Progress: Perham-based Goose Group is a growing flock
Though they have no current plans to expand further, “that’s what we said last year,” said Laura Bjerke, chief operations officer for Goose Group.
Editor's Note: The following originally appeared in the 2023 Perham Progress magazine, which was included as a free insert in a February 2023 issue of the Focus. Read the magazine in its entirety HERE online.
Subscribe to the Perham Focus
to receive more great community-focused articles, magazines and local news content from across the family of Forum Communications Company-owned newspapers.
It all started with a Wild Goose.
Perham’s Goose Group, Inc., had its beginnings in a gift and coffee shop that local resident Sue Huebsch opened back in 1997.
“It was just as coffee shops were starting to become popular,” says Laura Bjerke, chief operations officer for Goose Group. Indeed, Starbucks had just started opening a chain of stores across the country one year earlier.
That store, called The Wild Goose, is still in existence, but it no longer includes the coffee shop, which now has its own home. Rather, the store at 935 Jenny Ave. now focuses on “a skillfully curated selection of gifts, jewelry, home, cabin essentials, and outdoor items,” according to the description on the Goose Group’s website, findyourgoose.com.
In the early days of their business, Doug and Sue Huebsch also took on a pair of brothers from Frazee, Wayne and Ross Mickelson, as partners in the Goose Group, which was incorporated in 2001.
The coffee shop, meanwhile, had grown so much in popularity that in 2011, they began talking about moving it to a new location and expanding it. In 2012, plans were drawn up for a large building, including offices, on the east side of Highway 10, but the cost was prohibitive at that time.
Bjerke came on board in 2013 — right around the time that they opened another store, called Goose Gang, at 342 Third Ave. SE. That store housed their expanding toy business, as well as games and soft-serve yogurt, which was becoming popular at that time.
Over the next few years, the yogurt shop was phased out, in part due to COVID-19 — the pandemic that caused problems for so many retail outlets, bars and restaurants between 2020-21.
“We only had to (completely) shut down for about three weeks,” Bjerke said of the COVID-19 restrictions, noting that they spent the time cleaning out the stores, top to bottom, and putting in all the required safety precautions to enable them to stay open. “We were able to make changes quickly, and had growth throughout (the pandemic).”
After deciding to close out the yogurt shop at Goose Gang, they added ice cream instead, she said — which they continue to offer, along with popcorn, candy and soda.
The need for an expanded coffee shop never really went away, and so in 2016, the Goose Group built and opened a separate coffee shop, gift store and kitchen retail outlet, called simply, Nest. The coffee shop in the Wild Goose closed with the new store’s opening.
"We knew Perham needed a bigger coffee shop," said Bjerke at the time, explaining Goose Group's decision to relocate the coffee shop to its new home at 902 Market St. "We talked about it for years and finally decided that it was time to do it.”
Why was it called Nest? Aside from the obvious connection to geese, Bjerke said, "The idea of Nest is to meet the needs of each phase of your nest; new nest, full nest and empty nest. We wanted a store that offers quality products for everyday use in each stage of your life."
Goose Group was content to continue operating those three Perham-based businesses until another opportunity came up — in New London, Minn.
“We were approached by some friends in New London, who wanted us to take a look at some businesses there,” said Bjerke. “We loved the community. It’s very similar to Perham, surrounded by lakes and farms … we felt at home there.”
That led to the acquisition of the Mill Pond Mercantile building, which became home to their fourth business. Lucky Duck, which opened in 2021, is somewhat similar to Goose Gang — but not quite the same, Bjerke said, as each store has its own unique flavor.
Lucky Duck offers toys, games, puzzles and sweet treats — along with, of course, a large selection of rubber ducks.
“Our goal is to make people happy,” said Doug Huebsch, co-owner and CEO of Goose Group, at the time the acquisition was announced. “We want everyone to leave the store with a big smile on their face.
“Play and social interaction is more important than ever,” he added. “We want grandparents, parents and children to put their devices away for a few minutes and spend time interacting with one another.”
About a month after acquiring the property that became Lucky Duck, a neighboring business in New London, called Happy Sol, came up for sale.
“Because we loved them, as a store and location, we decided to go all in on New London, and purchased Happy Sol,” Bjerke said.
The sale took place over the span of just five days, she added. “It’s the craziest thing we’ve ever done, but the best, too.”
The boutique clothing store offers a unique collection of clothing, gift items, jewelry and home decor, designed “to provide a total shopping experience for men and women of all ages,” according to its website, thehappysol.com.
At the start of 2022, the Goose Group was ready to shift gears toward growing and enhancing the five businesses already under their umbrella, with no plans to expand beyond the addition of a warehouse and distribution center at 802 Jenny Ave. SW., due to outgrowing their old warehouse space.
“We moved (into the warehouse) in February,” said Bjerke of the Goose Group’s new headquarters.
And then, in April of last year, the owners of Disgruntled Brewing announced their intention to close its doors.
“We really didn’t want it to close,” said Bjerke, noting that it was the only brewery in town. “So we initiated the conversation (about taking it over).”
They were able to take over the business while still retaining its employees, she added.
And then, in December, the Goose Group announced plans to open a small retail market in the same building as its warehouse, called the Goose Market and Outlet Store.
Products at the outlet store will include a collection of shipped items that had packages damaged in transition, but still offer a quality product. The shelves may also have items that were purchased at a great price, but don’t fit in a store’s motif.
“We will also have clothing clearance items from Happy Sol,” Bjerke said.
Across all of their stories, Goose Group now employs approximately 100 people, both full and part-time, she added.
Though they have no current plans to expand further, “that’s what we said last year,” Bjerke said. “We have all kinds of other ideas. Our philosophy is, if we see a need within a community, then that’s what we want to bring (into it). We don’t want to duplicate any of our existing stores. It’s about what’s going to provide the best experience for our customers.”