ANCHORAGE - It took love for what they do and a melding of talents for Mike and Michele Robuck to grow the Alaska Mint from a one-coin operation to a diversified and thriving business.
That love, mixed with hard work - and maybe a little luck, Michele admits - has delivered the Robucks personal satisfaction, business success, and has now earned them the distinction of being named the 2004 Alaska Small Business Persons of the Year.
Awarded since 1963 by the Alaska District of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the small business person of the year award is given to a business that, among other criteria, displays staying power, grows its financial and employee base, overcomes adversity and innovates.
"It's the people really more than the business," that the award recognizes, said William Wheat of the public affairs office of the Alaska District of the SBA.
As the people behind the Alaska Mint, the Robucks have poured their energy into building their business successfully on several fronts. With one medallion design featuring a fisherman, Mike started the Alaska Mint, expanding on the coin division at the family jewelry store that his father started in 1967.
In 1989, Mike ran his business from a sidewalk vending cart in downtown Anchorage before leasing the "Old City Hall" building on Fourth Avenue. In 1991, the Alaska Mint struck 18,000 medallions, selling them for $9.95 each. Now, Mike and Michele design, manufacture, wholesale and retail an array of unique medallions, watches, Alaska souvenirs, jewelry, and custom designs, with the majority of products retailing for between $30 and $75.
Alaska Mint products are still available at their newest store on Fourth Avenue, but can also be found on the Internet and in catalogues, as well as being sold wholesale to other retailers. The Alaska Mint even had a three-minute stint on the QVC home shopping network, during which they sold $35,000 worth of medallions.
Michele became Mike's business partner after the two married in 1994. Michele's strong business background complimented Mike's design talents. Michele said the two have been able to learn from each other and, in turn, make the Alaska Mint a stronger business.
"Mike and I are a good combination. I come from a business background and he comes from a background in jewelry," Michele said. "When we started working on this together, it allowed me to be more creative, and I brought the knowledge of the business end of it."
Michele partly gives credit to clever and well-directed advertising to the business's success.