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Menagerie Works: Small business weathers stormy economy
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Susan HerefordDoug Cooper, co-owner of Menagerie Works, didn’t intend to enter the home and garden accessories business. In fact, the UC Berkeley grad, with double degrees in fine arts and philosophy, was making a beeline to a career as an artist. Plus, he is the first to admit that his degrees were "not exactly vocational programs."A Portland native, Cooper moved back from California in 1980 to teach parochial school. Several years later, he dropped out of the teaching profession to focus on a career as an artist. He was on his way, a printmaker with gallery representation and sales, when, in his own words, he "kind of stumbled into this by accident."To pay the bills, Cooper had a contract to design and manufacture a series of four decorative, die-cast aluminum shelf brackets. The product took off. The brackets feature animals, such as a salmon and a duck embedded in the arch of the bracket. Over time, printmaking took a back seat to the mushrooming home and garden accessories operation. Today, the company now employs 10 people and has annual sales of more than $500,000. Like many small business owners, Cooper, age 43, started out in his basement. Menagerie Works, which he incorporated in 1990, also manufactures cooper-topped chimes, cedar bird feeders, bronze hooks and hangers, doorknockers, wire products for plants and wire baskets. He moved the manufacturing operation to a 6,500-square-foot space on S.E. 22nd and Division Street in 1995.In 1997, he joined forces with local businessman Bill Hadfield, owner of Lindco Products Inc., another garden accessories company. They now sell Menagerie Works through Lindco Products, Inc. Their warehouse is located in the southeast industrial district. Cooper oversees design and manufacturing while Hadfield is in charge of sales.They sell approximately 60 percent of their line out of state. For example, nearly 60 garden shops in California alone sell Menagerie Works products. Locally, Fred Myers carries the line. The company keeps a year-round showroom in Atlanta in The Gardens, a display arena, attends trade shows in San Francisco and exhibits at major bird shows several times a year.Both Cooper and Hadfield are in PCC’s Small Business Management program. Cooper says, "It is a great support group. It’s easy to feel like you’re nuts and the only business to have these problems."He says the monthly presentations on different topics such as marketing, leadership styles, understanding financial data, and planning for sound growth have been helpful. "When you learn (your business) from the inside out,"he adds, "you have a certain limited perspective. I needed to make sure I wasn’t missing any of the key pieces."Small Business Development Center counselor Jackie Babicky is "on me to do the business plan,"he admits with a grin. During this tight economy, a road map to the future is more important than ever for small companies like Menagerie Works. Two years ago, three major customers went belly up, leaving the company with more than $100,000 in receivables. "In retrospect, we probably should have reorganized,"says Cooper. "But our vendors have been great. Very patient. We’re not out yet, but we’re working through it. It would not have been possible without them."The tough economy has reinforced Cooper’s belief that relationships are extremely important, along with the realization that "your fate is in your own hands."