While other women wanted bigger diamonds, Sue Svendsen wanted more equipment. Operating a horse farm in Clark County, she worked with her hands and a cache of tools. But before long, it was time to upgrade. So she got herself a tractor.
For 25 years, Sue rode her Kubota tractor on the farm. And when she and her husband moved to Pacific County, she wasn’t about to leave it behind. Starting a business was not her intention. But a few favors later, she soon became the most in-demand lady with a tractor on the peninsula.
Between working at the Arts Center and serving on City Council, you may see her driving down the lane on her Kubota, leveling a parking lot, or saving the day from sandy drains.
Here’s a little more of Sue’s story:
Why did you choose to start a business in Pacific County?
We started coming here to see our son, who started North Jetty Brewing. And we realized there was no music. So we started bringing our musician friends from Portland out here and bought what is now the Peninsula Arts Center. We drove back and forth between here and Vancouver for twelve years, running the concert series. Then five years ago, we moved here for good.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
It started with a little here and there for friends. Then I thought, Well, I need to make enough money in my retirement to pay my insurance, so I might as well get a license. So I got the state license and licenses for Long Beach and Ilwaco, then I got bonded. I was able to start doing a few parking lots. I try to avoid work as much as possible, but people find me anyway! But I love it. That’s my meditation out there.
How did you come up with the name for your business?
When I was doing work for friends, everybody would say, “Did you see that lady with the tractor?” and “You should go talk to that lady with the tractor.” And I thought, Well, there’s my name.
If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you’d do differently?
I don’t think so. It’s been better than I expected it to be. And I know that I’m just running this piece of equipment until it gives up. Then I’m done because I’m not going to invest in another tractor. So I keep it bubble gummed together.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I think helping people with serious water problems that were pretty easy for me to figure out–getting the water to drain away. There have been a number of those. For example, Queen La Dee Da’s–the Mermaid Castle–totally flooded in the back. And I knew what we had to do and fixed it. That makes me happy.
What is unique about your business?
Some other people are doing tractor work, and they’re all male. I think the biggest thing is watching how guys sometimes go, “Yeah, right.” They lean back and go, “Watch this girl try and do this.” And then they see I know what I’m doing. I think it’s important for kids to see a woman on a tractor. Just like kids need to see a dad washing the dishes. We need to quit stereotyping our roles. I get a lot of little girls that look at me like, “What? I can do that?” Maybe your life goal isn’t to run a tractor, but it makes all things more possible. How do you view your role in the community? I think the spot I fill is with local people who can’t afford one of the big excavating companies. They’re usually like a $5000 minimum. So they could fill up the whole day with one job that pays big instead of spreading a load of gravel and doing a little bit of this and that. But a few of us little, independent tractor drivers can do smaller jobs. I’m just cheaper.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone starting a business in Pacific County, what would it be?
Know that the licensing process is not that intimidating. Do everything by the book. Ask questions. A lot of people spend more energy trying not to pay the government. It is worth doing it right. And then you can advertise. Because if you aren’t licensed and bonded, you aren’t allowed to advertise. Regarding anybody starting a business, if you build your business totally off your reputation, you will have the kind of clients you want. Because if you start working for the people you enjoy working for, they will refer you to other people–their friends, who are the right kind of people for you to work for.
Final Thoughts Thinking about starting a business in Pacific County? Here are key takeaways from Sue’s experience:
● Legitimize your business. It’s worth it!
● Ask questions
● Advertising isn’t everything; Establish a reputation and build on it.
● Skills don’t have to be gendered. Do what you enjoy!