Anna Hagen and Nikki Hollerich’s Whyography is one of more than 30 stories featured in the “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose” book. 100 percent of proceeds from book sales benefit the Fueled by Purpose micro grant fund for womxn-owned businesses. To purchase the book, visit the Marketplace page.
Anna Hagen spied a giant industrial band saw collecting dust in her in-laws’ garage and became obsessed. It hadn’t been touched for some time, but she had an idea for an art piece she wanted to make for her fireplace mantle—if she could just get her hands on that saw. Anna mentioned it to her husband, who talked his parents into letting them take the saw. As the couple drove home with the huge piece of machinery wedged into their vehicle, Anna called her sister, Nikki Hollerich, to tell her the news. Nikki shared her enthusiasm for the newly acquired power tool, and they set a date to work on the project together.
In their free time, the sisters often did crafts together. When they were kids, they spent time with their dad in the garage, fixing cars and building a wood strip canoe. That’s when he’d share life lessons. He’d encourage them to not be limited by gender biases and to pursue their passions, regardless of what others might think.
After a bit of research and some practice using their new tool, Anna and Nikki got to work, sketching and cutting out the silhouette of a buck on a large piece of lumber. There was more cutting. And then distressing, sanding and staining the wood. The result was a one-of-a-kind art piece perfect for above the fireplace. When they posted a photo of their handiwork on social media, the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. People wanted to place orders. So the sisters began making more pieces to sell. Each time a buyer displayed one online, they’d get more requests.
Both women had careers they loved—Anna as a marriage and family therapist and Nikki as director of operations for a national restaurant franchise. While they never officially planned on launching a business, they were having a blast doing it as a side hustle. In 2016, they found a brick-and-mortar space in Newport, Minnesota and officially launched Hagen and Oats, a business specializing in custom wood décor, signage and game boards.
Today, they have a team of mostly female employees. The sisters take great pride in challenging biases about which industries and jobs women should work in and about what women are capable of—like operating power tools and doing carpentry. Empowering women is foundational to their business, and they love seeing its impact. “It’s amazing to see how a woman’s attitude and posture completely changes after she uses a nail gun or power saw,” Anna said.
Hagen and Oats is also committed to giving back. Its “Stainbow” collection of rainbow stained art initially benefitted victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando and today supports a number of organizations that serve the LGBTQ community. Anna and Nikki are also part of Six for Good, a retail venture developed in partnership with four other Minnesota women business owners dedicated to using their purpose-driven businesses to make a difference in the lives of others and the world.
Photo: Hagen and Oats
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support womxn-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.