Your dream is out there. Go get it.
It’s a phrase LeRoy Morford repeats often and one he instilled into the mind of his daughter, Kimberly (Morford) Baeth, from a young age. It has guided her throughout her journey from the halls of Marshalltown High School (MHS) to Iowa State University (ISU) to starting a business that would eventually count former President Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett and Disney among its clientele.
“She’s done things that most people dream about, but that’s because of her aggressiveness and her willingness to go after her dream,” LeRoy said. “If you’re going to dream, dream big.”
Baeth, a 1989 MHS graduate who owns and operates Golden Openings out of Urbandale, was recently named the Iowa Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Judy Eyles, the director of the John Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship at ISU, nominated her for the award.
“I will tell you she is the hardest working person I think I’ve ever met — having employees leave, going through COVID and business skyrocketing. She works day and night, day and night, day and night,” Eyles said. “In my opinion, she’s a very inspiring person who deserves all the accolades she’s getting… It’s been really fun to get to see her story, to watch what she’s doing, to put her in front of young women or young entrepreneurial students, because it started with a pair of scissors.”
Time for a change
At the age of 26, Baeth made something of a rash decision in 1997: she quit her job with a chamber of commerce in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and opted to strike out on her own. The idea for Golden Openings sprang out of the fact that the chamber didn’t provide ribbon cutting supplies and services for new businesses, but she had a feeling she could.
Even her husband, Kevin, had his doubts at the time, telling Baeth she had a year to make a profit, or she was going back to work. But he also knew his wife was one of the most motivated people he’d ever met — at ISU, she’d studied journalism, public relations and business communications, been named Greek woman of the year, been involved in countless student organizations, made the homecoming court and spoken at graduation — and if anyone could pull it off, it was Kimberly.
Her father felt the same way and offered his wholehearted support.
“I was onboard immediately because she had the dream, and she had a goal. I guess, in my mental capacity, I’m thinking ‘Wow, this is what my daughter wants to do. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help her get it done,’” LeRoy said. “She was an extrovert. She was outgoing. She had the personality. She’s a people person… She has the ability to communicate and grab your interest, and she can exploit her ideas and implement what she wants to get done.”
The same year, Kimberly and Kevin welcomed their first child three weeks early, and she already had three openings scheduled. She wasn’t deterred and pushed ahead with them anyway.
“My (motto) back then was the show must go on. Do or die,” she said. “Overall, from that very get go, my mind was set that ‘Yes, I can make this work. Yes, there is a need for big scissors. Yes, there’s openings and groundbreakings everywhere, but nobody’s doing it so it’s something new.’ I didn’t invent ribbon cutting, but I invented the sheer depth of it, the fun of it. It’s more the experience.”
A quarter of a century later, Baeth hasn’t just survived and managed to make a profit. She brought Golden Openings to her home state of Iowa at its current headquarters in Urbandale and has done business on every continent except for Antarctica. The first pair of giant scissors that LeRoy built with his own two hands has grown into an international, award-winning operation with franchise potential.
Because she received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan during the COVID-19 pandemic, Baeth learned she was eligible to apply for the SBA award and jumped at the opportunity.
“Most companies shut down during COVID, and we were able to keep everybody hired, bring them back, get our warehouses organized and essentially the government paid for that,” she said. “In a very, very hard time, that was a blessing.”
It runs in the family
Baeth credits both her father and her late mother Patti for her success and said they were both instrumental in making her who she is today. LeRoy is well known in the Marshalltown area as the longtime owner-operator of LeRoy Morford Construction Co. — he’s been in the business for 52 years now — and both father and daughter pride themselves on the fact that they built their operations from square one.
“It wasn’t hand me down money. My dad started his business with a shovel and a truck. He built with a lot of determination, a lot of energy and a lot of pride,” Baeth said. “The most important thing is if you can get knocked down and get back up again, that’s really what it takes to be a good business owner. Some people are handed things. Some people are given things. Some people buy businesses, but to create something from your own imagination or vision and then have it be as successful as it is — to have 84 percent growth last year — is a dream.”
LeRoy admits that he often spoke in cliches when stressing the value of hard work — “Your dream is out there, go get it” is still his signature phrase — but he always wanted to make sure his daughters knew what it would take to be successful.
“Nothing happens unless you make it happen. You can make it good or you can make it bad. If you want something good to happen, then do things that are good and good things will happen,” he said. “That’s kind of a cliche in life that people have never been able to grasp.”
Patti, on the other hand, brought a different sensibility: in Kimberly’s words, she encouraged her daughter to “eat more ice cream, go barefoot, don’t work so hard, take more vacations, wear the polka dot dress and never bake cookies out of a can.”
“She brought the balance back into our family because you’ve got to be work hard, play hard,” Baeth said. “I think that’s important to be able to see both sides because you can definitely work yourself to death, and I’ve almost been feeling that in the last 18 months.”
And although she’s moved away from her hometown, Baeth, who interned at the Times-Republican as a teenager, still keeps a close connection both to her family and the community at large. She’s heavily involved with class reunions and charitable efforts, and the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce uses her scissors for its own ribbon cuttings.
An eye to the future
Some business owners lose the passion they once felt as they reach the latter stages of their careers. It should surprise no one to learn that Baeth isn’t one of them.
“She really should be crumbling under all the pressure she’s under, but she’s always positive, always willing to help, and she truly wants to inspire young people,” Eyles said. “My job for the last 25 years is to teach students to be entrepreneurial and innovative. Well, what a great role model for that.”
After working with the White House a few years ago and even receiving a personal tour, she has her eye on franchising Golden Openings in all 50 states and around the world — as her father put it, the classic Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere” could easily be used to describe Kimberly. As long as companies are still in need of her services, she intends to provide them.
“Anytime there’s change, we do good. When companies move, change their name, merge, all that’s always happening, and we honestly can’t keep up with it. We’re always on the defensive,” Baeth said.
The award winners from each state will be formally recognized on May 5 during the National Small Business Week Virtual Summit’s Awards Ceremony.
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or [email protected]