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Harry's Gang: 'Hidden Gems' podcasts highlight work of area small businesses

Maybe you’ve noticed the “Hidden Gems” series on Facebook or seen them on CAT-7 more recently. You can also find them on their website, TheHiddenGemsofCloquet.com. It’s a salute to local small businesses, produced by Holly Hansen and Shelly Peterson, focusing on the small businesses of Cloquet that make up the backbone of our local economic vitality. Each segment is about two minutes long, featuring a local small business.

Holly Hansen is Cloquet’s economic development director, and also the administrator of Cloquet’s Economic Development Agency. Her office is coordinating the programs with Shelly Peterson, a longtime member of the EDA during her time leading the regional offices for Boldt Construction. Shelly has now started a new communications and consulting company called Promoting Me, LLC, which helps small businesses develop a communications strategy. Her company is donating her time and energy to the project. Shelly and Holly are co-hosts of the programs, a sort of “Laverne and Shirley” for Cloquet’s small businesses, if you will.

“Hidden Gems” features many of the small businesses some of you have known about and patronized for years, but which may be unknown to many of us.

Walmart, for example, doesn’t need an appearance on “Hidden Gems.” Sara’s Vac Shack, on the other hand, may be completely unknown to some in the community. I’ve been buying vacuums and supplies from them for years, but Shelly said she had no idea what the store was until she interviewed owners Sara McAuliffe and Lloyd Nohl. She discovered a business that not only sells vacuums, but services and supplies them as well. “I had seen the sign but it never registered what they were doing, until I did the segment with them,” Shelly told me the other day. “Did you know they’ll give you a loaner vacuum when you bring yours in for repairs, and offer their own warranty on new vacuums? I didn’t know that,” she said.

Shelly started these programs for that same exact reason: many people may have seen a local business’ storefront or advertisement but don’t really have a complete understanding of what that business does. “Hidden Gems” is designed to change that. “We spend some time interviewing the owners and managers and employees, and then Holly and I put together a discussion video so that others can find out what these businesses are all about,” she said. When I mentioned to her that I’ve been a Vac Shack customer for years, Shelly was a little embarrassed. “I was surprised at how busy and bustling the store was when I visited. How could so many people know about the store when I knew nothing about it? Hopefully, my videos will spread the word even more.”

Promoting local businesses is a great way to promote her own new small business. I asked her what Promoting Me, LLC does, exactly. “I work with individuals and small businesses on their personal branding. Often, a small business owner is so busy focusing on their business that they don’t have the time or expertise to know how to promote that business. That’s where I can help,” she told me.

I can understand that. I practice law for a living, and I’m pretty good at it. When I started, hard work, reputation and word of mouth was sufficient to grow a small law firm. I’ve been lucky — I sure wouldn’t want to start my own law firm today. With all the options available now, you need to have a plan to promote your business or you risk not having any customers. That’s where Shelley’s new business comes in.

“I provide a 30,000-foot overview of your business. After looking at it from a new point of view, I can apply my own experience in business to yours, and advise and consult with you on how to market and brand yourself,” she said. It sounds an awful lot like what you’d expect a promoter to say, except Shelly has the chops to back it up. She’s owned several successful small businesses, from a popular bar/restaurant to a set of storage facilities, all while working full-time for Boldt. Shelley has made comments to me in the past about my pizza restaurant, and I always give her opinions some credence. She’s pretty good at what she does, after all.

And I do love the “Hidden Gems ” series. Having Shelly donate her time to promote local businesses is great for our community. In a time where ordering goods and services from the internet is more popular than ever, it’s nice to see some smart business people show the value of supporting our local businesses.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].