Owner: Danny Harper
Address: 1022 W. 54th Lane
Startup date: June 10
Square footage: 3,000 for workshop
Initial investment: less than $10,000
Ever since he was a teenager and expressed a desire to build his own 12-foot wooden boat, Danny Harper has had a passion for tinkering with boats.
After years of either working for other companies or fixing boat engines on his own, Harper, 37, decided to open his own business because he thought the growth of the local boat industry was creating a demand for more repair companies.
“Everyone in the industry I talked to said they’ve been extremely busy, so I saw it as an opportunity to open up my own business,” Harper said.
A lifelong Whatcom County resident, Harper figured he would start off slow and begin building his business, but he was wrong. Less than two months since opening the business, there is a three-week wait list for Harper’s services.
“I guess some of the boaters must have remembered me from some of the other places I’ve worked, because I started getting jobs right away,” Harper said. “I’m putting in a lot more hours than I thought I would.”
While the growth in the number of local boaters is one reason boat-repair services are in demand, Harper has noticed a couple of other factors that have increased the demand. More often, boaters from the Seattle area are bringing their boats up here for service and maintenance.
“There is less wait time and it is usually less expensive to have work done up here than in Seattle,” Harper said. “I’ll probably have a lot of customers who are from Everett or just north of Everett.”
The improved technology on boats is another reason there is more demand for boat-repair technicians. Much like car owners, Harper said, boaters used to be able to work on their own boats.
“It is much more difficult for an average boater to maintain and service their boat nowadays,” he said. “There are a lot more things that can go wrong, especially in the electrical area.”
Working on boats has been Harper’s passion his entire adult life. He got his boat-repair training at the Mercury School (Hayward, Calif.) and at the Merc Cruiser school and the Mercury Electronic Fuel Injection School (both located in Burnaby, B.C.).
Harper worked as a marine technician for Hawley’s Boats & Motors and Olympic Boat Center for eight years. His most recent job was at Allweather Wood Treaters in Ferndale.
“I liked the job (at Allweather) but I didn’t want to do the traveling that was required. That’s when I decided to go out on my own,” Harper said.
Harper’s five-year plan is to work out of his shop near his home and try to have himself as his only employee. He said he’ll have a good idea of where the business stands after three years.
“That’s when I’ll know I’ve made it, because that’s when I’ll be able to tell if I have repeat customers who are satisfied with my work,” Harper said. “In the boating world, word-of-mouth is everything, so if I have customers coming back, they’ll usually have good things to say to other boaters.”
Owners: Bruce Zender, Sarah Zender, Brian Zender, Paula Zender
Address: 1350 Slater Rd., Suite 8
Startup date: May 1 (Grand opening Aug. 12)
Square footage: 6,000
Initial investment: Did not disclose
For Bruce and Sarah Zender, getting into the heavy-equipment rental business was a natural step to add to their well-established heavy-equipment repair business. For Brian and Paula Zender, it was a business opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
The two brothers and their wives have combined forces with Volvo to offer more than 60 pieces of heavy equipment for rent for residential as well as commercial and industrial uses.
“We chose Volvo because of their reputation for quality equipment,” said Brian Zender. “They are also much more fuel efficient than other heavy- equipment lines. What was important was the fact that business decisions are made at the local level. If a customer needs something we don’t have, we can get it in here very quickly.”
The Zenders felt the time was right for a heavy-equipment rental business because of all of the construction taking place in Whatcom County.
“There are a lot more people doing work on their property, and we wanted to establish a business that can help the homeowner as well as businesses,” Sarah Zender said.
Volvo Rents offers equipment from weed eaters to 50,000-pound excavators, and has 15 employees to help customers find what they need. They also take emergency calls 24 hours a day.
One of the challenges was finding a good location. They wanted a spot that had easy access to the freeway, which was difficult to find within Bellingham’s city limits.
“It took more than a year to find the right spot, but we’re very happy with what we’ve chosen,” Paula Zender said.
Already they are working on design plans for a new building near their current location. They are planning on a new building a little closer to Interstate 5 that is big enough to hold Volvo Rents and their other business, Zender’s Truck & Equipment, which has been around for more than 20 years.
“It will be much easier to have both businesses in one location,” said Sarah Zender.
Short Stop Espresso
Owner: Jessica Selfridge
Address: 4131 Guide Meridian (front entrance of Cordata Place Cost Cutter)
Startup date: July 1
Square footage: 500
Initial investment: Around $10,000
Jessica Selfridge was able to work her way through Western Washington University by serving coffee at Tully’s Coffee stand in Cordata Place, at the entrance of the Cost Cutter store.
When the coffee stand closed down, Selfridge decided it was a business opportunity that couldn’t go to waste.
“I knew the business and I understood the location, and I’ve always wanted to own a coffee house,” Selfridge said. “What I thought was needed was a unique touch to it.”
Selfridge, who describes herself as a huge sports fan, decided to go with a baseball theme.
“I decided beforehand to come up with a theme for the place because of the impression other themed coffee houses have left on me,” Selfridge said. “One day I was out in Everson and saw a coffee house with a space ship theme. It was wild. Of all the coffee places that I’ve seen, that is the one that stands out because of the creativity that went into it. With so many coffee houses in this area, I want something that people will remember.”
Along with baseball memorabilia placed throughout the coffee house, there are sports always on the television and prizes and discounts based on baseball themes. She also plans to run other specials when other sports are in season.
“I just want a fun atmosphere where people can enjoy themselves when they are dropping in to get some coffee,” Selfridge said.
Selfridge said the experience she received from working at Tully’s helped her develop a business strategy for that location. Being located in a shopping mall, the busy time isn’t in the morning, like many coffee places, but in the evening, when people are getting off work and doing their shopping.
That leaves the mornings to concentrate on developing other aspects of the business, such as the morning delivery service. From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Short Stop Espresso delivers coffee to nearby businesses.
“The delivery business really helped us get a regular customer base, which is important because a business like this needs more than just the store shoppers,” Selfridge said.
The biggest surprise for Selfridge about operating a business is how life-consuming it would become.
“I knew I would be busy, but I didn’t know how busy until I started remodeling the location,” Selfridge said. “Even so, this period in my life is the happiest I’ve ever been.”
As if Selfridge isn’t busy enough, she is also working toward a master’s degree in elementary education at WWU and plans to begin student teaching in 2006.
“My goal is to get Short Stop Espresso established and have my staff take on more responsibilities as I cut back on my hours here so I can teach,” Selfridge said.
Selfridge will be offering customers locally owned Moka Joe’s gourmet coffee, as well as locally made pastries, bagels and sandwiches.