Class of 2006
Nikki Orton started Nikki's Gift Baskets in 2003 and grew the company to national status in three years.
What are you doing now?
I own and operate two businesses. My husband mainly runs Nikki's Gift Baskets, and I run Elevate Apparel and Gear. Both businesses are located in Sarasota, Florida, with each warehouse within walking distance from the other.
How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?
It brought a very positive attention to women in business. I am not your typical business owner, I did not finish college nor have any formal training. Hard work and tenacity can take you places!
Other big changes since you received the award?
We moved to sunny Sarasota! We always wanted to move to a warmer place and we did! Sarasota is a melting pot, it seems like no one is from here so we have enjoyed making new friends from all over the U.S.
What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?
I think if St. Cloud continues to support local businesses and their owners that will be a very important step. We need to encourage women to take big chances and start their own businesses.
Originally ran: January 1, 2007
Nikki Orton defied conventional wisdom when she started Up North Basket Co.
She did not graduate from college and worked as a waitress before starting the business in 2003. In three years, she has grown the company to a national leader, beating out multimillion-dollar companies to exclusively supply baskets for the Home Shopping Network.
The company's growth propelled it into a new space in Sauk Rapids in September and prompted it to add more square footage two months later.
Who she is
Job: President of Up North Basket Co., a Sauk Rapids gift basket wholesaler and retailer.
Education: Two years at St. Cloud State University.
Family: Husband, Scott; sons, Brody, 7, Ashton, 4.
High school sports: Track, gymnastics, volleyball.
Favorite pastime: Summers on Gull Lake.
Favorite movie: "Crash."
Prized possession: Wedding ring.
Favorite room in her house: Living room, because that's where everyone congregates at the end of the day.
What was the defining moment in your career?
(It) was when I received a gift basket. A light went on, and that's when I knew. That's when I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
What's the best advice you've received?
Believe in yourself.
Who told you that?
My mom, when I started the business. Everyone was cautiously optimistic for me, and she was really the only one who said, "Just go for it and don't look back."
How do you live that now?
The path we're taking with the new (spa) product line is not a safe choice, but I believe it is the step that is going to take us to the next level. We're doing really well, but that is not me to be just comfortable. My wheels are constantly in motion and I go for it if I see something.
When was your hardest day?
It's the (holiday) season where the stress comes on. You're sitting on a half a million dollars in inventory and hoping it all leaves the warehouse in a month.
How do you prepare for the unpredictability?
I make sure I buy product that is pretty shelf stable — with a four-month minimum on it. If something has a two-month shelf life, I won't use it even if it's the greatest product in the world, because we could be compromising freshness.
What do you hope your sons get out of this business?
I hope my children are seeing what it is to be a self-starter and to follow through. I hope we're setting that example that we work hard, but family's first. I hope that this is a business that they'll run some day.
What will it look like then?
I don't even know what it brings, but if there is any indication of what the first three years have done, 20 years from now, we will have diversified so much. It's going to be ridiculous — in a great way.
What's your wildest dream for the business?
It would be the greatest thing if we were known as one of the biggest companies in St. Cloud who supplied St. Cloud people with jobs and a happy work environment.
How do you create that workplace now?
I have fun every day that I am here. I am very light. They follow that lead and realize it's not that serious. I always say, "We're not curing cancer; we're making gift baskets. But make them as nice as if your mother was going to get one of these."
What do you like most about your job?
I like being in control. I like making the decisions. I like that that's put on me. I like that it's on me to make this business thrive and grow. To me, that's not a stressful thing. That's such an empowering thing.
You faced resistance because you're not a college graduate and worked as a waitress before starting Up North. What's your advice to people facing that now?
I would say research whatever you're getting into. And follow through and be persistent, because that's what got me where I'm at. Five-hundred companies did not just decide to go with us from one phone call. It might have been 70 phone calls. You get turned down all the time, and that's where the successful people push forward and get through it. (For) the others, it's too challenging.