BEMIDJI -- Many around the Bemidji community know Tricia Robinson as the owner and operator of the Minute59 Mystery and Escape Rooms, but as of last year, she’s now running two businesses in town.
Robinson was working full-time at Sanford Eye Center as an optician when she opened Minute59 in June 2017.
“Starting out, I was doing Sanford during the day and the escape room on nights and weekends,” she explained. “I did that for two years until last year in February when I left Sanford and became a full-time entrepreneur.”
With a strong desire to be her own boss, Robinson opened VRTX Laserworks Studio, right next door to her beloved escape rooms, just a few months later. The studio, located at 802 Paul Bunyan Drive S, Suite 16, opened to the public in late May 2019.
Her store is arrayed with a variety of custom designs which have been engraved on anything from key chains, wedding invitations, cups and cutting boards, all the way to large wall hangings.
“I’m open to the public as a retailer, but my main focus is business-to-business sales,” Robinson explained. “Like if a business wants their logo on a clipboard or mouse pad, or they want a sign for their store.”
One thing that set her on the path of opening her studio was when looking for items for her escape rooms.
“There were some props and stuff that I wanted to make, but they could only be laser cut and I couldn’t find any place that was able to do that or offered that service,” she explained. “It got me thinking, if I’m looking for this chances are others are too.”
She was also still looking for a day job to replace her work at the eye center so she would have more time to devote to the escape rooms. Plus, she’d have the machine and felt that was a service she could offer many other local businesses.
It was a large investment -- $53,000 to be exact -- and as scary as it was at the time, Robinson said she hasn’t regretted it. Her machine can engrave and cut products and materials made of things like wood, glass, ceramic, leather, plastic and paper. Though she cannot cut things like metal and steel, they can be engraved.
“When I set a design up on the computer, if it’s a line that is a certain thickness it’s a cut line, anything smaller is an engraving line,” Robinson explained of the process.
A word like VRTX isn’t one many are familiar with, but Robinson explained she had a special reason for choosing it.
“In geometry a vertex is where two things meet, and because of the way the laser kind of focuses that light -- those rays of light -- I thought it was fitting. But I took the E’s out because that’s cooler, ” she said with a smile.
One of the main benefits Robinson feels like her endeavor has had so far is all the ways she’s able to help out other local businesses.
“There are so many random things I’ve been able to do,” she said. “Like I've been doing stuff for AirCorps Aviation -- cutting gaskets and parts out of softer materials.”
She also partners with local businesses such as 218 Clothing + Gift and Compass Rose, makes stencils for Isaiah’s Woodworking and does paper cutting for Amity Graphics.
“This past winter Hannah from Compass Rose came to me and needed some tree cutouts for an art class she was doing, and she couldn’t find them anywhere,” Robinson said. “She asked, ‘Hey can you make these?’ and I was like, ‘sure can!’ and we were able to get them done in no time.”
Robinson explained that a lot of the wholesalers and businesses she works with already have their designs in mind, which they send to her primarily ready to go. Others are made of things she’s seen and recreated with her own spin on it, or she’s simply dreamed up on her own.
“I don’t always know what will come in on a given day for me to do. People ask if I can do certain things and it’s honestly easier for me to say what I can’t do than what I can,” Robinson said with a laugh. “That’s a much shorter list.”
Robinson has lots of ideas of where she’d like to go next. She is hoping to get more equipment within the next six months or so that would enable her to print a variety of colors on her designs, expanding her business.
“I think there is so much potential. Once I really get the word out there that I’m here and in business, I will probably be busier than I can handle,” Robinson said. “It’s been quite a journey and going in I really didn’t realize just how much I would love it.”
For more information on VRTX Laserworks, visit www.vrtxlaserworks.com.