“We Have No Idea What We Are Doing”… Really? The Special Case of Erin Elliott and Specialty Retailer Maude Specklebelly’s

Recent guest speaker Erin Elliott is the co-owner of specialty retailer Maude Specklebelly’s; located in downtown Monmouth, IL (see: http://www.maudespecklebellys.com/). While speaking to the class she did indeed say: “We Have No Idea What We Are Doing.” I do not believe this.

Maybe there was a bit of truth to this when the business first started but I think the quote more so exemplifies the fact that any young entrepreneurial venture involves a lot of trial and error and adaptation of the original business plan.

Below, class member Charles Powell tells the very special story of Erin Elliott and Maude Specklebelly’s with a focus on what is arguably the business’s greatest constant challenge; inventory management.

Prof. Gabel


Three years ago Erin Elliott didn’t think that she and her best friend Jaime Ballard would be running their own business. Together, they entered the City of Monmouth’s Retail Business Competition and created a winning business plan in just six days; something she does not recommend to anyone else. Erin, with a degree in marketing, and Jaime, a great graphic designer, together are an efficient team and have created a successful business.

Erin spoke to our class about her business and how it started and works, as well as reasons for its success (even though Erin claims “we have no idea what they are doing”). I found that inventory management is a particularly interesting and important part of this business. The buying, storing, and selling of goods in their store is interesting and says a lot about the people who run and shop at the business.

Their inventory is from many places due to the need to constantly have unique items in the store.  Erin will search online and Jaime will even go to Las Vegas in order to find the products they think will be a good addition to the store. The huge variation of goods in the store causes them to have many open lines and they have even been told by the producers that it is unusual for a store to order so many different goods in such small quantity from so many different sources. Erin believes her business needs risk and constant change to succeed. She wants Maude’s to never grow stale with the same stuff for any extended period of time.

Erin firmly believes in “where the dollar is best spent,” which corresponds with her view on what inventory, and how much of that inventory, to get. Erin is very proud of the uniqueness of the store and keeps that in mind when buying goods. Only the minimum amount of a certain product is typically bought at one time. This means no “volume discounts” but preserves the “rarity value” of the products. People who buy something from the store know that they will not see many people with the same thing. Erin does not re-order any particular item very much because after something is sold it should be replaced in the store with something different and unique.

Inventory is commonly kept at Erin’s house (if it is not in the store). She does have to take out specific insurance to be able to do this legally but it is considered an acceptable cost. An advantage of this is that with the inventory being in a place like this it can be very well managed. Because of close proximity and easy access, Erin can be in full control of everything and makes it worth most any risk associated. As we have learned in class, entrepreneurs using their own individual resources to help their business in the beginning is not unusual.

Inventory that is being sold at Maude is never just set out randomly. Erin wants people who enter the store to have a certain experience that will make them come back. This mindset has caused Erin and Jaime to put thought into everything from product placement to the smell of the store. Erin says they learned early on that product placement is important. Originally they had the ‘better products’ in the front, they happened to be on the expensive side, but the cost would scare customers off who would immediately assume everything in the store to be too expensive.

Inventory selection, storage, and selling all have obvious correlation to the owners and how they run their business. Erin had a clear goal in mind when creating Maude Specklebelly’s and has worked very hard to keep that goal clear and integrated in the store. The store has grown and prospered under the ownership of Erin and Jaime, who have stayed true to their foundational goals. They are always working to create a special experience for each customer and to keep the store unique, giving consumers rare oddities that they cannot normally find in the area. Careful thought is put into every aspect of their specialty retail store.

Charles Powell

Advanced Rehab & Sports Medicine: A Science-Business Entrepreneurial Partnership Weathering the Storm of the Volatile Healthcare Industry

The Midwest Entrepreneurs class meets each Tuesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm in the Monmouth College Center for Science & Business. According to the 2014-15 College calendar found in my desk drawer, the building was opened in 2013 to serve “as a living laboratory for learning and collaboration among multiple academic disciplines”; mainly science- and business-related disciplines.

This partnering of science and business was on full display in class this past Tuesday. Our guest speakers were Chris Byers and Mike Salaway; both 1989 (science) graduates of Monmouth College who are co-founders and co-owners of—and entrepreneurial business partners in—Advanced Rehab & Sports Medicine (based in Bloomington IL). See the company’s webpage at www.advrehab.com.

These two science majors started the firm in 1997. They are now highly successful business owners who, after a period of significant growth between 1997 and 2005, realized they “didn’t know that much about business.” Since that time, they have treated their entrepreneurial venture as more of a business and “stopped growing and became more efficient.” As we learned in class, this focus on increased efficiency could not have come at a better time as the partners in recent years have faced a highly turbulent regulatory and competitive environment wherein being successful—if not mere survival—is predicated largely on being more and more efficient from an operational perspective.

I leave it to class member Fernando Ramirez to tell you more about Chris Byers, Mike Salaway, and the ongoing entrepreneurial success story of Advanced Rehab & Sports Medicine.

Prof. Gabel

PS: If you do not know… Chris and Mike sponsor the “jumbotron” scoreboard at April Zorn Memorial Stadium and Bobby Woll Memorial Field (the Monmouth College outdoor track and football field).


This Tuesday in class we had the co-owners of Advanced Rehab and Sports Medicine Services, Christopher Byers and Michael Salaway, both Monmouth College grads of 1989.  Both presently have close to 25 years of experience in the Physical Therapy business.

Chris grew up in Roseville, IL and Mike grew up in Monmouth, IL not too far from each other. They met while playing different sports, and going to college in the same town. Michael got his degree in Biology from Monmouth College. He originally was at the University of Illinois his freshman year but studied here the rest of his undergraduate years. Chris got his degree in Biopsychology.

After Monmouth, the two present-day partners went their separate ways while going to medical school. Both Chris and Mike told us that it was very tough to get into physical therapy school because you are competing with people of high GPA’s and limited open spots no matter where you go. They said that out of the hundreds of people who applied only about 20-60 spots were open to applicants. Then it gets even tougher once in the programs. When getting in they knew they had to work hard to get where they needed to be, with vast amounts of work and volunteer hours in the practice. After graduating they went their separate ways for about 7 years.

After that time Chris contacted Mike to see if he wanted to work with him on this new business, Chris always knew he wanted to own a business so he went for it. In September of ‘97 they started their practice going to different nursing homes and agencies in Kewanee, IL. Throughout their time in the beginning they were known, according to Mr. Byers, as “P.T. prostitutes” because they would go anywhere they could and do most anything needed to help out their customers. They mainly worked on people who suffered from wounds, strokes, needing aquatic therapy, and were helping kids with physical needs, etc. One thing that they like to say about their business is that they are very “patient-focused.” A phrase they used was “treating people the best they can to make them better.”

Between the time they started the business in 1997 to about 2005 they opened 8 different clinics but were still going to different places around the central Illinois helping their clients. Business was growing so rapidly that it was getting harder to run. They had grown from having just 2 employees to 128 and 11 locations, without any prior studies or experience in business. Since 2007 they have focused on becoming more efficient, mainly by managing their staff better and educating the public about what their physical therapy business can do for them.

There are a few challenges in the Physical Therapy business that both owners have had to keep in mind. One of these challenges has to do with politics and regulations, most specifically the Affordable Care Act (A.C.A). They have been pretty lucky making the right decisions with these new policies going on. Still, they have seen the percentage of total billings actually collected decrease significantly, with a lot of the uncollected money now ending up with insurance firms and third-party healthcare administrators.

Another big challenge for Chris and Mike has been competition with the different hospitals around the area. They wanted the customers to get around the fact of going to the big doctors. They picked to work in smaller cities to compete with the local hospitals. They offer free consultations to people who come in. In these consultations, they help the customer and see what problems they have. After that they can inform their doctors and get them the proper treatment they need.

Presently, Advanced Rehab and Sports Medicine has about 1,500 patient visits a week. The average patient has about 11 total visits with them; roughly 3 times a week for 4 weeks. They say the most common injury has to do with back pain.

With their 25 years in the business they are pulling themselves out of the clinics and having more involvement in the offices in Bloomington, going from physical therapists to business managers, but they still visit the different clinics from time to time. They say that other companies have been wanting to buy them out but they say they are not ready to sell quite yet. In order to help their business, they never took money from the business. This helped them stay out of debt (and not be overly stressed out about paying back the money).

They like to help out different charities but prefer not to just donate money. When they do donate money, they like to also donate their time so that Chris—the marketing person in the partnership—can explain their business and have persons involved with the charities get to know him and his company.

Chris and Mike plan on being in the business for another 5 years. However, depending on the outcome of the current presidential political campaign, this time frame might be reduced to 3 years.

One of the last things they wanted to let us know was “don’t try to open a business on your own, there are always resources (friends, family, etc.) to help you out.”

Thank you Mike and Chris for sharing your story and time with us!

Fernando Ramirez

“Nothing is Free” – Mike Luna: McDonald’s Franchisee

In anticipation of local McDonald’s franchisee Mike Luna making his annual guest speaker visit to the Midwest Entrepreneurs class, I informed students that franchising can be seen as  a special type of business operation from the entrepreneur’s perspective wherein the entrepreneur pays fees to the parent company and receives a proven business plan to follow (but must follow the company’s rules). I also told students that another way to look at franchising is to consider it as a “limited risk” entrepreneurial option; in that there is a proven business model to follow and start-up costs for a similar operation—compared to if you were to build it on your own—are likely much lower. I added that beyond that, one must still face a lot of risk and run their business in a highly efficient entrepreneurial-like manner to be successful. More on franchising as from an entrepreneurial perspective can be found at the following link.


Mr. Luna supported my advance commentary to the students and more; with special emphasis on the imperative of running the business in a highly efficient manner. Below, class member Parker Perrero captures very nicely these and other key themes and takeaways from Mr. Luna’s insightful presentation.

Prof. Gabel


This past Tuesday our class was able to listen to a special type of entrepreneur we have yet to see, a franchisee. Mike Luna is a long time franchisee for McDonald’s, owning two McDonald’s, one located in Monmouth and one in Aledo.

Mike has come a long way since first working the window at McDonald’s as a 16 year old in 1960, when the menu only had hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, and a few refreshments. Mike described the work as being a lot harder back in the day. He would carry 100 pound bags of potatoes and prepare the fries by hand. Mike worked at McDonald’s for five years before leaving for school for another five years. While working there he said he gained most of his work ethic from his boss who taught him to “maintain discipline and better standards” at all times.

Mikes relationship with his former boss landed him a job as a supervisor for McDonald’s in Galesburg. He was later offered an opportunity to buy a percent of the store. Lucky for Mike, his former boss knew Ray Crock who allowed him to be a franchisee through a “handshake agreement.” It only took Mike three or four years to pay back his loans and start saving money himself.

As we learned from Mr. Luna, a franchisee must abide by a set of rules created by the franchisor. Some of these rules involve payment for the right to run the McDonald’s store. For example, Mike must pay a 13.25% franchisee fee and a 4% commercial fee. The franchisor takes everything off the top, not from profit, so he doesn’t get paid until after everything has been paid for. This includes labor and equipment, which makes balancing supply and demand and efficiency in operations vital. This can be stressful for Mike because he must deal with the budget the franchisor gives him each year. They base their budgets from the previous year’s sales. Mike says dealing with the franchisor can be aggravating because sometimes it’s just “a lot of wasted time and money” due to their specific requirements from year to year.

However, Mr. Luna also informed us that the franchisee gets a lot in return for the fees paid and the following of the rules set by the franchisor. He told us, for example, that McDonald’s has a very efficient supply chain and that he is provided inventory that has been checked and maintained from the point of it being planted/born to when it was shipped to the locations. “Food Safety and Customer safety” has been and always will be his number one priority. Taking care of the customer, serving the customers, having the proper amount of product, and cleaning are all also their top priorities.

Mr. Luna’s “Nothing is Free” and “Time is the most important thing you have” mottos are something he tries hard to pass along to his employees. He enjoys seeing his employees go on and be successful after working for him. He doesn’t like to fire employees and says he rarely has in the past.

Being a franchisee is no slouch job, and must be taken seriously. You have to work long and hard days to make sure the company runs smoothly. Mike has worked hard enough to be successful and says he is able to “back off” more now with his son helping out more and more. Mike manages his stress by taking up many hobbies like playing golf, cards, and going on vacation.

Parker Perrero

Love What You Do/Do What You Love: The Ongoing, Finely Spirited Entrepreneurial Journey of Susan Schuytema

A key theme of yesterday’s guest speaker presentation and class discussion in Midwest Entrepreneurs class was “love what you do and do what you love.” This is not the first time we have heard such advice from our guest speakers this semester.

The latest purveyor of this theme was Susan Schuytema of Market Alley Wines (located here in downtown Monmouth, IL). Links to the thriving company’s webpage and Facebook page are provided below.



Susan loves wine and she loves people and channels her love of the two into a unique wine-centered consumption experience. Class member Mackenzie Notestein addresses this and other aspects of the ongoing entrepreneurial journey of Susan Schuytema and Market Alley Wines below.

Prof. Gabel


This past Thursday, we had a guest speaker, Susan Schuytema, who came to share her entrepreneurial journey and how she turned her love for wine into a business. Susan is originally from Galva, Illinois. She attended Western University to pursue a career in journalism.

One of the most interesting parts of Susan’s journey is the many different jobs and places that she had worked at before becoming an entrepreneur. The last job she had was in marketing and she realized that she didn’t enjoy it at all. Then she asked herself: “What do I want to do with my life?”

While thinking of what she wanted to do next, her husband had encouraged her to take the entrepreneurial route. Then she realized that she always loved wine and thought about opening a wine shop in Monmouth, Illinois.

She based her original business plan on some research sponsored by the City of Monmouth that suggested there was high demand for a wine bar (because local residents were spending a lot of money on wine outside of Monmouth). With a lot of support from her family and financial help from her mom, she was able to turn her dreams and passion for opening a wine shop into a reality. Market Alley Wines officially opened in June of 2011.

Market Alley Wines is located downtown Monmouth, Illinois. It is a small profitable business which means that whatever is made goes back into the business. We discussed this approach to self-funding the operations of the business as “bootstrapping.”

Susan’s upscale shop sells wine, craft and local beers, wine tools, glassware, and home décor. Market Alley Wines carries over 300 types of wine from twenty different distributors. Currently, she has five employees and she said that they are a great staff. “They are reliable and they really care about the store,” Susan said. Having a good staff that cares about the store and gets along with the customers well is good business. A lot of the customers who come to Market Alley Wines are middle-aged women but she welcomes everyone! Susan said she wanted Market Alley Wines to be a place where people can come in and hang out; calling it a “third place” (in addition to one’s home and place of work). She also wanted women to be able to feel comfortable coming to Market Alley Wines by themselves.

Not only do people hang out and drink wine but they can enjoy some live music as well. Susan loves music and she wanted to be able to bring that to her business. Market Alley Wines now has live music weekly and “open mic” once a month. Susan is always trying to keep her business interesting for her customers. She frequently change things around with regard to retail merchandise sold as well as hosting new and exciting events. Some events may include wine tastings and different types of classes.

One of the most important things Susan told us is: “I love my job. I love going to work every day. It’s my business. It’s my baby and I am not going to let it go.”

Thank you Susan for being our guest speaker!

Mackenzie Notestein

Dusty Spurgeon ‘10- The Unconventional Farmer

Yesterday in Midwest Entrepreneurs class we had our second “farmer as entrepreneur” guest speaker in a row; Dusty Spurgeon, a 2010 Biology (major) and Chemistry (minor) graduate of Monmouth College. However, Dusty—who co-owns and operates Spurgeon Veggies in Galesburg, IL with her mother-in-law Eloise Spurgeon—is a very, very different type of farmer than Paul Rickey (our last guest speaker in the class).

Links to the Spurgeon Veggies webpage and Facebook page are provided below.



While the students witnessed discussion of the great differences between Dusty Spurgeon and conventional farmers such as Paul Rickey, they also heard that both are entrepreneurs running their respective businesses in the face of the some of the same risks (e.g., weather, fluctuating seed and other material prices, and dynamic market demand). A key takeaway is that while the two farmers are quite dissimilar in some important ways (e.g., scale of operation and target market) they are in other ways quite similar; mainly, at a macro-level, that both are entrepreneurs who must continuously adapt to market conditions to effectively run their increasingly complex businesses.

Below, Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Kayla Moore tells the story of Dusty Spurgeon and the ongoing growth of Spurgeon Veggies.

Prof. Gabel


Only six short years ago, Dusty Spurgeon was in the same place that I am now in—a senior at Monmouth College wondering what to do with her life when she got out into the real world. I have learned from listening to many of the speakers we have had in class, that there is not one set path for each of us to take in life; that your degree does not limit you to only working in a certain field. Dusty was a biology major in college, but after realizing that she did not want to go through any more schooling, she gave up the long path to becoming a scientist and was left not knowing what to do after college.

Dusty’s passion for growing fresh produce in environmentally friendly ways began when she took a class here at Monmouth College called Food For Thought. The different books that she read for the class opened her eyes to the way food is processed in the United States, and even led to Dusty changing her own eating habits. The class also made her want to have her own garden to grow fresh fruits and vegetables someday. Little did she know that someday soon she would co-own a 3 acre farm and produce fresh fruits and vegetables for not only herself, but an entire community.

Dusty married, and not too long after, her mother-in-law Eloise asked her if she would like to partner up to help with Eloise’s small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business. What started out as kind of a gardening hobby for Dusty became a life-long commitment. Through a lot of passion and hard work, co-owning, managing, and farming Spurgeon Veggies has become a career with which Dusty can now make a living wage. Dusty started to no longer think of Spurgeon Veggies as just a garden, but rather a farm and a business, which she said was the turning point in the business and her career. With little education outside the field of science, Dusty had to teach herself how to do many of the things that are required to run a successful business, and through a lot of trial and error, she had to gain skills in agriculture as well.

Dusty is a very different type of farmer than Paul Rickey, a “conventional” farmer that spoke to us in class last week. Dusty and Eloise use a small European made walk-behind tractor to work all three acres of land that they farm. Whereas on a conventional farm, 1-2 crops are grown on many acres of land, Dusty and Eloise grow hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits on only a few acres, which they are able to do because their crops produce much higher yields than conventional crops do. They also have different methods of protecting their crops against pests and weeds such as using row covers and plastic mulch.

Today, Spurgeon Veggies CSA firm in Galesburg, Illinois has around 100 members and 4 drop off sites for CSA members to pick up their shares of produce. Spurgeon’s Veggies is continuing to use environmentally friendly methods to manage their land, and continuing to grow in part because of the marketing that Dusty has done on their Facebook page and website. Dusty and Eloise hope to hire their first employee this year, as well as grow their CSA program to around 200-250 members, and expand the farm by a couple of acres. Dusty hopes to purchase a bigger property outside of Galesburg someday to expand Spurgeon Veggies and keep the business growing and growing.

Thank you Dusty for being our guest speaker!

Kayla Moore

Paul Rickey ‘76: The Farmer as Entrepreneur (On Top of Everything Else)

As some of you know, I am originally from a small, agricultural-based industrial town in SE Iowa; about an hour and fifteen minute drive from here in Monmouth. I moved away in the late 1980s for graduate school and to “see the world.” Upon moving back to the region in August of 2012, I soon realized that no matter how many places however far off and different I had lived in or visited there was still a lot of this region “in me” that could never be removed or denied. A big part of this is the agricultural-based nature of the region and a big part of that is “the farmer”; who they are, what they stand for, what they do and how they do it.

This realization of the centrality of the farmer to this region—and how it is a part of me—really hit me hard shortly after my return when watching the Super Bowl and seeing the unconventional Dodge Ram Truck advertisement—featuring the iconic voice of the late Paul Harvey—at the link below.


I thought of this stunning, still resonate ad before, during, and after our guest speaker presentation this past Tuesday by 1976 Monmouth College graduate Paul Rickey (who farms roughly 1,000 mostly family-owned acres near Monmouth). Farmers are—as expressed by Paul Harvey and as exemplified by Paul Rickey—anything but ordinary people. They do and endure things most people find unthinkable.  They are also—from the perspective of this class and on top of everything else they are— entrepreneurs managing businesses in an increasingly complex and risky market environment.

Enough from me… I turn things over to Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Steven May to tell you—to quote Paul Harvey—“the rest of the story” on Paul Rickey and the Farmer as Entrepreneur.

Prof. Gabel


Our guest speaker for this past Tuesday is, a man that’s already taken the journey all of the students in the classroom are now facing and that’s graduated from Monmouth College. An Alum of Monmouth College, Paul Rickey ‘76 gave the class great wisdom and knowledge about his life and key lesson he learned throughout his journey.

Mr. Rickey shared with us his knowledge about the world we live in and how it’s changing rapidly in front of our eyes. Growing up in Seaton, IL, his family’s legacy has always been farming and he was next to carry the torch. Mr. Rickey stated “all I’ve ever want to do is follow my parents footsteps” and he has done so with a few new innovative techniques. Mr. Rickey’s family business is dealing with row cropping in the agricultural profession. The family farm was started in 1847, and to him and his friends they now call it the “legacy farm”, being that the farm has been through five generations. Mr. Rickey manages 942 acres of farm land, mostly owned by his mother. In the early stages of his farming career Mr. Rickey remembers driving a tractor at eleven years old, which is outstanding because many people don’t learn how to drive a car until their in their late teens.

After graduating from Monmouth College with a degree in Business, Mr. Rickey had no doubt in his mind what he’d be doing for the rest of his career. Having the necessary skills and knowledge, Paul Rickey turned his family’s farm into an entrepreneurial business. Mr. Rickey stated “back in the day, less than half the farmers had a college degree and many farmers saw no use for a college degree”. He describes himself as “stubborn and cheap” and those are the same qualities that helped in excel in the farming business. In his teachings, he touched on the importance of being efficient, by keeping total cost down, but still being more and more effective in what he does. As his business grew, his techniques had to change. One of the things that he had to drop from his business was livestock, due to the added responsibilities of constantly having to care for the animals.

One of the main things that surprised me about Paul Rickey was his ability to use technology to his advantage. With the new integration of GPS, which operates his combine without a driver, he was able to operate at a cheaper cost and get more accomplished. Before today’s class meeting I never knew technology of this kind existed. This is one of the many techniques Paul has used to innovate the farming process and in doing so he has expanded the bushel amount produced on his farm to great lengths. With expanding the bushel count on his family’s farm he has also managed to double the yield rate on the farm in his lifetime, which is an extraordinary accomplishment. Although he has done many revolutionary things with his family’s farm he still has one goal and that one goal is “being able to carry a chainsaw in ten years”. I think this exemplifies how hard-working he is and how he is always thinking about being as efficient as possible by doing all he can by himself.

While speaking to the class Paul Rickey gave us many pieces of advice that will help each and every student accomplish their goals. The two that stuck out were, “show up on time and be ready to play”. These two stuck out to me because I pride myself on showing up early and facing the challenges that the day brings. Throughout his career Paul Rickey has faced many challenges but the one he spoke about was the flooding of 161 acres. The flood took him four years to recover from, but because of his organization and managing skills, he was able to eventually weather the storm by applying for and receiving assistance from the government.

Paul Rickey’s visit to class was inspiring and motivational. His intelligence and creative thinking helped him carry the torch of his family’s farm and help the business rise to a level no one in his family has ever seen before. On behalf of the class, I would like to thank you for today’s teaching.

-Steven May