LE CENTER — On a Friday in 2005 Christine Lantinen got fired from her marketing manager's job because the company couldn't afford her commission. The next Monday she bought the then struggling Maud Borup brand from another business that was focusing on other brands in its holdings.
"I put samples together and went to previous buyers I knew and in four months we had $2 million in orders," said Lantinen, a Le Center native.
What she didn't have was the $1 million she'd need to fill the orders. "We had no money. I was on unemployment. I went to many banks, who laughed at me. I didn't sleep for weeks."
A friend of her dad, Karl Bohn, heard of her predicament and pledged a piece of his farmland as collateral for her loan. She pledged 2% of her first-year sales to him and to pay him back within a year.
"I did and the second through fourth years we were able to get an SBA loan because I had a track record."
Today she oversees Maud Borup Inc., with 120 employees, a corporate office in Plymouth and a production facility in her home town of Le Center.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has named her their Small Business Person of the Year 2019. This weekend she and her husband Randy head to Washington D.C. to join the other state winners.
At 18, Lantinen trained peers for war and was promoted to sergeant. After a 10 year Army career, she worked at Target headquarters, vetting companies for high standards. She then led sales at a food gift company before being laid off and buying the Maud Borup brand.
Maud Borup was a St. Paul woman who started making hand-dipped chocolates in her home in 1907 and opened a candy counter three years later.
The 112-year-old company is now a wholesale food gift company specializing in every day and seasonal candy/confections, beverage mixes, baking kits, savory spices/rubs/sauces that are sold separately or as gourmet food gifts.
They sell to specialty and mass retailers such as Walmart, Target and Aldi and have licensing agreements to make food items for large global brands such as Hell’s Kitchen. Lantinen owns 100% of the company with no outside investors.
The company develops more than 150 products each year. Each item can be customized to meet the requirements of each retailer’s preferences or seasonal theme. When asked by a retailer for a safe USA-made Easter egg and not finding one, she decided to develop eco eggs, an earth-friendly Easter egg made in the USA.
Her husband was her third employee and is now vice president of operations, overseeing the Le Center facility.
"He handled the back end, the money. I call us money and magic. He does the money, I do the magic."
In 2013 she opened the Le Center facility after looking for buildings in her hometown area. The building housed a business that made recycled counter tops that went bankrupt.
Her mom, Pam, and dad, John, who farmed in the area, pitched in on converting the building for food production.
The counter top business had ground up old money to make some of their counters and there was a pile of ground money piled to the ceiling in the facility.
"My dad found some cattle farmers who used it for bedding. We always joked about the cows sleeping on millions of dollars."
Her mom, who had worked as an auditor, prepared the plant for its food audit, a key to getting the plant approved for production. "She was 70 then and is 75 now and still doing audits for us."
Lantinen is an environmental advocate and her facilities use lighting, desktops, counter tops and tables made from recycled/reclaimed material. A 100-foot wind turbine was installed to power the manufacturing facility in Le Center. Employees are challenged to make their department more earth-friendly, resulting in a list of 30 things they do each day to be more sustainable.
In 2014 they expanded business beyond candy and confections with new savory snacks, baking kits, beverage mixes and licensed products-making food gifts for globally-recognized brands like Peanuts and Thomas Kinkade.
In 2017 they expanded manufacturing capabilities and started making gourmet cotton candy in-house.
In 2018 they opened their corporate office in Plymouth.
Boost for Le Center
Chris Collins, Le Center's economic development manager, said landing Maud Borup was a boost to the community.
"It's a nice story of her graduating from Le Center High School and buying a 100-year-old company and moving her operation down here," he said.
"We talked to her for about five years to try to get her down here and she said she wanted to but the time wasn't right. Then the time was right and the building became available. It's a big win for the community, we didn't have an empty building sitting out there and it was just what they needed."
He said Lantinen bought two city-owned lots in the industrial park next to her facility. "So I think they expect to get bigger at some point."
He said the industrial park is doing well overall. The European Roasterie coffee company has 50 plus employees and Diane's Fine Desserts has near 300 employees. And, he said, Fiberglas Fabricators is a strong business. (The Home Run Apple at Citi Field in New York that rises when the Met's hit a home run was made at Fiberglas Fabricators.)
Lantinen said support from the SBA, particularly in the early years, was a key to her success.
Beyond SBA backed loans, she went through the SBA's Emerging Leaders initiative in 2011.
"They pick 15 in the state and you go through a mini-MBA program and they put you with people to help you grow your business," she said.
"It's great to go through these SBA support programs and then years later win an award like this. That funding and support is so crucial."