Pandemic drives entrepreneur to turn hobby into business

Dec. 15, 2020

This week’s Up-and-Comer is Steve Payne, owner of Mark201.

Name: Steve Payne

Age: 28

Hometown: Sioux Falls

What brought you to Sioux Falls?

I was born and raised in Sioux Falls. After high school, I spent four years in Vermillion for my undergraduate degree, two years in Minneapolis for my graduate degree, a summer in Boston, a summer in Cleveland and have visited plenty of places along the way. After all those experiences, I made the choice to come back to Sioux Falls as quickly as I could for a fairly simple reason: To me, Sioux Falls is home.

What keeps you in Sioux Falls?

So many reasons. I am very fortunate to have a tremendous support system of friends and family that also call Sioux Falls home. The city is just the right size, not too big yet not too small, so you can get to and from most places with relative ease. Downtown is vibrant; residential and commercial development continues; there is a growing appreciation for arts, culture and entertainment; people support local businesses; the population is diversifying; parks and schools are abundant; and for the occasional vacation, larger travel hubs are just a short distance away. I take great pride in being from Sioux Falls and am excited to see how the city will continue its growth into the future.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

I’m filled with satisfaction every time I finish a piece of work. Something about having an outlet to create things with your own hands and have those creations be appreciated by others is a truly special feeling.

Personally, I haven’t ever been much of a social media person, but it’s been a lot of fun to run my Mark201 brand accounts — Instagram @mark201_sd, Facebook — to showcase my work, interact with people, do giveaways, offer promo code discounts, and I am planning to create video content soon. Whether I’m creating a retail product, a custom piece for a client or just experimenting with new ideas, I thoroughly enjoy the process and take pride in all my completed works.

What prompted you to start your business, and what has the experience been like so far?

Like many, I found myself with a lot more free time than usual since COVID-19 made its way to the U.S. Fortunately, I classify myself as a hobbyist, so I was able to take a deep dive into one of my favorite pastimes: woodworking. It was a really natural progression from hobby to business venture.

I found myself creating something almost every day during quarantine for myself, friends or family, and after a lot of encouragement, I decided to take it to the next level and put a brand on my work to sell in a retail environment. Hence, the Mark201 brand was born in early November 2020. I took about two months to refine my skills and learn new techniques before launching to ensure everything sold under the Mark201 brand would be a quality handcrafted piece. It has been a ton of fun to get everything up and running. I have enjoyed all the learning opportunities and client relationships I have made so far along the way and look forward to more to come!

What has been the most unexpected part about owning a business?

As a small-scale woodworking shop, put simply, I make stuff. I make really nice handcrafted products. However, since I decided to make it a business instead of just a hobby, I’ve had to wear a lot more hats than just being the maker.

There were so many pieces that I didn’t think of before launching that I’m now learning to manage. But the one aspect that I am most proud of — apart from each finished piece — is the result I was able to accomplish with my website. I created with next to no experience in web design and absolutely no experience at all in operating an e-commerce site. I also learned to shoot, edit and upload all of my own product photos — something that I also had no experience in prior to launching my brand. There are many other examples, but I’ve been fortunate to experience a great deal of professional and personal growth beyond just refining my woodworking skills since pursuing this venture.

What is something someone might be surprised to learn about you?

In a world before social distancing, you could find me playing music at local downtown Sioux Falls establishments a few times a year. I’ve been playing guitar for 16 years and have played in all kinds of settings: solo performances, small events, accompaniments, weddings, musicals, living room jam sessions and even a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band in college. I typically organize a show at a local brewery once a year called Steve Payne and Friends and invite others to perform a short set or join me on stage to sing and play. We had to take a break this year, but hopefully next year, we will be able to bring it back and play some tunes for all to enjoy.

What’s your favorite way to give back to your community?

I’ve been involved in a number of volunteer roles throughout my educational and professional life. I co-chaired USD Dakotathon in college, was a member of my graduate program’s community stewardship initiative, have been involved with Sioux Empire United Way and serve on the Sioux Falls Young Professionals Network steering committee. As it pertains to my work with Mark201, a really fun way I’ve found to participate in charitable causes is by donating pieces to organizations’ silent auctions. It is always fulfilling to see my work appreciated, especially when it benefits others in need.

What’s one business you’d like to see in Sioux Falls that isn’t here now?

No specific business comes to mind, but after spending a few years in larger cities, I really came to enjoy rooftop bars and restaurants. A few more of those in town would be awesome. Additionally, more outdoor seating options for those busy summer weekends in downtown Sioux Falls would be a huge bonus.

Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?

Launching Mark201 has taught me a lot. One of the biggest lessons I’ve been able to take away so far is that you can learn just about anything with enough effort, regardless of what you went to school for. I’ve gained a whole new perspective and appreciation of all the various parts of running a successful operation, so whatever comes next in my professional journey, I am confident this experience will equip me with additional skills and knowledge I would have otherwise not had. Though, I can say, some type of woodworking has always been a part of me — even when I was a kid making “airplanes” by nailing two 2-by-4s together — so I don’t think that aspect of my life is going to change any time soon.


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Pandemic drives entrepreneur to turn hobby into business

This week’s Up-and-Comer is Steve Payne, owner of Mark201.

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