Small business owner Carla Ingram of Sarona near Chetek has made and sold home interior treatments for 39 years. She spent the last twelve years perfecting her unique exterior screen porch coverings, which are both attractive and functional. Now, with the help of the UW-Superior Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and SCORE, Ingram is turning her product into a successful business, Weather Queen Shades, LLC, with hopes of creating jobs in northwestern Wisconsin.
When a client requested an exterior screen porch covering, Ingram discovered there was nothing on the market that fit his request. Eager to please her customer, she went to work designing her own version of the exterior covering. It worked, and the customer was satisfied. After that Ingram kept improving the design, working with area builders, fabricators and installers, observing what worked and what needed improvement. Meanwhile word of her unique and functional shades quickly spread and requests poured in from architects and homeowners around the country.
Today Ingram feels confident about her roman-style exterior shade, that operates from inside and protects screen porches from wind, rain, snow and dirt. “Everybody loves the shades, because they seal off the elements and can be lifted from the inside,” she says. “People love screen porches, but they are a bear to keep clean. This solves that problem. Not only solves it, but they are beautiful.”
After putting years into product development, Ingram now relies on the expertise of the SBDC and SCORE to help her develop the business. “Getting the shades to where they are has been a long process of really studying what was best for the shades. Now I’m focusing on what is best for the business,” says Ingram. “That is beyond my expertise.”
“The SBDC will be a very important resource going forward.”
SBDC Director Julianne Raymond directed Ingram to the UW-Stout Center for Innovation and Development who connected her to a patent lawyer. Additionally Raymond has provided support to Ingram as she honed her product. Now that Ingram has shifted her focus to building the business, she expects to tap into Raymond’s expertise even more. “The SBDC will be a very important resource now going forward,” she notes, also praising SCORE for helping her transform her small home business to another level.
Ingram’s vision for her company is one where those who have helped get the product to where it is today also benefit financially. “I do plan on making money on this,” notes Ingram. “But I have a strong sense of loyalty to the people who have worked along side of me. That is my dream, to make it so the fabricators in Chetek also have a growing business and bring more work to this area.”
Ingram reports impressive sales, recently outselling the previous year’s sales in just two months. She anticipates much more growth and adds, “The installers, like the fabricators, are critical to the success. I want those to be the people who make money off this. It feels like an opportunity to change the world - one job at a time.”
For more information on this successful Wisconsin business, check out weatherqueenshades.com.