Written by: Audrey Sochor
This is the third of a 12-part series featuring young professionals in the Blue Water Area. Each month two to three individuals (or couples) from different industries will be spotlighted.
Investors, developers and entrepreneurs are flocking to Michigan’s thumb coast, and if there’s one thing all of these young entrepreneurs agree on it’s the huge growth potential for businesses in the area. They also all mention multiple resources and support systems for current or future business owners, all of which collaborate with the others.
“It’s a blessing to be in this town at this time,” said Nate Bottenfield, co-owner of the Exquisite Corpse Coffeehouse. “I think everyone is hopeful for the next 10 years that it will be a nice, blossoming, blooming town. I think a lot of the entrepreneurs at this moment feel like we’re a part of the foundation of what it is to become.”
Nathaniel and Maggie Bottenfield
Although the Exquisite Corpse Coffeehouse has been a fixture in downtown Port Huron for about six years, it wasn’t until the winter of 2017 young owners Nate and Maggie Bottenfield took the helm.
“It’s kind of just a pretty domino-like-effect series of events that got us here,” Nate said. “Everything has worked out good so far.”
Hailing from the Avoca area, Nate first met Maggie while they were both students at SC4, but it was after he earned his business degree that things got serious. The couple ran into each other again while he was working at Red Lobster and have been together ever since.
Marysville native Maggie has always loved traveling, enough to study aboard in Germany her senior year of high school, so she talked Nate into a six month trip to Mexico, where they taught English.
While a big reason for the trip was to help people, Nate said it was “also to learn about ourselves and figure out what we wanted to do with our life. I mean, early twenties that’s a hard thing to figure out.”
It was exploring the coffee shops of Mexico that they got the idea to start their own coffeehouse one far-away day in the future. The couple returned to the states, made plans to get married and started working a series of odd jobs, including a stint managing the Anchor Fries food truck at Vantage Point.
Unbeknownst to them, someone was watching their interactions as a couple and how they handled the day-to-day stress of running a small business.
At the time Maggie worked at the coffeehouse with Patti Yunker, the original owner. A month after the couple married Patti approached them about running the shop.
“She sat me down at this table here and I thought she was going to fire me,” Maggie said. “I heard rumors she wanted to give the coffeehouse to someone else and I thought I was out of a job.”
Instead, Yunker asked about her and Nate’s future plans and if they wanted to buy it and take over. They jumped at the chance.
“She still comes in every Tuesday and makes scones and hangs out, helps us when we have questions or issues,” Nate said. “She’s a great person.”
She blazed a trail for Nate and Maggie, but the couple isn’t afraid to implement their own ideas.
Exquisite Corpse is the only fresh roaster in the area, and Maggie was quick to line up new marketing, a rotating gallery of local artists, music performers as well as hosting yoga and dance instructors for customers to enjoy.
They also collaborate with other businesses, including coffeehouses like The Raven others may think of as competition. “We believe a rising tide raises all ships,” Nate said.
Kyle and Stephanie Krueger
Kyle and Stephanie Krueger, co-founders of ReStyle Marketing, also decided working as a married duo is the thing for them. Kyle started working with local businesses on their marketing while in college, and together they started the marketing company back in 2013 to help other businesses create and manage an online presence.
“Using our business to help other businesses grow in the area is definitely a goal,” Stephanie said.
ReStyle Marketing started as a social media management company but the couple has since branched into web development, search engine optimization, e-newsletters and Google Ads.
Being from Marine City and St. Clair, Kyle and Stephanie knew they wanted to get back to the area to be near family and the beautiful water. Luckily for them, their type of work allows flexibility and can be done anywhere.
Being an entrepreneur is also 365 days a year, but that didn’t scare them.
“I think it was something we were always passionate about,” he said. “My mom was a business owner. Both of Steph’s parents each own their business. So we kind of cultivated an environment that we’d like to grow something and be a part of the community, and help other people within that community grow.”
“Everyone was very welcoming and it was very nice to start the business here,” Stephanie added. “We didn’t have any opposition or anything. It was just more getting people to understand what we do. Getting people to open up to the idea of online marketing.”
One thing the couple is proud of is ReStyle Marketing’s number one source of business is referral based. Marketing has changed so much over the years and will continue to do so, Kyle said. Having the right team to help businesses through that is key. And more businesses join their community each month.
Outside investment in Port Huron, St. Clair and Marine City has rekindled growth and excitement. “People want to start their own business and get back into the community,” Kyle said. “It’s been fun to kind of be at the beginning of that.”
They haven’t done it alone. Both of Stephanie’s parents started their businesses around the same time, facing the same challenges. It was like having their own incubator to discuss issues. They also share their successes and failures with other like-minded individuals at Blue Water Start-ups and Entrepreneurs, or the areas’ four chambers of commerce that collaborate together.
“We’ve had a ton of support,” Kyle said. “And without that support it would be tough to be where we’re at.”
Like Nate and Maggie, Matt Fernandez is also in his early 20s and relatively new in his current entrepreneurial ventures, although he’s always had the drive to start his own business, beginning with lemonade stands as a child.
In high school Fernandez started a workout facility in his garage, but that business couldn’t follow him to college. That didn’t slow him down for long. While studying at Michigan State University he started Tee Box Club and formed the idea for North Coast Golf Company.
“I kind of put my passion of marketing and golf together for my first two companies,” he said.
Tee Box Club is a golf subscription box for premium used balls and tees that gets delivered straight to the member’s door. North Coast Golf Company is an online business selling golf gloves, which will launch in early 2019.
“I would say if you want to be an entrepreneur you’ve got to be dedicated and just go for it,” Fernandez said. “A lot of people have an idea and they don’t really act on it for a while. Act on it as soon as you can. You can’t be afraid to fail.”
But definitely do your due diligence and make sure there is a market out there, he added. Get your ducks in a row. “Obviously you can grow and get better as you move on, but if you don’t have the basics in place from the start then you’re probably going to fail.”
After graduation, family, the cost of living and entrepreneurial ecosystem brought him back to town. Since moving back he has also taken on the role as manager of The Underground, a business incubator run by the Economic Development Alliance.
All five of the entrepreneurs believe now is the time to invest in the area, particularly when it comes to the downtowns.
“I think there’s been a big push for entrepreneurship in the downtown area,” Nate said. “A lot of people are leaving the north end and it’s kind of migrating back to the downtown. There are definitely some big champions that are steering the ship that way.
“With places like The Underground, The Roost and different places like that they’re really pushing for entrepreneurs to come here, stay here,” he added.
The entrepreneurs also feel they have a community and connected support system to draw upon. All five again and again name Blue Water Start-ups and Entrepreneurs, The Underground, Blue Water Young Professionals, the local chambers and the co-working space The Roost. And if they don’t need one of those specific organizations at the time, they still feel comfortable reaching out to someone from one of them and being connected to who they need to be.
“You have all these different connections from people,” Maggie said. “You’re not really lost in the water on your own.”