Small-Business Success Stories 2011

Mike Meyer

Photo by Pete Crouser

Mike Meyer of PAM's Auto.

Ten tales of tenacity, determination, and inspiration.

by Dan Heilman, Fran Howard, Ingrid Case, Phil Bolsta, and Suzy Frisch

January 1, 2012

Small businesses face big challenges. Particularly if you’re the founder, CEO, and (some days, it seems) just about everything else, you know about the interminable hours, the financial frustrations, the learning that comes only from doing (and often failing, at first). Even then, most new small businesses don’t survive more than a few years. But when they do succeed, they create new jobs, new wealth, and happier lives for their constituents.

Small businesses don’t need to create the Next Big Thing. But they do need to see an opportunity—and then possess and cultivate the desire, drive, and the right mix of hard-nosed realism and hope-against-hope optimism to turn that opportunity into a story of success.

The following 10 stories, all from companies with 500 employees or fewer, offer useful insights to other small-business owners and executives. These stories also offer something that every businessperson needs, at least from time to time—inspiration.

So read, learn, and fuel the fire.
Lavina Lau, Tom Wozniak, and Terry Commerford

Terrybear/River Of Goods

Terry Commerford’s start-ups became multi-million-dollar businesses, continually evolving with the marketplace.

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Noemi and Jose Payan with son Jose, Jr.

Tortilleria La Perla

Tortilleria La Perla thrives as the Twin Cities’ first hometown tortilla manufacturer.

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Brad Rixmann

Pawn America

Pawn America’s Brad Rixmann runs a thoroughly modern yet time-tested business.

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Mike Meyer

PAM’s Auto

PAM’s Auto has built a profitable niche from wrecked and disabled automobiles.

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Mike Nilan, Donald Lewis, and Brian Johnson

Nilan Johnson Lewis

Frugal and focused, Nilan Johnson Lewis is the boutique law firm that plays with the big boys.

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Harry Chalmiers

McNally Smith College Of Music

McNally Smith College of Music’s sound strategy has put it on the cultural map locally and nationally.

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Chris Staley, Sabin Ephrem, and Jeremy Langevin

Horizontal Integration

By thinking beyond the horizons of a traditional tech company, Horizontal Integration has doubled its revenues in a year.

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Ken and Rick Garelick

Garelick Manufacturing

Garelick Manufacturing trimmed expenses, streamlined manufacturing, and diversified its customer base to stay buoyant.

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Lisa Buckner, Michael Nelson, and Terri Kragness

Corporate Travel Solutions

Corporate Travel Solutions flies high while its competitors lose altitude.

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Boris Miksic

Cortec Corporation

Corrosion control may not be sexy, but it put Cortec on a growth trajectory few local companies can match.

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