Winter storms, flat tires, and hauling people around, is the bread and butter for Shawn Wheten, owner and operator of Watrous Towing. After digging people out of snowbanks or saving people during times of car trouble his entire life, now he gets paid for it, he laughs.
“Plus, I get cool equipment, so that's a bonus. I always tell people when I grow up, I want to be a tiger or a tow truck operator...it's stuff I've been doing my whole life, I've just actually got cool equipment now to do it.”
While Shawn doesn’t consider himself an entrepreneur, each business that he has taken on in his life, from Watrous Towing to a boat rental business he had at Manitou Beach while his kids were young, was an opportunity he jumped at with more than a modicum of success.
Shawn could not believe it when he bought Watrous Towing in March of 2018, but with help from Sagehill Community Futures, he and his wife, Susan; a registered nurse and bookkeeper for Watrous Towing, were ready to take on the stability of their own business.
“He was self-employed in construction. It's kind of really hit and miss, so we wanted something a little more reliable for him, as far as income went. We thought that everybody needs a tow truck at some point,” says Susan.
Countless industry contracts, being the only towing business in Watrous (and one of the few in the area), and Shawn’s passion for towing has made for a number of successes for the pair. The breadth of their calls is something they are proud of, and the long days during snowstorms; the longest being a 39-hour workday, says Shawn, are more rewarding than inconvenient. However, cash flow can still be an issue since towing can be a feast or famine kind of business, especially in the winter when a bad storm means a busy day for Shawn.
But taking over the business from good people made that transition and addressing those challenges easier for both Shawn, Susan, and the previous owners who took them under their wing to ensure the future success of the business.
“They had a really good setup and the previous owners, Lorrie and Susan Struthers, really helped us out with learning how to do the books and this company likes it done this way,” says Susan.
For Shawn, Lorrie showed him plenty that he already had been doing when it comes to towing, boosts, and taking care of flats, but he also gave Shawn the assurance of, ‘you got this, man.’ That relationship continued well into their first year of business, says Shawn.
“Their response every time we talked to them: ‘feel free, anytime, give us a call. We’re here for you.’”
Having a business in a small town, they have a lot of people in their corner that want to see them succeed. Fellow business owners and friends are willing and able to help keep Shawn’s trucks on the road whenever he needs them. They do not take that for granted and they are lucky to have that support, says Susan.
Getting the financial backing to start the business, Shawn and Susan both agree that there wouldn’t be a continuation of Watrous Towing without Sagehill Community Futures.
“There's no way we would have qualified for a loan through a bank or anything like that. So, absolutely, we would not be here if Sagehill not been able to give us that loan to do this,” says Susan.
Given the success that they have seen in the past three years, the Wheten’s are looking forward to owning their building and dream of expanding on for more space to maintain and build their fleet of tow trucks. While they do not know what the market is like, Shawn is looking to invest in a semi-hauler to add to their fleet.