The human part is the hardest part of owning a business. I thought we could handle HR ourselves, but even before the pandemic, the human element was the hardest because we’re dealing with people’s lives, personalities and emotions. When the pandemic hit, we tried to navigate as best we could. We dealt with layoffs, furloughs, severe health issues and even multiple deaths. It was obviously difficult for those affected, but also for all those left behind, feeling helpless and even guilty for keeping their jobs. This experience has given me a greater respect for HR. We are in the process of hiring an internal HR professional to help us in the future.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Clear.
Heidi is the President and Founder of Sanctuary Sheds, a Minnesota-based company that delivers prefabricated, customized, luxury sheds to homeowners to use as a home office, exercise studio, man cave, she shed, or kid hangout in their own backyard. She is also the owner and Chief Marketing Officer at CenterPoint Marketing, which designs, produces and delivers effective brand experiences through trade show and event marketing solutions. Heidi has extensive experience in branding, marketing strategy and product development/marketing in B2C and B2B businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a small town — Mayville, Wisconsin. It was an ideal place to grow up because we could stay outside all day long, exploring, making up games, skateboarding, riding bikes, climbing trees, building forts, hanging out at a neighboring farm, playing in the creek, riding snowmobiles and getting into mischief. Because the school was small, I was able to participate in many activities in addition to academics: tennis, cross country, basketball, track, swing choir, National Honor Society, student council and cheerleading. I was valedictorian of my class and one of 12 scholar-athletes of the year for the state of Wisconsin in 1985. Being involved in many activities as a kid helped me prioritize my time and be able to multi-task with ease. My parents were super supportive and present for all the things I did, and my childhood gave me the foundation to go out into the world with the confidence that I could do whatever I wanted.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never give up.” This mantra is what has driven me from the time I was a kid back in Mayville. In sports, I wasn’t always the best athlete, but I worked hard to be the best I could be. In school, I was not always the smartest student, but I worked hard to do the best I could. There was a period of time when I did not feel well and doctors could not help me, but I worked extremely hard, researching and figuring out the root cause of my own condition and proceeded to heal myself.
When the pandemic hit, my industry was devastated. My core business, CenterPoint, which designs and builds custom structures for trade shows and events, came to a screeching halt practically overnight. I could have rolled over and given up, but I knew that many families relied on my company for their livelihood, so that was not an option. I worked harder than I had ever worked, trying to find a way to keep the company going, and that’s how our new venture, Sanctuary Sheds, was started.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“The Doctor’s Farmacy” podcast by Dr. Mark Hyman has made a significant impact on my life — in fact, it saved my life. I did not feel well for several years. I had severe fatigue, trouble sleeping, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss, muscle and joint pain and many other symptoms. I saw many doctors who could not find anything wrong, but all said it’s normal as you get older. I did not accept that and began researching for myself. I found Dr. Mark Hyman and his podcast and learned about functional medicine and how food, toxins and other external factors were affecting my body. Dr. Hyman’s podcast was just the beginning of my journey back to health. I researched endlessly (part of my “never give up” mantra) and was able to change my diet, eliminate toxins and stress from my life and regain my health. I still follow Dr. Hyman today because I believe in his approach and want to keep learning.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin — Madison with a double degree in finance and marketing. My first job out of college was with Andersen Consulting, which was a great place to start my career because we worked really hard to deliver for the client. I regularly worked 60–70 hour weeks, and I soon realized that I was pigeon-holing myself into a line of work that was not interesting or fulfilling for me. So I decided to go back to school to get my MBA.
I went to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (now Booth) to get my MBA in Finance and Marketing. I then went to work for General Mills in brand management, learning how to run a small business (within a larger corporation). I got married and moved around for my husband’s job. During that time, I worked for Morgan Stanley doing branding and marketing and then for Charles Schwab in product marketing.
Once I started having children, I became a consultant at Pepsico to give myself more flexibility. Then I made the decision to stay home full-time to really focus on my kids. I did that for about 12 years, and as the four kids got older and did not need me around as much, I started trying to figure out what was next for me. I had a few interviews at large corporations and quickly realized that I did not want that kind of career anymore. I learned a lot from them, but I needed more flexibility, wanted more autonomy and wanted something to call my own. I decided that running my own business would best fit my needs, so in 2018, my husband and I decided to buy a company that we could run together, CenterPoint Marketing. We were 18 months into our new company and having a record year when the pandemic hit.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Since our business of making customized structures for trade shows and events relied on large group gatherings, it literally evaporated overnight when the pandemic hit. Before we knew how long it would last, we looked at other ways we could deliver customer engagement and brand experiences to our clients, like virtual trade shows, mobile marketing roadshows and small, regional pop-up shows.
As the pandemic continued, we then began marketing and producing protective shields for schools and businesses, as well as other safety equipment, like sanitizing stations and visitor entry systems. We even licensed a COVID-19 testing booth from the University of MN that we could build and sell to clinics and doctor’s offices. We also worked on outlining new safety best practices for our clients once trade shows could open up again. Unfortunately, none of these got much traction, nor were they long-term solutions to our revenue problem.
After a lot of brainstorming, we decided to pivot again and launch a new business called Sanctuary Sheds. Sanctuary Sheds are prefabricated, luxury backyard sheds for use as offices, exercise studios, she sheds, art studios, etc. Like so many families during the pandemic, we understood firsthand what it’s like to have everyone working and learning under one roof, and we saw the opportunity to provide families and couples with the extra space, flexibility and freedom they need without the cost and hassle of a major home renovation. We were able to leverage our capabilities in design, custom construction, modular engineering and customer service. Plus, we leveraged our partnerships with shipping and labor companies from the trade show industry across the U.S. to enable us to provide nationwide delivery and installation.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
My “aha moment” was when my whole family went into quarantine. My husband and I were working from home with four teenagers who were doing distance learning. We quickly realized that we needed more space, as did so many other families. We looked for space solutions with the same quality of a custom home but a fraction of the cost and quickly determined that the solution we were looking for did not exist, and the idea of Sanctuary Sheds was born.
How are things going with this new initiative?
There is a lot of demand out there, and we have a lot of interest. Beyond the sales, this initiative has also been a great cross-functional effort for our company. It forced us to think outside the box and to work together differently than we ever had. It gave us purpose and a common goal during the depths of the pandemic. Ultimately, even our core business will be better off as a result of our Sanctuary Sheds endeavor.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for my very dear friend Karina Muller. She has been in my life since we met at our first job out of college. We were roommates and got into lots of mischief together when we were younger. But whenever I have needed support, a cheerleader, a devil’s advocate or a kick in the pants, she has always provided that for me. She is a brilliant businesswoman and also has a natural gift of providing insight and counsel to help me find the right path for myself. She has been there for me with every major decision of my adult life. When the pandemic hit, she helped me brainstorm pivot ideas, helped me flesh out the Sanctuary Sheds business plan and just kept believing in me. It’s truly a blessing to have that kind of unwavering support in my life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Since starting the Sanctuary Sheds project, everyone wants to help us out and see us succeed. We have real estate agents, interior designers, builders and landscape contractors sending our information to their networks, and our flooring company promoted us to their network. We also got promoted in business groups that my husband and I are in, and family and friends are spreading the word as well. It is both exciting and humbling to know that so many people are in our corner rooting for us and helping us!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1.The human part is the hardest part of owning a business. I thought we could handle HR ourselves, but even before the pandemic, the human element was the hardest because we’re dealing with people’s lives, personalities and emotions. When the pandemic hit, we tried to navigate as best we could. We dealt with layoffs, furloughs, severe health issues and even multiple deaths. It was obviously difficult for those affected, but also for all those left behind, feeling helpless and even guilty for keeping their jobs. This experience has given me a greater respect for HR. We are in the process of hiring an internal HR professional to help us in the future.
2. The human part makes it all worth it. When we purchased CenterPoint, we knew we had a strong team of people with a lot of experience that would allow us to continue providing a great product and service and continue to be a top competitor in the marketplace. What we did not realize was the human connections we were making were the bigger win. It is extremely rewarding for me to see the successes of our team — whether it’s winning new business or receiving an award. Similarly, even at the worst point of the pandemic, our team really supported one another. In fact, I had employees — even furloughed employees — checking in with ME to see how I was doing. So, this business has become more than just a means to make a profit — it has become a family, a source of energy and a true support system for me.
3. As an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. When we were in the depths of the pandemic and trying to decide what kind of pivot to make, we were limited on cash and human resources but needed to find a way to pivot. In my corporate days, there was time, money and human capital available to evaluate and launch new products, but we had to figure out how to do it with limited resources. We had brainstorming sessions with our account managers to come up with ideas. Then we had them do research on a few key ideas and boiled it down to the shed idea. We were able to send out electronic surveys to gather some market research on the concept, designs, features, and company name. This level of research and data would never have been sufficient to launch a new business in the corporate world, but we used the data we had, along with our own gut feeling, and took a leap of faith this idea would be worth the investment. After months of development and now a lot of demand, we are glad we made the investment.
4. No matter how well you plan, there are always surprises. When we purchased CenterPoint, we thought we did our due diligence to understand what we were getting into. Once we got inside, we realized the infrastructure of the company needed a lot of work, particularly the Work Order system. The previous owners were still using paper work orders and literally passing folders around. So we had to make an unexpected investment in time and resources to automate it. We are now 2 and half years into the business and continue to work on it.
5. For every negative, you need to find the positive. The pandemic is an obvious example of this, bringing so many negatives to my company. We have had to lay off a large percentage of our workforce, which was difficult for those who left and also difficult for those remaining. However, the positive side of this is we can now rethink positions and rebuild the business to better align with our future goals.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Occasionally, I like to escape with Netflix or read a great book to discuss with my book club pals. What I enjoy the most, however, is listening to podcasts or reading about health and wellness. It provides a great escape from the daily craziness, and it’s the one part of my life that I have complete control over. I love to keep learning how to keep myself and my family as healthy as possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
With the epidemic of chronic disease in the world today, I would inspire a movement toward better nutrition for health and wellness and using food as medicine. I would educate the masses about what food is actually healthy, and how healthy, non-toxic, unprocessed food can lead to better health and wellness and prevent and even cure disease. This would put people more in control of their own health and, hopefully, reduce the amount of chronic disease in the world.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Dr. Mark Hyman; I have been following him for many years. He is an international thought leader and practitioner of functional medicine and is transforming healthcare by looking at the root cause of disease instead of treating symptoms. He uses food as medicine to support longevity, energy, mental clarity, happiness and so much more. He is the founder & director of the UltraWellness Center, head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a thirteen-time New York Times bestselling author and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, “The Doctor’s Farmacy.” I would like to talk to him to thank him for starting me on my own health journey and to learn about where he sees the future of healthcare and how we will get there as a society.
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn — Heidi Lee Clear
Facebook — @SanctuarySheds
Instagram — @sanctuary_sheds
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!