The BBJ checks in with some familiar names and faces
For the past 15 years, The BBJ has covered countless numbers of entreprenuers as they have opened their businesses, struggled with setbacks and celebrated their successes. Many of them appear time and again in our pages, as they move from venture to venture.
We went through our musty tomes and picked out a few people who we’ve covered in the past and tracked them down to see what they’re up to these days. Here’s an update on three prominent business owners.
former owner of Ocean Kayak
Tim Niemier came to Bellingham 19 years ago to make kayaks. He said he liked the area because it was easy to start a manufacturing company here and the labor was good.
“And it’s just a great place to live,” Niemier said. “The part that I don’t like about it is that you can’t run in and out of the ocean water, like you can in California, without a wetsuit on.”
He had manufactured kayaks before in California, but it was here in Whatcom County where he started Ocean Kayak in 1988 and manufactured the sit-on-top kayak that made him famous in the world of water sports.
“I sort of introduced those,” Niemier said of the sit-on-top design. “I didn’t really invent it.”
The company quickly took off, producing 200 kayaks per day and bringing in about $6 million per year at its height. But after almost 10 years in the business, Niemier grew tired of the day-to-day management of the business and sold it in July 1997. Compared to his more recent projects, that was the longest time he has spent with one company, he said.
“I’m a good starter. I don’t really want to spend time managing production — I just want to do new things.”
After departing from Ocean Kayak, Niemier spent several years reinventing himself and what it meant to work. He spent more time doing the things he enjoys. He completed five Ironman triathlons. (An Ironman is 2.4 miles of swimming followed by a 112-mile bike ride, then a full marathon.) He traveled through Europe and took his daughter to the Galapagos. He remarried and now trains with his wife, Tracy, who also competes in triathlons and marathons.
In 2005, Niemier started a plastics molding company in Sedro-Woolley and began producing kayaks again. Though he was again doing what he loved — designing and manufacturing boats — he said he was more than happy to sell the company. He had designed the business, now called Performance Molding, so that he could remove himself once it was able to stand on its own.
This philosophy is something Niemier picked up from a book called “The Four-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss.
“This book has been a turning point in my life because it’s talking about being a true entrepreneur and getting yourself out of the business from the start,” he said. “So I’m presently working on doing that rather than frustrating myself in the office.”
These days, you can find Niemier zooming around in a 14-foot Zodiac and working away in the workshop beside his house overlooking Lake Whatcom.
former owner of Il Fiasco, and a Trillium and Haggen alum
Teri Treat has come full circle in her career.
Raised by a father in real estate, she was managing property by the time she was in college. Now, after owning a restaurant, working for Trillium Corp. and Haggen, Treat is back to her roots: managing the Gardenhome Apartments.
“I really do love it,” Treat said. “I like the freedom. It’s not glamorous — but what job is, you know?”
Some might say that Il Fiasco, the restaurant she owned, was glamorous. It opened in 1984 on Railroad Avenue and was, as Treat claims, the only three-star restaurant between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. at the time. She served Italian food and wine and said she tried hard to keep an unpretentious atmosphere while still offering fine dining.
After several years, though, Treat said she grew restless. She wanted a new challenge: “I never anticipated doing it for my entire life. I was ready to do something new and fun.”
Il Fiasco sold in 1993 and some form of the establishment continued on for a few years, but under a different name. Meanwhile, Treat joined Trillium and was working 60-to-70 hour weeks on operational projects like the Semiahmoo Resort near Blaine.
“The pace was …” Treat paused, as if to wipe the sweat from her brow. “I was really burned out when I left. But the amount of knowledge and the people that I got to work with was unbelievable.”
Treat took three months off after leaving Trillium in 2000. She then joined Haggen for a year and helped launch Market Street Catering. Besides offering her a new challenge, her job at Haggen required a mere 30 hours per week.
“I was definitely gearing down,” Treat said, “which was perfect because I was beginning to think about this development [Gardenhome Apartments] and also about having a child.”
Teri and her husband, Matt, now have a 2-year-old son named Cooper, who often gets to come and play in the office with mom. Teri is working part-time managing her apartment complex on Home Road. Once Cooper is old enough to attend school, Treat said she would like to expand her business, either by joining another property management company or by taking on more properties.
“The rental market is very strong and that’s why I feel positive about expanding my business,” Treat said.
Frank and Carol Schultz
former owners of Base Camp
Outdoor enthusiasts tend to be loyal folk: loyal to their sport, loyal to their fellow enthusiasts and loyal to their gear shop. For most locals, before REI came to town, that shop was Base Camp.
Frank and Carol Schultz started Base Camp in June 1972 — three weeks after their first son was born — in a small shop in Old Town. The business struggled through that first summer, but come wintertime, they made up for it in ski sales and from teaching cross-country classes.
“We broke even the first year, doubled business the second year, and increased by the same amount the third year,” Frank said. “Then our second son was born in ‘74, which kept us busier yet.”
Base Camp eventually moved across the street into a log building that Frank built himself, something he doesn’t recommend to anyone trying to run a business and raise a family at the same time. The new location, however, provided them with more visibility in the community and more room to host clinics. Thus, the business grew.
“We knew everybody in town,” Frank said. “We were teaching cross-country skiing, we were teaching canoe classes, and guiding a little bit. It sure kept us off the streets and out of the bars.”
All good things must come to an end someday. Frank and Carol first noticed a major decline in business in 2002. The Internet might have done it, they said. Some customers would come in and try stuff on, find the right size and chose a color, then go to the Internet to save a few dollars on their purchase.
“They were using our expertise and spending our time with no rewards for us,” Carol said.
In July 2003, after 31 years in business, Base Camp closed its doors for good. The going-out-of-business sale that ensued was a madhouse, Frank said. People lined up throughout the store to make their last Base Camp purchase. Thank you cards poured in from all over the community.
Neither Frank nor Carol hold ill feelings about being put out of business. They were both able retire and they now have time to catch up on unfinished projects, Carol said. Frank is going back to Western to finish the geology degree he left in favor of opening a business.
The couple is still touching up parts of their log cabin along Chuckanat Drive, which has been in the works since Base Camp opened. But don’t expect to find them there. They will probably be out in the mountains in search of snow or rock or solace.