WINNEBAGO, Neb. - Recipe for success: take one obscure tobacco brand,
invest in a Web site, sell tobacco products out of a garage and basement
office, and voila - success.
That is pretty much what Ho-Chunk, Inc. did when the company was started as
the brainchild of CEO Lance Morgan. The brand of cigarettes, Omaha, is
named for and owned by the Omaha tribe. Ho-Chunk, Inc. packaged, stamped
and marketed the smokes over the Internet. The Smokin' Joes brand of
cigarettes was the next addition, then teas and other items to the Web site
- AllNative.com - and the company.
After its fledgling start, AllNative.com's estimated gross income is $10
million, according to CEO Erin Morgan. Last year set a record of $8
million. Now with two retail stores - one in a Sioux City mall, another on
the Winnebago Reservation - plus a bimonthly catalog and Web sales, the
company offers thousands of products and services.
Ho-Chunk, Inc. has been the topic of conversation over the years. When it
was created, a stable tribal government and a separation of powers was
needed to keep politics out of business.
Business watchers have kept track of the growth of Ho-Chunk, Inc. and its
subsidiary companies; there are now 12 different business ventures that
meld into an economic and employment family for the Winnebago Tribe.
From telecommunications and marketing to home building, car sales, motor
fuel distribution and convenience stores, AllNative.com and Ho-Chunk, Inc.
have become formidable employers: and they still sell cigarettes.
AllNative.com will move into a new building this summer, located at the new
Ho-Chunk Village. The facility will include warehousing, office space and a
retail outlet. Illustrating how the mother company works, the office
furniture will be purchased from its own company, AllNative Office
Products. This company, which sells office products to tribal and
non-tribal entities, was acquired as an existing company, and one of its
previous owners came with the deal.
For AllNative.com, it means purchasing office furniture at a discount.
After two successful years with the WinneVegas Casino in Iowa, the state
expanded gaming to non-Indian entities in 1994, a move that cut drastically
into the Winnebago's casino revenues.
For the first two years, revenues from the casino were directed to
Ho-Chunk, Inc. with the intent that any profits shown by the company be
applied to investment. The first outside ventures for Ho-Chunk, Inc. were
the purchase or investment in regional hotels.
Now, jobs are available and more are expected.
From the very beginning, the goal has been to provide the Winnebago Tribe
with enough of a revenue stream, through non-gaming business ventures, to
create employment opportunities on and off the reservation and enable the
tribe to reach total economic self-sufficiency.
Some of the products sold by AllNative.com are not American Indian in
design or origin, but most are. A quick trip around the retail store and
through the catalog shows items ranging from handcrafted jewelry and home
decor to food products, video tapes and CDs, clothing and much more.
The catalog is created in-house, according to Erin Morgan, by Blue Earth
Marketing, the marketing, graphic design and media-buying arm of
AllNative.com. Blue Earth Marketing has six employees and also does outside
work for other clients.
Blue Earth customizes marketing programs for clients, offers direct and
internet marketing and Web site development and public relations.
AllNative.com acquired the marketing firm to reduce its own costs and
provide services to outside customers.
A major contract for AllNative Systems, the information and technology
company, with Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb. will provide
information technology support services. AllNative Systems was chosen by
the Computer Science Corp. to be part of the team that provides
The Winnebago-based company will provide technical assistance, maintenance,
logistics, engineering and other tasks for the U.S. Strategic Air Command's
information technology infrastructure. Thirteen employees will be housed at
the offices at Offutt Air Force Base; another seven employees are located
AllNative Systems began by acquiring and assembling computer components and
selling an in-house brand of computers. That work was abandoned due to
expansion, and now the company, under the direction of CEO Terry Morgensen,
seeks out information technology talent to fill employment slots from
education to national security.
Computer hardware, software and peripherals are sold throughout the United
States through AllNative Solutions. The company resells major brand name
computers and provides networking solutions. AllNative Solutions is an SBA
8 (a) company and is Buy Indian-certified.
Since Ho-Chunk, Inc. first appeared on the pages of Indian Country Today in
1995, its growth has been exponential in expansion and financial worth.
Today, the company owns gasoline retailer Heritage Express and has grown to
become one of the largest gasoline retailers in the region around
northeastern Nebraska, northwestern Iowa and extreme southeastern South
Other Ho-Chunk, Inc. ventures include:
HCI Distribution, the tobacco distribution company, was named Nebraska's
largest minority-owned business in 2003. Tobacco products manufactured by
four other tribes and one non-tribal entity are marketed to 60 tribes and
affiliates through the firm.
Rez Cars has revolutionized used car sales with its reasonably-priced
vehicles and creative financing options designed to help improve credit
ratings for tribal members with a poor credit status and prepare them for
homeownership or business investments.
Dynamic Homes is the largest modular manufacturer in Minnesota and markets
homes throughout the region. Dynamic Homes offers a discount to families
who want to purchase land and build on the new Ho-Chunk Village's 40-acre
HCI Construction provides all of the new village's construction, including
the large buildings, infrastructure and road systems.
Ho-Chunk, Inc. is also in the business of providing news for Indian
country; it is the owner of Indianz.com, an online news organization.