More than 30 years ago, Nicole Hodo of Eden Prairie was perhaps the youngest “saleswoman” in the southwest metro. Around the age most kids enroll in Little League, Hodo could be found traveling with her mom to city council meetings throughout the state of Minnesota, carrying fabric and color samples, and sharing her own opinion on the long drive home. That’s because when you grow up with Cheryl Legan as your mother, it is hard not to become an entrepreneur.
Cheryl Legan is the president of Northern Lights Display in Eden Prairie, but when she moved to Minnesota in 1979, she never thought that one day she would run her own business. At that time, she was a single mother just wanting to provide for her daughter, so she began working as a secretary at a business that creates and sells community decorations. Although her father always encouraged her to pursue sales and management positions, Legan never planned to find a mentor who would teach her about business and sales; to become passionate about city banners, big Christmas wreaths, and oversized Santas; or in short, to choose a path that would literally light up her life for years to come. But that is exactly what happened.
Today, Hodo and Legan work side-by-side at Northern Lights Display, where they design, market and sell community decorations to small towns and cities around the country. Hodo wears the marketing hat and handles all website and promotional work, while Legan manages the business and a team of designers and sales reps. Light pole banners, wreaths and lights are a few of the ways in which this small business makes communities come alive. “It is a lot of fun decorating communities … Christmas décor and banners are just wonderful things to promote,” Legan says.
After meeting with city personnel to discuss the look and feel they are striving for, Legan and her team come up with an overall plan to deck the halls—or the streets—for whatever festival, holiday or season is at hand.
Although they have clients in 35 states around the country, their Minnesota roots remain strong. Lakeville, Farmington, Buffalo, Rochester and Eden Prairie are among the long list of local clients. Anoka has been working with Northern Lights Display for more than 15 years, and as Peter Turok, president of Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, points out, the company plays a major role in Anoka’s famous Halloween celebration. “People look for those banners as the tradition of being the Halloween capital of the world … as a kid I looked for them and I believe that tradition continues today,” he says.
Stroll along Purgatory Creek or Staring Lake Park for a look at Northern Lights Display banners right in Eden Prairie.
It has been many years since Hodo began her “apprenticeship” in business and sales, but she can still remember the excitement of being a part of something big. “It’s just what I’ve known. Ten-foot soldiers and big giant trees,” she says. Today, her own kids are getting in on the family business. Six-year-old Alyssa often tags along to enjoy the finished product when her grandmother visits clients, and has even made it into a few promotional photos; 10-year-old son Jordan is also on board. When 18-year-old Olivia is in town, she often helps out around the office. “It’s nice for her to know that her grandmother built something. It’s her business, her baby,” says Hodo. “My brother worked here, I have, and now my daughter does. She sees that and is very proud.”
On the Homefront
Interested in decking your halls with something extra festive this holiday season? How about a 20-foot Santa? Northern Lights Display offers trim lighting, garland and other décor options for residential spaces or fit for a town hall. Visit northernlightsdisplay.com for more information, photos and pricing.