RHINELANDER – Standing at a computer in her kitchen, Nancy Brekke-Jones’s fingers get a workout making her small business run.
“A lot of time spent just kind of researching at the computer,” Brekke-Jones said.
But it’s your feet that are the focus of her passion.
“Velcro footwear is hard to find unless you’re a toddler,” Brekke-Jones said.
Brekke-Jones spent 26 years working in shoe stores until her employer went out of business in 2017. She recalls constantly telling customers they needed to look elsewhere for a shoe that doesn’t need laces but still looks stylish.
Enter her idea for “Replace-A-Lace,” a hook-and-loop-style closure that Brekke-Jones now sells online out of her Rhinelander-area home.
“You have this great lightbulb moment idea, and then I just thought, you know, where do I start?”
The Northwoods mother developed the idea for the business over the years starting in 2006, but it didn’t really take off until 2014. Then, in 2017, Nicolet College helped Brekke-Jones develop her idea even further. The school included Brekke-Jones at a January 2018 press conference announcing that it would receive more state funding for its business plan-writing class. That’s when she learned of another way to move her idea forward.
“Deep down in my gut, [I knew] that this is a good idea and people need it,” Brekke-Jones said.
She signed up for the governor’s 16th annual Business Plan Contest in January. As one of about 200 entrants, Brekke-Jones just hoped for the best. She made it through several elimination rounds to become a finalist, announced by Gov. Scott Walker in May.
“It’s really exciting and dynamic to see these remarkable things that they’re doing and happening here in Wisconsin,” Walker said during a press conference late last week.
Walker’s office announced Replace-A-Lace was one of 12 finalists in the contest and the only one within 100 miles of Rhinelander. (The next closest finalist came from Oshkosh.) Walker told Newswatch 12 last week that the contest helps Wisconsin’s startup businesses like Replace-A-Lace see some of the highest long-term success rates in the nation.
“We really wrap our arms around new businesses that start up, to say, ‘We’ll help you out, we like these ideas, let’s take it to the next step,'” Walker said.
Brekke-Jones didn’t win the contest’s grand prize (that went to NovoMoto, a business based out of Madison that helps developing communities in Africa get solar energy), but she got good advice from other finalists.
Brekke-Jones plans to take those tricks of the trade to heart to develop her footwear business.
“Be persistent, consistent, you know, just kind of stick at it,” Brekke-Jones said.
Brekke-Jones plans to do a business re-launch this fall with some of the marketing and management advice she received through the contest. She hopes to get to the point where she can hire employees and place her product in actual stores across Wisconsin.