Celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week: Young local entrepreneurs share their business ownership experience


Cooking up his own business idea ... Denzel Decker of rural Allamakee County, owner of Decker Delish, taught himself how to make his own specialty cupcakes and started selling them at farmers markets and craft and vendor shows, as well as making them to order for special events. “I’ve kept the same recipe the whole time,” he says. Submitted photo.

Creativity is... a piece of cake ... Denzel Decker’s cupcakes are known for their whimsical designs. The cupcakes pictured above featuring beach, sunflower and honeybee themes are from a photo submitted from his business Facebook page for Decker Delish. Submitted photo.

A sign of his times ... Thomas Rethwisch, age 16, of Lansing, owns and operates his own vehicle polishing and detailing company, “Thomas’s Polishing and Detailing,” as indicated by the sign that hangs above his shared business location in Churchtown. He comes by business ownership via a family inclination toward entrepreneurship: His father, Matt, owns and operates Rethwisch Trucking, Inc. Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond.

A bright and shiny future ... Thomas Rethwisch works on one of his polishing projects that are just party of his Thomas’s Polishing and Detailing business. “It’s hard and dirty work that requires me to wear PPE such as a full-face respirator, ear muffs and gloves,” Thomas says, but he also finds he has a knack for it that helps fuel his young business venture. Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

The world has perhaps never needed entrepreneurs more than it does right now.

With the entire planet struggling to understand and work through the effects of a global pandemic, it may well be entrepreneurs among us - the innovators and risk-takers who Jonathan Ortmans, founder and president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), calls “a force for good” - who will inspire us to keep going, keep trying, and keep alive what Ortmans believes is our common “curiosity and enthusiasm about making the world a better place” (genglobal.org).

Since 2008, GEN has celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) every November. Aimed at inspiring people around the world “to unleash their ideas and turn them into promising new ventures (and) to explore their potential as an entrepreneur while fostering connections and increasing collaboration”(genglobal.org), the campaign began as a way to motivate young people around the world to turn their thoughts and dreams into new businesses.

Here at home, Allamakee County has no shortage of young entrepreneurs: Lansing Middle School student Izzy Hammel owns and operates a successful design business - “Candy Heart Ink” - which was featured recently in a Standard article; Waukon High School student Diana Davison’s photographs have appeared in this newspaper, and she recently started her own business, “Diana Coral Photography. In recognition of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2020 - observed November 16-22 - The Standard celebrates two more of the county’s young entrepreneurs: Thomas Rethwisch of Lansing and Denzel Decker of Waukon.

Thomas’s Polishing and Detailing
Thomas Rethwisch, 16, of Lansing, owns and operates his own vehicle polishing and detailing company, “Thomas’s Polishing and Detailing,” located in Churchtown between Waukon and Lansing.

Thomas comes by business ownership via a family inclination toward entrepreneurship: His father, Matt, owns and operates Rethwisch Trucking, Inc. At age 13, Thomas started “tinkering around with polishing on Dad’s semi,” he recalls, and it took off from there. Polishing - cleaning and buffing aluminum on pick-up wheels, semi wheels and tanks, for example - “is basically taking any oxidation off the aluminum and creating a mirror finish,” he says. “It’s hard and dirty work that requires me to wear PPE such as a full-face respirator, ear muffs and gloves. Semis can vary on how long it takes to complete; most semis can take anywhere from eight to 30 hours, depending on condition.”

As hard a job as polishing is, Thomas enjoys it; and he learned early on that he was good at it. Likewise with detailing - deep cleaning of a vehicle, involving the interior work of wiping down, vacuuming, washing windows and shampooing, and the exterior work of washing and waxing.

“A family friend asked me if I would be interested in detailing her car, so I told her I would do it the next night after school,” Thomas recalls. “I worked on it in front of our house, not really knowing how long it would take; it was at this time of year, so I was in the dark for a few hours. The family friend was pleased and put it on Facebook showing a ‘before-and-after.’”

Thomas’ work spoke for itself, and he started getting repeat business and referrals from customers pleased with his work. Noticing a high demand for the work in the area, he decided to start his own business. “Mom and Dad have helped me a lot while getting the business going,” he says. “They are always here when I have questions or when I run into problems. I can’t thank them both enough for helping in the shop. If I’m in a pinch, both of them step in if they can, and help me finish the work. I also have a buddy who is enjoying learning how to polish and has been a great help.”

At 16, Thomas has already learned to appreciate the upside of being his own boss: “I have the freedom of taking time off when I choose and picking what days I would like to work,” he says. But he also recognizes the responsibility that goes along with business ownership.

“The biggest challenge of running your own business is probably dealing with customers and keeping bookwork straight; but both are very important to running a good business,” he explained. “My advice to another young entrepreneur would be to keep all your finances in order and keep good track of all income and expenses. I would also say customer service is very important, and to treat all customers with the same respect.”

In the future, Thomas says he plans to own a trucking company - which, with a family background in the business and his own entrepreneurial experience on which to build, sounds like a solid plan.
Thomas’ mother, Julie, is assistant city clerk in Lansing. He has two siblings – Jack, 11, and Jenna, 18.

Decker Delish
Denzel Decker, age 17, of rural Waukon, owns and operates “Decker Delish” - a specialty cupcake business that takes orders for a variety of events like weddings, graduations and birthdays and also sells the treats at craft shows and farmers markets. He started the business in April, 2016, when he was 12 years old.

Like fellow young entrepreneur Thomas Rethwisch, Denzel is a next-generation business owner. His mother, Becky, owns and operates BD Productions, which specializes in event rental, design and decorating; BD Boutique, which sells clothes and jewelry; and Decker Consulting, which offers bookkeeping services to truck drivers.

Denzel credits his idea for starting Decker Delish to yet another young entrepreneur hailing from Allamakee County - Sadie Hill, a Kee High School graduate and owner of “Cupcakes by Sadie.” “She probably doesn’t even know who we are, but she’s the one who got us started,” Denzel says. “She sold cupcakes at craft sales and vendor shows when she was in high school, and I ate them - a lot. She moved to Chicago, and that’s when my mom said I should start making cupcakes.”

Denzel had no baking experience at all when he started Decker Delish - though, he admits, “I guess I’m a really picky eater; growing up, I made a lot of my own food.” But he did have a flair for doing business. “In second grade, I made little rubber band bracelets and sold them at recess,” he recalls.

By the time he was 11, Denzel had developed a reputation for his sales savvy.  In a 2014 Facebook post, his mom wrote, “My little entrepreneur was at it, again. He took full advantage of me placing too much in his cold lunch and sold what he couldn’t eat!”

Seeing a market open up when Sadie Hill took her cupcake business to Chicago, Denzel taught himself how to make his own specialty cupcakes and started selling them at farmers markets and craft and vendor shows and making them to order for special events. “I’ve kept the same recipe the whole time,” he says. He buys powdered sugar and oil in bulk; during summer farmers market season - his busiest time of year - he might pick up 200 pounds of sugar per month.

His cupcakes are known for their whimsical designs; and his displays reflect his interest in and talent for merchandising. “In this business, I’ve learned that looks do help,” Denzel says. “I get compliments about how (my cupcakes) look. And I’m realizing how important marketing is. Facebook is huge for marketing.”

His Facebook page is, in fact, where he takes most of his special orders for weddings, parties, etc. And it’s where customers can see photos of his work - from cupcakes inspired by hobbies (golf, for example) to candy and citrus-infused confections.

Like any entrepreneur, Denzel is not afraid of work. For a wedding that might involve 400 mini cupcakes, he usually works straight through the night, one batch at a time. But, he says, his favorite part of the job is “definitely getting to interact with customers - going to the shows and getting to talk with people and sell the products. With weddings, I’ll sometimes have been talking to them for a year ahead of time; and then I finally get to be one small part of their huge day.”

Denzel says the hardest thing about running “Decker Delish” is “time management. I’m a hard worker, but I’m not a fast worker. That might have something to do with why my cupcakes look nice, though; so I guess that’s good.”

Still - after five years of operating his business, he seems to have learned to manage time, in general, pretty well: A 4.0 student, he will graduate this spring from Waukon High School and also with an Associate of Arts degree from Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) through the accelerated learning program. He’s a member of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) - and, in fact, he was named Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018, after having spent a week at the John Pappajohn High School Entrepreneur Camp in Mason City that summer.

His advice to other young entrepreneurs? “I would just say, ‘go for it - and don’t hold back,’” he says. “Entrepreneurship is a learning curve; but just be confident in your abilities. If you have confidence in yourself, you’re about 90 percent of the way there.”

Denzel will be attending Iowa State University next year, and plans to double-major in business marketing and apparel merchandising. Denzel’s father, Brad, is a cheesemaker with Prairie Farms Dairy. He has a brother, Desmond, 26, and a sister, Bronte, 27.
 

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