When Danielle Johnson graduated from Iowa State University in May 2008, she wasn’t worried about finding a job. She packed up her English degree and her enthusiasm and headed to Shakopee, where her husband, Austin Johnson, had found work.
I thought for sure I’d be able to find a job – but it didn’t really work out that way,” she said.
After months of filling out applications with no luck, a friend hooked her up with a serving job at . The odd hours happened to suit her, especially because her husband traveled a lot for his racing job – as car chief for the Derhaag Motorsports TransAM.
Johnson kept applying for other jobs and finally in March 2011, she landed one as an account manager at a company called Production 40.
“This wasn’t really on my plan but I was glad to have gotten a job outside of Chili’s,” she said.
It didn't last long. When it was bought out, Johnson became a casualty of layoffs in February 2012.
“I kind of knew it was coming and it was a tumultuous ride for awhile,” she said. “I was scared.”
Knowing firsthand how difficult finding employment could be, Johnson had been busy honing other skills. She created a website for her husband, who had started sprint car racing. She also managed the rental of a vacation home owned by her parents in the Turks and Caicos islands – and had built an online presence through social media and creating online ads. When the layoff happened, Johnson thought she just might have to make her own way.
It wasn’t too much of a stretch – she describes both her parents as entrepreneurial.
“They taught me to think outside the box,” she said.
Since her dream is to one day own and operate a craft store, the first thing she did after the layoff was open an online shop on Etsy.com, a website for people to sell their crafts and art. Johnson said she’s always been “crafty,” and from corks collected from wine bottles at Chili’s, she started creating. Her cork and slate coasters have been selling, and she said it’s an evolving process figuring out what people will buy.
In talking with her parents, she seized upon a trellis company in Iowa that her mother and a friend purchased in 2002. Sold mostly in Johnson’s mother’s craft store, the aluminum trellis – which folds up to a size of less than 3 inches and can stay outdoors all winter without rusting – has largely had no marketing effort behind it.
“I said, ‘Let’s talk about this,’” she told her parents. “I knew I could do it and had to convince them I could rebrand the product for national exposure.”
Since February, Johnson has jumped in with both feet, learning the product - it’s perfect for roses, vining plants and tomatoes, she says – and creating a new logo and name, Eco-Trellis. She’s created a slogan, a website, a brochure and launched online ordering in May, largely using social media to get the word out (which is how Patch learned of the venture.)
“We’re brand new and excited to see where we can take this,” she said.
Johnson is busier than ever trying to get Eco-Trellis into stores during the growing season. She’s also moving quickly because although her husband is 100 percent supportive of her endeavor, Johnson continues the job hunt and with it, the hunt for financial stability. She said it’s a common search for many of her friends, who have graduated from college in recent years.
“At times, I didn’t really feel like I had a fighting chance,” she said of finding a job using her degree. “I don’t really have a clear path. But, I have big ideas – that’s what’s fueling the fire.”