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Business Excellence Award goes to . . .

NISSWA - And the award goes to: Ultra Paws. Ultra Paws and the team with owner Lisa Paxton received the fourth annual Business Excellence Award from the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Thursday night at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. Paxton recei...

Lisa Paxton accepts the Brainerd Lakes Chamber 2015 Business Excellence Award Oct. 8 at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa with the team from Ultra Paws joining her on stage, including her staff and husband Steve. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch
Lisa Paxton accepts the Brainerd Lakes Chamber 2015 Business Excellence Award Oct. 8 at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa with the team from Ultra Paws joining her on stage, including her staff and husband Steve. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch

NISSWA - And the award goes to: Ultra Paws.

Ultra Paws and the team with owner Lisa Paxton received the fourth annual Business Excellence Award from the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Thursday night at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. Paxton received a standing ovation and was visibly stunned by the announcement.

In addition to Ultra Paws, 2015 finalists were LINDAR Corporation of Baxter and the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby.

Tim Bogenschutz, Brainerd Dispatch publisher, presented the award to Paxton, who rose slowly from her chair. After the event, Paxton said she was shocked and still numb.

Paxton accepted the award to sustained applause and a standing ovation.

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"I prepared nothing," Paxton said at the podium. "With the stellar competition we had I thought there was no chance we'd be recognized tonight. It's so amazing to be up here and be recognized for this."

When Paxton paused looking out at the crowd, Bogenschutz joked she was speechless for the first time.

"I am so blessed to have this next chapter of my life be so amazing," Paxton said.

She purchased the business from her brother after a 1998 fire ravaged it in its fledgling days. Paxton and her husband, Steve, thought they could do something with the business. Paxton credited her employees who kept the business going with her participation on a very part-time basis until it grew to a point she could leave her job as Brainerd Lakes Chamber CEO and go into the business full time. She credited her husband's ability to design products that sell.

"I couldn't ask for a better team to work with," she said. "We have a lot of fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously because we really enjoy what we are doing.

"... It's just a blessing to do business in this area."

Paxton thanked the many community members who helped their family business grow into the company it is today. And she thanked her work team who shared the stage with her.

"We are in a beautiful community," Paxton said. "We can't be grateful enough for the relationships and the partnerships and the friendships we have here in this community. This is a surprising and amazing honor. Thank you so much."

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The announcement was made before a packed room of about 300 people during the chamber's annual dinner. This award recognizes outstanding businesses and inspires others to do more, said Brent Gunsbury, co-founder of the award who presented the finalists along with Kristi Westbrock, incoming board chair at the chamber.

Paxton bought the family business her mother started in 1972. Westbrock outlined Ultra Paws' history for those gathered before the award was announced.

"She started with little more than milk bones," Westbrock said. "A fire had destroyed much of the inventory and the equipment. The two initial sewing machines were salvaged from the ashes."

A part-time staff member answered phones, filled orders and created the products. The business operated from the family garage and space.

"Fast forward 16 years and Ultra Paws is in a very different place," Westbrock said. "Both economically and physically. Annual gross sales have increased 350 percent. Orders have gone from 300 to 10,000."

Ultra Paws sells its product from its website, through online partners and brick and mortar stores, including local businesses like Animal House in Nisswa, Mills Fleet Farm, Cabela's and Scheels, Target.com and Tractorsupply.com. In 2014, Ultra Paws acquired the assets of competitor Pedigree Perfection International. Ultra Paws has patents in the U.S. and Canada.

For its ultimate customers, the canine companions, Ultra Paws offers eight different styles of boots including Kevlar for military and police dogs, cool boots for hot climates and pavement, and wound boots for healing dogs. New projects for 2016 include a cooling vest, raincoat in a pouch and elbow protectors for senior dogs.

For the seven employees, the business offers bonuses, paid time off and a retirement plan.

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"The team's fun culture is reflected in their job titles," Westbrock said, noting titles like service dog, house dog and sales hound. Prior to 2014, all revenues went back into growth for the business.

"The Business Excellence Award finalists have a lot of things in common and one of those is excellent people," said Matt Kilian, president of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce at the start of the proceedings.

The Business Excellence Award, presented by the Brainerd Dispatch, recognizes area businesses for their entrepreneurial spirit and accomplishments. Three finalists are chosen by an independent panel of judges looking at growth, innovation, willingness to take risks and challenges, optimism and tenacity, ethics and community impact. The award is crafted with hand-blown glass by Dan Neff, owner/artist of Lake Superior Art Glass in Duluth. The blue and green colors were designed to reflect the lakes area's natural beauty with an infinity shape representing "the fluidity and cyclical nature of doing business locally." The butternut and cedar base, made of Minnesota wood, was handcrafted by Ron Nelson, a retired senior chief U.S. Navy custom woodworker based in Pequot Lakes. Each finalist received the award.

Previous award winners were Widseth Smith Nolting in 2012, Crosswoods Golf Course/Whistling Wolf Mini Golf in 2013 and Grand View Lodge in 2014.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

Related Topics: GRAND VIEW LODGE
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