“While we recognize the importance of large businesses in our local and regional economy, small businesses are the engine that truly drives the local and regional economy,” explained Jenny Dougherty, business counselor with the local Small Business Development Center. “We sometimes overlook the contributions small businesses make through job creation, investment and risk taking.”
Tom Dougherty said those who were nominated represented more than 500 employees at their collective companies.
Bill Dougherty Jr. said that it was “good service, customer relationships” that helped them last so long in a tough business.
“Our customers turn out to be friends,” he said. “That’s a critical part of the business.”
Word of mouth and person-to-person contact is one of the most important ways they continue to do business. A large percentage of their clients, at least 90 percent they figure, are from out of town.
“Rainy Lake Houseboats, like other tourism operators, are bringing people and dollars to our community from outside the area,” Jenny Dougherty said. “They are ambassadors for our area and they are good at it. Their ability to develop long-term relationships and offer an experience that assures return visits and private investment in our area says volumes about how important they are to our local economy.”
Visitors to the area, Bill Jr. and Tom note, not only bring dollars to Rainy Lake Houseboats, but support other area businesses as well during their vacations. And the Doughertys know that their relationships with other businesses have brought them customers as well.
Returning customers who fall in love with the area, and may even move here, are some of this region’s best advertising, they say.
2011 ‘Labo’ award winners
• Micro-Entrepreneur: Little Neetchers, Joy and Joshua Herbert, Duluth
• Emerging Entrepreneur: aimClear, Marty Weintraub, Duluth
• Established Entrepreneur: Scheuring Speed Sports, Steve Scheuring, Aurora
• Mature Entrepreneur: Rainy Lake Houseboats, Dougherty family, International Falls
• Innovation: New Vintage Amplifiers, LLC, Nic Patullo, Duluth
• David A. Martin Entrepreneurial Leadership: Michael J. Lalich, director, Natural Resource Research Institute
• Entrepreneurial Vision: Mark R. Phillips, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
• Entrepreneurial Spirit: Holly C. Sampson, executive director, Duluth/Superior Area Community Foundation