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Northeast North Dakota couple raising family of entrepreneurs

Matthew and Michelle Johnson can often be found on the weekends selling a selection of goods at area farmers markets and street fairs. This summer, their son Zander, 13, and daughter Tamari, 11, followed in their footsteps, each starting a business of their own.

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With It LLC Owner Michelle Johnson and children Tamara and Zander, who started businesses over the summer, frequent area farmers markets and events.
Contributed / Matthew Johnson
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CAVALIER, N.D. — For the Johnsons of Cavalier, North Dakota, entrepreneurship runs in the family.

Matthew and Michelle Johnson can often be found on the weekends selling a selection of goods at area farmers markets and street fairs. This summer, their son Zander, 13, and daughter Tamari, 11, followed in their footsteps, each starting a business of their own.

“I would say I’m the initial entrepreneurial spirit that has spread to them,” said Matthew.

Matthew and Michelle own With It LLC, where they sell sauces and spices, including barbeque and dry rubs. The couple started the business in March 2021, and their approach to business is focused on creating a brand, said Matthew, rather than just individual products.

“If everything went perfect down the road, it would be the new Hunt’s or something,” said Matthew. “Not that I expect that anytime soon, if at all.”

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They sell their products under the North Dakota Cottage Foods Act at farmers markets and other events in the area. While they hope to expand the business to sell in stores and online in the future, for now, they’ve developed a dedicated local customer base.

“When we’re out selling in person, we love hearing how people love the stuff,” said Matthew. “I mean, it just makes your heart sing.”

Matthew started his first business when he was 19, and With It LLC is his fourth business. This summer, he started passing the lessons he has learned as a business owner and salesman on to Zander and Tamari.

Originally, Zander and Tamari started their businesses as a part of 4-H and utilized a grant from the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association to help cover startup costs. Now, they both plan to continue running their businesses past the summer.

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Tamari Johnson started her business Tomorrow's Designs Today over the summer.
Contributed / Matthew Johnson

Tamari runs Tomorrow’s Designs Today, an arts and crafts business where she sells art and upcycled items. Her favorite method of painting is pour painting, when different colors of paint are poured onto a canvas or object, giving it an organic, drippy look. She uses this method to paint a variety of objects.

“Paintings, coasters, soon I will probably pour paint tags,” said Tamari.

“She loves drawing and stuff too,” Michelle said. “She’s more of our crafty child.”

Zander’s business is called With It WORKS. He makes and sells wooden objects, like coasters, grill scrapers and cutting boards, which he can customize with words and images using a laser engraver.

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Learning how to woodwork has been a learning experience for Zander and Matthew, who oversees Zander’s work in the shop to make sure he’s using tools safely.

“It’s a lot of teaching of tool safety, and then we just experiment with things,” said Matthew.

So far, Zander’s favorite product to make is his coasters, which he sells for $2 each, or $6 for four.

“So having many sets of coasters is a recommended idea,” said Zander.

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Zander Johnson makes and sells a variety of wooden items.
Contributed / Matthew Johnson

What started as a summer project for Zander has grown into a larger interest. He plans to start posting videos of his woodworking projects to YouTube, and has already lined up a sponsor. Laser engraver company Atezr gave Zander a laser engraver worth $700 in return for three months of videos.

But, Zander’s business is running into a few roadblocks. Zander does his woodworking in the family’s garage, which is not insulated and too cold to work in during the winter. His videos have also been put on hold as the family’s computers are too old to run video editing programs.

So, the Johnson’s are looking to the community for help. On Sept. 26, Matthew posted a GoFundMe to raise money to insulate the garage so Zander can continue working through the winter and eventually purchase a computer.

Over the summer, Matthew and Michelle coached Zander and Tamari on how to run a business and sell their products. And just like any other business, money generated from sales at Tamari and Zander’s business first has to cover the costs of running the business before it can be used for anything else.

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Zander said so far, he has generated about $50 in profit from his business and has plans for a larger purchase down the road.

“Which is a Nintendo Switch, with the new Pokemon game coming out — (Pokemon) Scarlet and Violet,” he said. “I’m a big fan of that.”

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Zander Johnson, holding one of the grill scrapers he makes and wearing a Pokemon shirt, is saving the profits from his business for the new Pokemon video game.

Related Topics: LOCAL BUSINESSMEMBERS-ONLY
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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