Dean Dickson hates sitting around, and it shows. Dean is the kind of entrepreneur who uses skill and perseverance to take a kernel of a business idea and grow it into something real.
Tucked away in the hardwood forests just south of the Mississippi River several miles west of Cohasset, Maple Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care is a 24-bed facility that has operated since 2008. To build the operation, Dean carved out five acres from 60 acres he owns in the area.
Dean Dickson grew up in Boy River, Minnesota, population 47, and graduated from high school in Remer. After a stint in the Marine Corps—during which he was part of Desert Storm in 1991—Dean returned home. He enrolled at Itasca Community College to study to become a forester, but the pace of life as a forester didn’t suit him.
After some reflection and looking around for other opportunities, Dean began working as a cement mason. He wasn’t afraid of hard work, and he even took a job in the Twin Cities to help build his masonry knowledge. After several months he returned to Deer River and started his own business. Operating under the name Dickson Masonry, Dean’s cement and stone masonry business employs four people on a seasonal basis.
Because the cement business is seasonal, Dean—who doesn’t like to sit still—needed something more to keep him busy all year long. After visiting with friends about managing and operating an assisted living facility, he learned enough to pique his interest and began figuring out how to start up such facility himself.
“I wanted to try something different, so I learned as much as I could about the business,” Dean said. “To tell you the truth, I just winged it for the first two years. I started by building six rooms in 2008, and I have to say it was the most broke I’ve ever been in my whole life. I had the cement business to fall back on, and that kept me going.”
“We now have a great manager who coordinates the day-to-day operations. Carla Hodgson runs the operations and treats our clients like they are her own mom and dad. It’s hard to find that kind of care anywhere, but Carla has that ability.”
The State of Minnesota licenses Maple Woods as they do all assisted living operations. Maple Woods just completed a State inspection with flying colors. The inspections are routine—every three years—unless there are issues that need more intense follow-up.
“We employ 18 people on a part-time basis and a full-time cook, accounting coordinator, three RNs nurses and two LPNs,” Dean continued. “Eighty percent of our clients come from this area, and since most of the families live nearby, we’ve been able to rely on word-of-mouth to grow our business. We have a good website, but we get most of our referrals from hospitals and social workers who know our reputation and the quality of care we provide.”
Maple Woods began with six units in 2008, added four more in 2010, and then another 14 in 2013. When he needed help to finance the most recent growth, Dean went shopping for a loan.
“My previous bank didn’t seem too interested in my project, so the next day I stopped at the Grand Rapids State Bank office on Golf Course Road,” said Dean. “Jared Pink happened to be there, and I walked in and we talked. I like working with a local bank rather than one of those bigger banks; I feel I get better service and they know who I am. Jared helped me through the loan process, and in short order we had the deal worked out.”
As a native of northern Minnesota, Dean knew that high-quality assisted living facilities are in high demand. “This is a regulated business,” said Dean, “and at times it seems like a lot of work to keep up to speed with the changes. However, we maintain good communications with the agencies, and we know it’s important to family members that their loved ones are well taken care of. “
Dean credits his employees and Carla Hodgson, in particular, for the reputation Maple Woods has earned in the past eight years. Finding employees who share that concern for their clients, he has learned, is the most challenging aspect of the business.
“It’s hard to find people to work here,” said Dean. “We operate with three people on three shifts a day, and it’s not work everyone can do. Staff turnover is something we deal with, but I know we need to invest in training and supervision.
“I’m looking for a winter project, so I think we’ll spend a bit on remodeling and spicing up the place. We are also going to offer memory care, a new service, and that will take more investment. We recently visited a similar facility in Wisconsin to get some ideas about what we could do.”
Dean is also considering building a new assisted living facility north of Deer River. He believes this will bring value to the area by providing a needed service.
“Our care standards are high, and I think people recognize that,” said Dean. “We take care of people like they’re our own family.”
"I like working with a local bank rather than one of those bigger banks; I feel I get better service and they know who I am." Dean Dickson, owner, Maple Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care.