Local, Authentic and Inspired
By Robin Butler
In a world where digital news and entertainment media rules the internet and commands the attention of nearly every person in the developed world, one small company is proving that print is still king.
Lake + Co. is a relatively new business to Minnesota, putting its roots in the ground only a few years ago, and yet, the trifecta of Lake Time Magazine, Lake Bride Magazine and The Lake + Co. Shop, has the finish and maturity of businesses decades older. The team is comprised of three women - Megan Kellin, owner and publisher, Christina Monson, co-founder and editor of Lake Time Magazine and Kelly Kabotoff, visionary and manager of The Lake + Co. Shop. The women have created something beyond simple magazines and a store front. They have created a conglomeration of northern Minnesota stories and passions that showcases the heart of "Up North" culture.
The foundation of Lake + Co. is simple, it's northern Minnesota culture at its finest; "Everything really comes down to the people" said Kellin. Lake + Co. firmly believes that they are only as good as the people they serve and given that, the level of excellence the company has achieved serves as a testament to the value of Minnesota culture. "We are just a facilitator of the pages for people to put their stories on and share their passions with people around the state," explained Monson.
From the beginning, Lake + Co. seemed to come together by fate. On a random night, days before Christmas in 2014, Kellin met Monson's husband at a check-out line, having just moved back to the Grand Rapids area that day. The Monson's were entertaining a move to the area themselves, so they exchanged business cards and carried on, saying if they ever moved north, they'd be in touch. Two weeks later Christina and Megan met for a cup of coffee and left with a plan to start a magazine if and when the stars aligned. Lake Time Magazine was born 5 months later.
By the fall of 2015, Lake Time Magazine printed its debut issue: the first of three that would be distributed by hand across Minnesota - for free. After only three issues, Lake Time Magazine made it onto stands in the surrounding 7 states and they had already begun working on the inaugral issue of Lake Bride Magazine. The team carried its momentum with the two publications and in July of 2016, they opened The Lake + Co. Shop online, which proceeded to the opening of a downtown storefront in November 2016 (their current location). Throughout the this span, babies were born, relationships were made, and the power team continues to grow and build with stellar lead designers, Mary Snell and Meredith Latimer, ultimately doing everything in their power to draw attention to the stories hidden away in Minnesota culture.
A great example of this was a featured article about surfing on Lake Superior - which happened like so many stories--by chance. While the skills of the three women at Lake + Co. are many, none of them are deep in the "Lake Superior surfing community." So, when Monson was chatting with Mike Young at an eye doctor appointment, and was asked if they'd ever published a story on Lake Superior surfing, she said, "No, you should write it - how about the next issue?" "Oh but I'm not a writer!" he replied, surprised by the offer. Monson went on to explain that, with Young's passion in mind, no one else could do the story justice. "If one of us researches it, it's not going to be as good," Monson said. "People have a lot of heart here and it shines through in their experiences and their stories. That is the true power of a magazine."
Interactions such as that one is what has inspired many featured articles from the Lake + Co. magazines, from maple syruping to a grass roots chaga business. The magazines act as outlets for every hidden corner of local culture.
The brick and mortar shop delves deeper into the stories of local businesses. The store features more than 75 different vendors with each product selected by hand from either a local Minnesota company or a cause-focused business.
"We are the platform for these creators," said Kabotoff. "Ninety percent of what we bring into the shop is from Minnesota companies. Some of them are larger, like Duluth Pack, and some of them don't even have a company name, it's just this awesome woman who is making these hand made dolls and it's her passion, or it's a woman and her daughter that make mittens to earn money to go on mission trips. There is a story behind every single brand that we bring into the shop. If it's not a Minnesota company it's a cause-focused brand, so a brand with a give back mission, and there are some really amazing companies across the U.S. that support people locally or all over the world."
Some of the first products brought into the shop were directly from companies featured in either Lake Time Magazine or Lake Bride Magazine and those symbiotic relationships are alive and strong to this day. The team feels that it is a crucial part of their mission to bring these stories to customers through physical items in the shop. Brands in the shop support a variety of causes, from rescuing children from being child soldiers (Milk Barn), to fighting pediatric cancer (Hi Little One and Love Your Melon), to companies that help provide water to countries without access, or work towards rescuing young girls from sex trafficking. "Each and every product we buy has an effect on people and places, and that's what dictates the purchases we make and the people we support," said Kellin.
Part of what makes the team successful as a whole is their combination of life experiences and backgrounds. "All of us have spent a ton of time in northern Minnesota throughout our lives but we have all spent time in different places," Kabotoff explained. "I spent a lot of time on the North Shore, and Megan (Kellin) and Christina (Monson) spent time in places that I didn't. So it's been really neat as a team to explore northern Minnesota and to learn about different parts that we didn't know about before and hear all of those stories. We're learning and going on that adventure right along with our readers."
It is clear that the last thing the Lake + Co. staff is worried about is recognition. All three women can speak to how fulfilling their work is to share their passion for northern Minnesota and support all of the businesses that they feature. In spite of that, in their first year of business, Lake Time and Lake Bride magazines brought home seven awards from the 2016 Minnesota Magazine and Publishing Association Excellence Awards Gala. This is truly a monumental achievement as many of the other magazines featured at the awards have been in business for decades and make these awards a routine part of their year. The 2017 awards were no different and the small Lake + Co. staff outdid themselves taking home five excellence awards for each magazine - three of the ten awards were of gold standard for achieving the highest level of excellence. Those three awards include Overall Design Excellence, Cover Design and Feature Design.
Without awards, Lake + Co.'s rapidly expanding subscription base, growing at more than forty percent per issue, is enough for them to know that they are doing something right. Even still, the women-owned company gives all the credit to the people whose stories they tell and products they feature. Lake + Co. thoroughly believes that they owe their success to the people around them and they even state, "We are inspired by the stories of people doing exceptional things in the North."
The future looks exceptionally bright for Lake + Co. as they start to settle into their young business. While they are celebrating not starting another new business in the last year, they already have their eyes on the next big thing. The team is working on a podcast that has already gone into development that could feature anything from local music to feature stories to casual chitchat with the masterminds of the company. Everyone involved with Lake + Co. share a common, open, and driven mind and won't shy away from opportunities if they arise.
"Lake Bride and Lake Time are more than magazine, Lake + Co. is more than a shop, it's a state of mind. We are striving to bring people to that place because that's what northern Minnesota is." - The Lake + Co. Team
To keep updated on the goings on at Lake + Co., visit their website at www.thelakeandco.com or keep an eye out for one of their award winning magazines around town.