allows me to build connections and network. The wedding industry is cool, I’ve made so many connections professionally but at the end of the day, so many of them have become friends! I think those connections lead to mutual recommendations for both TCP and other vendors!

Where are we headed? Haha… for weddings on weddings on weddings is my simple answer. The wedding industry is always changing and we like to be on the front line for new trends and cool designs and we do have a few areas we’re still sprucing up. The whole gang here and the owners, have spent the last few years building an incredible business that’s really taken off. 2017 is about doing what we love, and a whole lot of it!

 



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