The North Iowa Women In Business Series Continues, as we introduce you to Shannon Latham of Enchanted Acres. Are you a woman wanting to start a business in North Iowa? Shannon Latham will inspire you, as she continues to change things up to meet the needs of her customers.
When did you start your business?
For eight years, I searched for a suitable acreage. I made an offer on two different parcels. Each time one of those deals fell through, my hopes were temporarily dashed, but my dream never died. In March 2012, I went to a land auction and got the final bid. We spent months cleaning up the old abandoned farmstead, including the grove. You would not believe how much wire and junk was hidden under all of those branches and vines! Truckload after truckload of old building material and trash was hauled out while gravel was brought in for the lane.
A small pumpkin crop was planted around June 1, 2012. Because construction on our barn didn’t begin until late fall, we sold pumpkins from a tent in the middle of our hay ground. The basement was poured inside our barn the following spring, so the grand opening of Enchanted Acres was held in September of 2013.
Today Enchanted Acres is a place where all families can escape reality for a few hours and simply enjoy spending time together in the great outdoors. It’s that “happy place” where kids from ages 2 to 102, can channel Cinderella or Jack Sparrow. Enchanted Acres is a place where we all can dream about our happily ever after!
Why did you start your business?
When I became a mother, I wanted my children to experience everything I enjoyed most about my childhood. I was raised on a small farm in Butler County, where my family raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa and about 60 head of purebred Suffolk sheep. I spent countless hours outdoors with my pets, and I learned some of life’s greatest lessons by taking care of livestock. I wanted my children to know the value of a hard day’s work. I also wanted them to enjoy life’s simple pleasures like twinkling stars in the sky; sunsets painting te sky with rich hues of purple and magenta; appreciating wildflowers splash color in a sea of green grass; and feeling the summer sun kiss their cheeks and a gentle summer breeze trickle the back of their neck. I wanted my children to have a place where their imaginations could run wild, and that’s what started the idea of Enchanted Acres.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to start her own business?
Take to time to write a business plan, including a marketing plan. Remember to go back and revise your plan as your business grows or as the market changes. There will be good days and there will some extremely challenging days! Keep your eye on the goal, and recognize each small step taken toward progress. Surround yourself with positive people, but also seek out those people that will challenge you because they genuinely want to help you become better at what you’re doing. Remember, you’re never too old to learn something new. Find a mentor; sometimes a successful person outside your industry can offer the sagest advice. Make time for yourself, even if “me time” happens at 5 AM or 11 PM.
Who has mentored you through the process of building your business?
My parents were small business owners, so you might say I was “home schooled.” I didn’t go to daycare, so I absorbed a lot of knowledge just by watching them. I got several lessons from my parents about providing great customer service and counting back change. While I was attending college, I got the pleasure of working with one of the most gracious female communications professionals in the business, and she was a true role model. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with some of the best bosses who were encouraging. Because there is no “direct report” for you when you own a business, I still pick up the phone and call one of my old bosses if I have a question.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
When my husband and I were making plans to start our own business, one of my former bosses encouraged me to have equal shares of the company. I believe that went a long way in establishing me as a true business partner, plus it gave me the confidence to speak up at times when my opinion differed from my husband’s. If I were going to give advice to an aspiring entrepreneur today, I’d tell him or her to carefully consider the business structure. If it’s not a sole proprietorship, I’d have three documents in place and signed before hanging the “open” sign: (1) a business plan including a marketing plan; (2) a succession plan; and (3) a buy-sell agreement.
Do you belong to any business organizations, if so, which ones?
Enchanted Acres is a member of the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and Healthy Harvest of North Iowa. As a mother, I understand that noting is more important that making the choices we believe is best for our bodies- and our families. Greater understanding happens when consumers understand the facts of food production. That’s why I advocate for food dialogues that allow producers and consumers to truly engage in healthy conversation, leading to greater understanding. I also want to help consumers engage in healthy food dialogue, so I’m an advocate for groups and initiatives like Ag In The Classroom, the Iowa Food & Family Project and CommonGround Iowa.
Tell us about your family.
I describe myself as a wife, mother and an entrepreneur. My husband and I, along with his brother, are proud to be the third generation to manage Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. Their grandfather started the family-owned seed company in 1947, and I enjoy my full-time job as marketing director. I especially enjoy meeting our customers, telling their stories and advocating for agriculture on our blog, “The Field Position.” I feel blessed that I can fit my work schedule, for the most part, around my family’s activities. My two kids are extremely active. My 15- year old daughter, Ellie, enjoys showing her horse throughout North Iowa. My 14- year old son, Ian, is passionate about basketball. He plays on the North Iowa Fire AAU team from spring through fall. He also plays baseball, football and basketball, plus runs track.
My weekends are filled with horse shows and basketball tournaments. We also are season ticketholders to Iowa State Cyclone football and men’s basketball. In between games and sporting events, you’ll find me with my nose in a book. I love to escape to faraway places on the pages of a book! I also love traveling and trying foods unique to the areas where I am visiting. I especially enjoy spending rare Saturday mornings in my kitchen.
My grandma, my mom and my neighbor lady were all wonderful cooks. I truly believe these influential ladies in my life showed their love to family and friends, by the foods the made for them. Their love of cooking prompted me to start baking at a young age, and I entered muffins I’d baked at the county fair for the first time when I was 9 years old. I earned a blue ribbon with my first food entry, and muffins are still one of my favorite things to make! I loved baking Sour Cream Raising Pies with my neighbor lady, and baking with others just brings back great memories.
What is one message you would love to get across to the general public about what you do?
Many of our memories are formed around food from childhood birthday parties to holiday gatherings. Other memories that we often remember are associated with trips we’ve taken and the experiences we’ve had while traveling. That’s why I want to help visitors to Enchanted Acres create positive memories around food and experiences. I want them to experience a slice of farm life that leaves them with a favorable impression.