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svj creative designs

By Heather Carlile

hcarlile@agrinews.com

KELLOGG, Minn. — David Speedling’s standards for quality are high for his family’s business, SVJ Creative Designs.

They produce all kinds of iron works such as silhouettes and urn holders as well as concrete items like memorials, fountains, benches and lawn ornaments.

It’s easy to spot them along Highway 42 in rural Kellogg. Their front lawn is filled with items from a fire fighter ready for work to an 800-pound pig.

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David’s happy to go the extra mile to make sure a concrete cow statue doesn’t leave without life-like details, teats and all.

"What good’s a cow without teats?" he asked.

Their cow mold didn’t come with teats, so David makes his own by pouring concrete into plastic popsicle molds, then glues them on. Their list of animal statues also includes chickens, horses, dogs, cats, ducks and pigs.

David and his wife, Shelly, like that they’re providing products made in the USA, but their favorite part about the business is it’s allowed them to be full-time parents to their three children — Shauna, Valerie and Jeffrey — from whom the business’s name, SVJ, derives.

"We’re never gonna be rich, but we get to stay home," said Shelly.

They have one building where they make their items and sell them in another. David works with concrete and metal; Shelly does the book keeping and works on their Web site in the winter.

In warmer weather, she’s busy painting some of their items by hand or with an airbrush. Their friendly dog, Popcorn, roams around and is popular with children. Shelly said sometimes families will come just to see their four-legged friend.

To give customers variety, not all items are painted. They sell concrete pieces in four price ranges, depending on the amount of work that goes into them, starting with products straight out of a mold to those with detailed painting.

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They host bus loads of visitors for tours of how things are done. Tours show David pouring the concrete into a mold upside down.

"It’s like childhood days, playing in the mud," he said recently as he poured the dark, wet mixture into a mold for a bench leg. Then he bolts it shut. When the concrete is dried, the mold is flipped over, the bolts are opened, the fiberglass shell falls away and a latex layer is pulled back, revealing the new item. That day, he was finishing a cow statue.

"It’s like a cow being born," said David, as he pulled back the final layer.

When it first leaves the mold, the statue will have tiny holes. This cow will be one of the higher-priced statues so he’ll fill those in, knock off the extra concrete left from the mold and add on those teats. Shelly also takes visitors into her painting studio and lets some try painting the concrete first-hand.

David said he likes to give tours because it helps people understand the amount of work that goes into a finished product.

"It’s like people taking a glass of milk," he said. "They don’t realize the work that goes in."

Their children own molds and get to keep the profits when an item from their mold sells. Their first set of earnings was used on something fun — the girls bought computers and Jeffrey got a four-wheeler — the rest had to be saved for their college education. This has helped the children learn how to manage finances and develop strong work ethics. It also pushed their parents to strive for high quality.

"When you have your kids there growing alongside of you, you want to do quality work," said Shelly.

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