By Heidi Sampson
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — Within the Mankato Design Center on Madison Avenue, is a collaborative effort to bring all aspects of the home building experience into one location for the ease of the homeowner or potential homebuilder. Among the different businesses in the Design Center, is Artisans, formerly known as Mankato CabinetCraft and Artisan Exteriors.
This past fall, the two businesses combined into one. Artisans is owned by Karl Wendland, Rich Amundson and Tony Wagner, however only Karl and Rich are at the Artisans location, which specializes in design, sales and retail of both interior and exterior building products. Tony heads up Blue Lion Cabinetry of Madison Lake, a company that is also owned by Karl. Blue Lion Cabinetry manufactures custom cabinetry and mill work exclusively for Artisans.
“Karl was a partner in Artisan Exteriors but he also owned Mankato CabinetCraft and Blue Lion Cabinetry as well,” said Rich. “As far as this site was concerned, it just made more sense for us to work under a company with only one name.”
Blue Lion Cabinetry
Fifteen years ago, Karl started Blue Lion Cabinetry after attending Hennepin Technical College’s two year cabinet program. At the time Karl started the business, a building boom was in full swing.
“When I started Blue Lion Cabinetry, it was almost all referrals and word of mouth that brought business into the company,” said Karl. “I still think your best customers are those who are referred to your business and that was a lot of what we relied on to get people in the door.”
Karl operated Blue Lion Cabinetry for 12 years. Around 2009, a group of investors bought the Mankato Design Center building with the concept of bringing in different building elements into one location. Blue Lion Cabinetry was selected for the cabinet and countertop component, while lighting, flooring, and interior designers would also occupy the open collaborative concept.
The Mankato Design Center’s invitation launched Mankato CabinetCraft as a central retail location for Blue Lion Cabinetry, as well as several other cabinet lines and other kitchen related items.
Two years later, Artisan Exteriors was created for the purpose of specializing in windows and siding.
Rich began his career with Andersen Windows. As an Andersen employee, he learned about window installation, window manufacturing, window service, as well as how to be a sales representative.
Karl and Rich met when United Building Centers had a small Andersen Windows display located in the Mankato Design Center. The two became friends and when Karl considered starting Artisan Exteriors, he brought Rich into the plan as a partner.
“The whole exterior portion of this business appealed to me,” said Rich. “Originally, Artisan Exteriors was only going to focus on siding but as a partner, I kind of brought the window piece into the mix.”
Artisans strives to have “distinctive home products” available at one location as they cater to the feminine element, or softer side of decision making. Karl believes women make 90 percent of the decisions regarding remodels and designs when a couple enters their store. With this in mind, Artisans assists with all aspects of the homebuilding experience to help ease the homeowner’s mind. Whereas in a different situation, a homeowner might find themselves traveling to the lumber yard, the builder, a lighting store, and somewhere else for flooring.
“We are trying to facilitate the whole process in one place,” said Karl. “They should be able to select everything from roofing, to shingles, to siding color, to trim details, windows and interior work, like flooring, cabinets and countertops all within our location.
“So if somebody wants a full service package, we can accommodate that. If you only want to buy product, we’ll sell them product. We cater to whatever they are looking for. We work with independent licensed contractors who can install everything that we have here.
Karl and Rich believe a hands-on approach to the coordination of colors and textures is essential, as this is often the biggest obstacle customer’s face when they come into their store. The most common question posed is ‘how do you put all this stuff together?’ To assist with putting it together, Artisans has a 3-D rendering service available, in which a 3-D model of the house or project is created to allow for visual approval of the colors to be used.
“Our motto is basically ‘see a project before you start,’ “ Rich said. “Our 3-D rendering service allows us to spin a house. Our customers are able to change the color of the house, the color of the trim or even the color of the doors, all while sitting in our office.
Customers can literally see exactly what it is they want before we even start the project.”
To help with the intricate details of interior design, Artisans offers the services of The Design Element, owned by Margot Weyhe. The interior design services are available free of charge, to anyone who buys product from Artisans.
For customers who may be wondering what to do with the items about to be torn out of their home, Artisans suggests donation of the items to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, located in Mankato. “ReStore is a great asset to the community,” said Karl. “They keep a lot of items out of the landfill by repurposing the household item and then making it available to someone else who could use it.”
While the majority of Artisans customers tend to be within a 20 mile radius of Mankato. Karl and Rich find they can extend that to a 100 mile radius through walk-in customers, who may be in town for shopping or sports related events but may end up cruising their store for new ideas.
“I think as a business you have to have a unique business plan,” said Rich. “And we have that. Our strength is in being able to change with time. We can recommend new products, as well as bringing in new services to cater to the market, whatever that market may be.”
“I’d agree,” said Karl. “We are a fluid business. In the end, it’s all having a consumer that is happy with the product they receive. I enjoy being a part of the bigger picture, of putting the whole package of a house together.”