The Business News - April 2009


Menomonie women started by making gift items at home; company now employs about 40.

By Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

Big Dot of Happiness, a Menomonie company, started in 1999, knows the meaning of happiness.

From happy employees to happy customers the philosophy of the company is to bring a little bit of happiness to everyone's lives.

The business started in the living room of Scott and Sherri Yukel's Menomonie home. Sherri, a stay-at-home mom after the birth of her second child, decided to start making some gifts items. Scott, an engineer at 3M, thought that it was simply a hobby for his wife.

As Sherri continued to make character towels and other small gifts, people began noticing. In 1999, she decided to try her hand at creating a Web site for herself. With the Web site in place, she began receiving orders. Her husband watched as the orders continued to come in and business began to grow quickly.

Today, Big Dot of Happiness offers everything a party planner would need for a baby shower, wedding shower, birthday party or other special occasion. Gifts are customized so customers feel as if the gift was created especially for them. Customers can order candle tins, diaper cakes, personalized invitations, banners and other items to celebrate the special occasion. Pleasing the customer is of utmost importance to Yukel and her team.

"The customer is our boss," she said, "Ask any of our employees and they will tell you that. We produce our own product lines and do whatever we can for the customers. It's all about the service.

To illustrate, each of the customer-service representatives at the company has the authority to do whatever it take to make the customer happy - no questions asked. If a product isn't what the customer wants or the company has made a mistake, Yukel said the company goes beyond what most people think of as great service.

For example, Yukel said that when one customer did not receive an order prior to leaving for her event, her husband called the company. He was upset and said that his wife had not been able to wait for the order. According to Yukel, the Big Dot of Happiness employee told him that a replacement package would be sent out overnight to the location to ensure it would arrive on time for the party.

After the husband indicated his wife had left for Saudi Arabia, Big Dot of Happiness spent $800.00 on overnight shipping to make sure the order arrived on time. It is this type of service that exemplifies the culture at Big Dot of Happiness, Yukel said.

The service of Big Dot of Happiness has helped it enjoy continual growth. When Scott saw that the company was blossoming and becoming bigger than either he or Sherri has expected he decided to leave his job at 3M and join the company full time. Although they say that working with a spouse can be difficult, Sherri and Scott have found a way to make it work. "We are on the same team," Scott said.

The Yukels know that it is important to maintain a separation of duties. "We have our own sandboxes," Sherri said.

When a decision needs to be made the Yukels ask themselves whose sandbox this time belongs in. "We keep decisions separate," said Sherri, who focuses on the creative side of the business.

"I'm the business guy," Scott said.

As the creative force behind the company Sherri encourages her team members to develop new and interesting products for customers. "We spend a lot of time listening to our customers,” Sherri said. If customers are repeatedly asking for certain products, the team investigates how they can fulfill that need and produce a quality product at a good price.

Listening to the customers - the ultimate boss at Big Dot of Happiness - led to customer service hours being expanded. The majority of customers are women and the company realized that they were getting many online hits later in the evening as many working women and mothers were going online after children were in bed.

Sherri realized that they needed to staff the phone and online chat services when the customer wanted those services.

Now, customer service personnel are available until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 6 p.m. on Fridays, with hours on the weekends as well.

"We've really brought customer service to a different level,” Sherri said. "Ultimately, out customers are going to decided how long we are around."

Customer service is just one thing that is one a bit differently at the Menomonie-based company.

"It really is about the culture," Scott said. What started as a business by one women grew to hiring the first employee in 2003. The company then moved into a 6,000-square foot building that housed four employees.

Last summer, Big Dot of Happiness moved into a new 20,000-square-foot building in Menomonie. Sherri said that she has been asked many times why they built a building like that when their customers will never see it.

The building, she said, serves as an extension of the culture of the company. "Our employees bring their family and friends here to see it. They feel proud to work here,” Sherri said.

The building features brightly-painted walls in the offices and in the assembly area. Sayings are painted on the walls that foster teamwork and the Big Dot of Happiness method of customer service.

As more and more people surf the Internet for their shopping needs, both Scott and Sherri look to grow the company.

"We grew so fast so quickly and are still very competitive,” Sherri said. Most of the products they ship are assembled in the Menomonie facility, but the company is now offering products that customers can put together themselves, to save money on their orders. This is one way the company has adapted to the difficult economic times.

The future of Big Dot of Happiness seems to be continued growth. The Yukels hope to add to the staff of approximately 40 employees and grow its party-planning niche on the Internet. As always, the company will remain focused on the people that keep it in business. "We will do whatever we can for our customer," Sherri said.