Steve Kettenhoven has been so busy filling orders for his new business, Against the Grain Woodworking LLC, that his Facebook page hasn’t been updated and he’s still trying to get a website completed.
Kettenhoven, whose shop is in Clintonville, knows he should be spending time on marketing, but it’s difficult to find the time when he has already developed a following.
“I learned from Amy (Amy Pietsch, director of the Fox Valley Technical College Venture Center) that I need to get out there with my marketing,” Kettenhoven said. “She was fantastic and so knowledgeable; she helped me look at the competition and estimate what the market for my product is and how to develop a plan.”
The marketing plan was part of a full business plan that Pietsch helped Kettenhoven with. Kettenhoven, who has disabilities, needed the plan to obtain funding from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
“I have always been a numbers guy, but running a business is totally different than working at a business,” he said. “Putting the business plan together showed me what I needed to do to be successful, and also to justify that to the DVR.”
His plan isn’t overly aggressive. It calls for a three- to five-year period of growth to reach a break-even point, but with the initial demand, he is hoping it will be sooner.
To help toward that goal, he recently purchased a new CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine that will allow him to do more intricate designs and to do them faster. He said he has spent every spare minute trying to master the process as he also works on fulfilling a large order for customized cutting boards.
Although the cutting boards are most popular now, that changes as diverse orders flood in. He finds himself crafting customized signs, tiles, wall hangings and an array of other items. He works with wood and ceramic with sizes up to 16-by-32 inches.
“Anything you want — if I can put it into my software, I can make it,” Kettenhoven said. “If you have a picture of a family pet or vacation, or something you want a memory of, or a sign you can’t buy in a store, I can do that. This isn’t something you buy in a big box store.”
As a business owner, he says his strength is a flair for creativity, adaptability and giving customers what they imagine. His weakness is getting distracted and spending time looking at products he can make instead of making them.
Ideas come naturally as evidenced by a varied career. Before starting this business in January, he designed and sold customized wood puzzles of animals. His first business, a few decades ago, was called Lunker Lures of Wisconsin, and he produced wood lures that he sold at area retail shops.
His love of woodworking and the outdoors has flowed throughout his endeavors.
“I am disabled but have been very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve worked at a number of jobs from camping lead at Cabela’s to hosting and producing my own hunting and fishing show, “Sportsmen’s Spotlight,” on Pulse Communications. I have traveled all over North America on hunting and fishing trips. I even drove a taxi.”
Kettenhoven is also a Paralympics luge competitor finalist and will be traveling to Denver this month to try to qualify for the national team. In addition, he is a member of the Clintonville City Council.
Now wheelchair-bound for 21 years, he looks at all of these experiences and how much he has gained. By working with diverse groups, he has learned how to deal with people, and as a result, knows the importance of customer service. That part came naturally, but it was the other areas of business that he credits Pietsch for helping him with.
If someone asks him about entrepreneurship, he is quick to recommend programs at the Venture Center or SCORE.
“Talk with a professional,” he said. “Talk with someone who has been in the business and talk with someone who can help you set up the business. There are so many things that the average person isn’t going to think of. Make sure your products are marketable and that the competition isn’t too strong.”
The business also should have a niche. Although he has competition, Kettenhoven carefully studies the competition to see how he can take something and make it unique. He recognizes that most of the competition has websites with ecommerce capabilities, and that is his next task.
“I decided to work with a marketing company and am having a website designed,” he said.
That will free his time for filling orders and lessen his reliance on word-of-mouth recommendations. In the interim, he says people can email him at [email protected] for more information.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.
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