SIFARGO – Kent’s freight business isn’t standing still, but the ‘check engine’ light is on.
With costs and breakdowns rising, Allen and Laurie Kent are grappling with the problem. On top of that, Allen was on the road all week and it took a toll on their family, which included sons Benny and Dayton.
When Benny was about to start preschool, Laurie decided to take a job in accounting to help her husband take some of the load off.
While looking for decor for her new office, she had an idea. Racing enthusiast Alan bought a plasma cutter a few years ago that can precisely cut steel for new racing parts. It is now sitting in the basement, taking up space and collecting dust. Every once in a while, they talk about selling it.
This time, Laurie asked Allen to start the machine and cut out the silhouette of North Dakota. She then decorated the shape with the word “home” and they mounted it on wood.
Little did she know then that this simple decor would quickly grow into Laurie’s Made with Love, a full-time family business that now sells signage nationwide.
After Laurie displayed a “home” sign in her office, colleagues and visitors started asking where she found it.
Laurie suggested to Allen that they make some similar pieces depicting the shapes of North Dakota and Minnesota and try to sell them for Christmas 2018. She thought it would provide “some extra Christmas money”.
That weekend, they built several plaques and posted them on Facebook.
Almost immediately, orders took off. They didn’t stop – not even after Christmas.
They decided to devote all their energy to developing a new business. They sold the trucking business and quit her accounting job in April 2019.
“Talk about a terrible leap of faith,” Laurie said.
Since then, their business has continued to expand in product range and sales. Lowry, a digital calculator, estimates that if they sell three to four signs a day for $30 a day, they’ll be successful. Since then, rising material costs and sophisticated production methods have raised the retail price to $100 a piece. Even so, they continue to sell 10 to 11 signs a day.
Laurie said they’ve sold more than 12,000 signs so far.
The idea of ”both sides” takes off
After making a “home” sign for either North Dakota or Minnesota, they received a request for a sign that included both states. These signs are great for clients who may have been born in one state but have moved to another state or still have connections there.
When they started marketing the Union State sign in the Twin Cities area, a client suggested they create a Minnesota Wisconsin sign as well. Since then, their border state logo – part of their “Home on Both Sides of the River” series – has grown into the foundation of their business.
The states don’t have to be side-by-side, or even limited to two. Saskatchewan native Laurie said they also made neighboring country signs, such as the US/Canada version.
Allen sliced out a large number of states at once, first nesting them on a diagram using a software program called CORELDraw. “My Tetris is getting better and better,” he said.
Another program converts this rendering into another file that instructs the plasma machine on how to cut the contours on the large steel plate.
The shapes are sanded and powder coated, then mounted on a variety of woods from fine-grained aspen to rugged barnwood from local companies like Hatchet and Co. in Moorehead. The text is engraved in thin vinyl that looks almost like engraving.
Risk beyond the basement
The business has grown to the point where they moved from their basement to a store in the West Fargo Industrial Park.
Not only did the relocation give them more space to work, it also created a better work-life balance. “I would go upstairs with the kids and think, ‘I should really be working downstairs,'” Laurie said.
Along the way, they learned how to speed up production without sacrificing quality. Laurie smiled and showed how she used to cut wood for signage, using a small rotary saw to cut the plank in half, then flip the plank over so she could finish the cut evenly.
They now have a huge rotary saw that does all the cutting in one fell swoop. They also learned that burning the edges of wood is faster than staining them and producing the same look.
Despite these shortcuts, there is still a lot of manual work in the 12 or so signs they produce every day.
Steel and wood signs are well made and sturdy, weighing in at 15 lbs for the large size. “It’s not your hobby hall offline, cardboard stuff,” Laurie said. “We’re both very picky.”
Larger ones with their logo on barnwood range from $99 to $200.
“As with all things, our costs are going up,” Allen said. “We’ve tripled our steel, so it’s a little hard to accept.”
Their custom logos can also be found at Ball Corporation, True North Church and Duane’s Pizza.
They are very busy now.
“We’re in such a tricky place,” Laurie said. “We could really hire a full-time person, but at the same time, if we hire a full-time person, less food goes into my kids’ mouths. . There’s a lot to try and figure out. “
So for now, they’re going to keep it mum and pop and make those orders when they roll in.
And thankful they kept that plasma machine.
“I’m glad he didn’t sell it when I told him,” Laurie said with a smile.
Find their wares at madewithlovebylaurie.com, Minn-Dak Market in West Acres, Simply Swag ND and Red River Coffee Co. in Fargo.
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