- December 17, 2020
- December 17, 2020
"Working with the staff of advisors at the Illinois SBDC has given us a level of comfort as we develop and grow the business."
- Nancy & Mark Wunderlich, Owners
Ergonomic Solutions, Mundelein, IL
Businesses are always searching for ways to be more productive. This drives them to find solutions that make things more convenient and give them the ability to get things done while on-the-go. Enter Ergonomic Solutions – “where the office meets the road”! Nancy and Mark Wunderlich design their mobile office spaces so that employees can work efficiently, in a comfortable space that doesn’t compromise their well-being. There’s no need to precariously balance that valuable laptop on top of the car when you have a fully functioning office space in your vehicle. Ergonomic Solutions is a certified Woman Business Enterprise and their mobile office furnishings are proudly made in the USA.
Why did you choose to launch Ergonomic Solutions?
Our motivation to be business owners was probably a bit different than most entrepreneurs. We were looking for a way to support our family that also fit with our lifestyle. We had a child who needed special care and we wanted to make sure that we had an income stream and health insurance that would enable us to care for her. Nancy had been working at Ergonomic Solutions for several years, so she knew quite a bit about how to manage the business. When the prior owner, who is actually a close friend of ours, decided to retire, we were asked if we wanted to take over the business. The opportunity made financial sense and met the unique needs of our family. In late 2019, we acquired the assets for the business, and we’ve been happy business owners ever since.
Tell us a little about your business and what makes it unique.
Essentially, we transform cars, SUVs, vans, and buses into ergonomic, mobile office spaces. It has all the traditional features of an office (desk, computer, printer, filing space, power source, etc.) but in a mobile environment. Everything is ergonomically designed so that employees can work in a safe, comfortable space. Our products are ideal for any role where a worker would benefit from access to a desk while in a remote location. We’ve developed mobile offices for insurance claims adjusters, construction site project managers, city building inspectors, and even government agencies like the FBI and SWAT teams.
What was the problem you were facing when you decided to contact the Illinois SBDC?
We learned about the advising program at the Illinois SBDC while attending one of their workshops. We thought talking to an advisor would be a good way to figure out if there was anything else that we should be doing to launch the business. We felt we were going into the business with good experience that would help us to manage it effectively. Between the two of us, we had a skill set that included entrepreneurship, IT, sales, consulting, and even social work, which is a great background for working with customers. However, we knew we would need help with more specific things related to owning a business. How could we finance the business? How should we advertise? How does the patent process work? Being able to consult with people who had more expertise would help us fill in these gaps. Furthermore, it’s always helpful to have people you can turn to for feedback on your ideas.
How did the Illinois SBDC help with the problems you were having?
The advisors at the Illinois SBDC really helped us to home in on where we should be focusing. As a business owner, you tend to have a million ideas, but it’s important to figure out the best way to spend your available funds. Jennie Johns gave us some great ideas about how to improve our website. Cheri Kretsinger helped us to develop a marketing strategy. And Tony Baldassano assisted us with accounting. Having all the advisors available in one spot has been really helpful. It’s enabled us to build a relationship with the entire staff of advisors. This has given us a level of comfort as we develop and grow the business.
How did working with the Illinois SBDC impact your business?
Working with the team of advisors led us to pivot the business a bit. We started redesigning products to improve their functionality for customers. We also learned that we shouldn’t rely on big customers for everything. We now consider every lead. Even customers with one office space can be good for us. Our profit margin can actually be better for smaller customers because we aren’t offering a bulk discount. Our marketing plan now includes tactics to help us develop our base of smaller customers so we aren’t overly reliant on just a few big ones. Plus, we like to tell the stories of our smaller customers because they are really good examples of how office space can be flexible and more ergonomic. We are now also partnering with upfitters because they are in a role to make product suggestions and influence customer purchasing.
Would you recommend small business owners use the services of the Illinois SBDC at Harper College?
A resounding yes! They understand what it takes to start a business and what you need to do to make it successful. As a business owner, there are some decisions that can be scary. Talking with the advisors at the Illinois SBDC gives you the confidence to move forward. You can trust their advice and it really feels like they have your back. They really go above and beyond.
What does the future look like for Ergonomic Solutions?
We are very hopeful about the future of the business. Demand for mobile office space is growing. There has been an uptick in interest from businesses that place value on going to the customer instead of having the customer come to them. We’re adding another large, fleet customer this year. We’re also continuing to expand our base of smaller customers. We’re excited about where we’re going with product development as well. We have ideas to redesign our car desk to make it easier to work at and easier to remove and reinstall on a daily basis. This is something that we could possibly even sell directly to consumers in the near future. In addition, we’ve been fortunate to have connected with the Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program at Northwestern University. The program is allowing us to work with engineering students to create our next generation of desks that will be lighter and more cost effective. We’re also planning to launch a line of accessories that will enhance the mobile workspace. All of this means we’ll likely have to hire at least some additional part-time staff. We’ve definitely encountered some challenges in our first year, but we feel like we’ve really grown into the business and we’re looking forward to continuing to develop it.
If you had one piece of advice to give someone just starting out, what would it be?
When you start your own business, you can’t allow yourself to be fearful. If you fear it, you won’t be able to think things through well. You need to make decisions based on the best information you have and then move forward. Create a plan for your business and execute it. But expect that you’ll be derailed and need to throw away the plan. Also, force yourself to network and reach out to people for help when you need it. You’re not in this alone. If you’re thinking of starting your own business so that you don’t have to work hard, that’s not the right reason. Breaks are often only about three minutes long with a lot of coffee. But it’s worth it.