Iron Mountain couple creates their own path

As you sit by the window, gazing out at the world passing by, your mind drifts away into a realm of possibilities and aspirations. It’s so easy to daydream about starting a business. From the outside, we see these individuals revitalizing neighborhoods and inspiring others to follow their dreams. Small business owners serve as role models for aspiring entrepreneurs. They epitomize resilience and determination in the pursuit of success, but the reward isn’t without sacrifice and effort.

Michael and Kate Pearson are Iron Mountain natives. Both are 2003 graduates of
Kingsford High School. Together, they have a daughter, Pearl, a son, Forest, and two successful businesses.

Kate started the Good Earth Salon a dozen years ago with a passion far exceeding her financial resources. Her goal was to create something new and to end each day with the satisfaction of making a positive impact.

“The sacrifices came in the form of time. I was under the assumption, as any young person opening a business would be, that if you have your own business, you work when you’d like,” she says. “I started working 60 hours a week behind the chair and about 10-15 more hours of bookwork, ordering, etc.”

While pursuing her dream of owning her own salon, Michael (Mike) came into the picture, bringing a steady presence, a wealth of knowledge and a willingness to help as Kate created the space for her business.

Michael and Kate Pearson Fast forward -- the two married and started a family. Mike saw a void in the local retail space, and an interesting storefront was for sale in Iron Mountain’s downtown. In 2018, Mike walked away from a steady income and a secure job to take a chance on opening a retail store. He introduced Brick + Mortar, which offers hand-selected apparel, outdoor goods, accessories, footwear and custom leather items in a space filled with highly curated goods.

“I wanted to create something meaningful for myself and my family, by doing what makes me happy and showing my kids to go after what they want,” Mike says.

In addition to managing the upkeep of the buildings, Mike has made it a point to be present in his shop. “I want to provide a personalized shopping experience and be the one welcoming patrons to the store.”

Since its opening, Brick + Mortar acted as a catalyst in the neighborhood with a wave of quality shops entering the market, contributing to downtown Iron Mountain’s shopping district.

As an innovator, Kate continued to look for new tactics to improve the experience of her staff and customers. In 2021, a recently renovated historic building next door to Brick + Mortar came up for sale, and the Pearsons jumped on it. The former coffee shop was transformed into a fresh, modern and upscale salon.

“I wanted a comfortable place for people to come and get services done, but also a great environment for those who wanted to do hair, make a great living, and have everything they needed to succeed,” Kate says. “I hope, by purchasing it, I have only contributed to the growing downtown.”

Mike and Kate are planning to upgrade the adjacent patios making the two adjoining buildings an inviting place to be.

Owning and operating two successful businesses doesn’t come without sacrifice and hard work.

A glimpse inside Kate Pearson's salon.“Time is a huge sacrifice. The work/life balance is a tough one to conquer. I’ve lost out on irretrievable time with my kids because of the businesses, but I’m learning daily how to flip that scale,” Kate admits. “It’s not too late to make better time management choices.”

However, the couple appreciates the ability to make their schedules align. “Mike and I tend to go over schedules together to make that time. I've always wanted to be in control of my own decisions, and owning your own place puts you there. You pick the music, the vibe, the atmosphere. I love that.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 80% of small businesses survive their first year. However, the survival rates decrease with each subsequent year, and about 50 percent of small businesses survive beyond their fifth year. After 10 years, around 30 percent of small businesses are still operating. Perseverance is essential when running a small business because challenges and setbacks are inevitable on the path to success. For Kate, her perseverance comes from the positive feedback she hears from the community.

“It’s so fulfilling to hear how our community loves the salon and the service we provide, but to be honest, the energy and perseverance come in huge waves. Sometimes you want to do nothing but get the day done and go home. Other days, I tell Mike I’m going to redo a whole room in the salon in two days, and he just nods his head (he’s used to it by now).” 

The Good Earth Salon employs 10 people and Brick + Mortar has three employees.

“For me, the best thing about running businesses is showing my children two things: Hard work pays off, and you can do anything you put your mind and time into.”

Studies suggest that children of entrepreneurial parents may learn valuable life skills such as work ethic, perseverance, financial literacy, creativity, and a problem-solving mindset, which can positively influence their personal and professional development. 

The pair’s children are present at both businesses and help with everything from unloading boxes to greeting customers to getting them a beverage. 

“Children are a product of their environment, and I hope mine learn
determination and pride in what they do.”

The Pearsons' dedication, innovative spirit, and community involvement serve as a testament to the potential impact that small businesses can have on a community, inspiring others to embrace the entrepreneurial path and make a positive difference in their own lives and the local economy. 

As the Upper Peninsula continues to develop, there continue to be voids to fill with new businesses and business acquisitions as the population continues to age.

Gina Wollner brings 15 years of marketing experience in industries ranging from manufacturing and AEC to higher education and non-profit work. Her most recent role was Dean of Bay College West Campus where she worked to provide training and support to meet community needs. During this season of life, Gina primarily serves as the CEO of her home and three beautiful children. However, she continues to take on part-time consulting work based on where she can add value without taking away from family time.
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