Monika Kalenski doesn’t take the easy road but opts for the challenge every time.
That’s true in her leisure life, where she enjoys off-roading in her Jeep, as well as in her business life. After 15 years in corporate life working at Siemens, she could have continued on that career path but the call of the wild world of entrepreneurship beckoned.
The business that Kalenski started, MEK Magnet, spurred from her off-roading adventures. After buying a Ford Jeep, the first trail she took was a fire road that quickly turned into a narrow trail overgrown with tree branches and bushes. She wasn’t too worried because she thought Jeeps are designed for this but it turned out “the scratches were really expensive to fix,” she says. The next time she went off-roading, she chose a steep downhill trail. There was a big boulder on one side and a low-hanging branch on the other. Not wanting to scratch up her Jeep again, she decided to maneuver around the boulder– and made it with about an inch to spare with steep cliffs on both sides of the road.
“You run the risk of either really badly damaging your Jeep, which is a costly repair, or you do something really stupid to try to not scratch your paint, which could end catastrophically,” she says. “When I got off the trail, I realized I needed to find a solution. After a couple of months of searching and not finding anything, I decided to create my own.”
MEK Magnet created the first-ever magnetic removable trail armor that protects your vehicle’s paint from scrapes and scratches when off-roading – and the armor comes with appealing graphic designs. As Jeeps evolved from steel to aluminum frames, so did MEK Magnet, and she created the first-ever ballistic resin with armor technology that allows the panels to stick to any smooth surface, especially the new aluminum body panels.
“We continue to grow and expand our product offerings, making MEK Magnet the pioneer and leader of removable trail armor,” Kalenski says.
She has been in production for a couple of years now with that second product as well as the original product line, MEK Magnet is expanding to also provide trail armor for Ford Broncos.
She has grown her business from a “hobby company” in 2016: “At the time I thought I would have a couple of products that I could sell to my friends.” But as she went further down her entrepreneurial path, there was no turning back. It took a couple of years to learn the ins and outs of launching a business, R&D, finding a manufacturer and figuring out how to print graphics on the trail armor but in late 2018, she was ready to leave her full-time job and go all-in.
Then living in San Diego, Kalenski relocated herself – and her company — to Miami Beach in the spring of 2022. “I love it here. The weather’s nice, the people are nice, and I’m starting to expand into northern parts of Florida to really learn the Jeep community.”
To get her name out there, she participates in off-roading events, expos and trade shows and is active on social media. Today she sells her products online and through a couple of distributors. “I really pride myself on making sure that customer services is the absolute best.” Even for special requests or custom designs, the company will try to go the extra mile to delight a customer, she says.
For now, sales are mostly direct to owners, but she is working on making it easy for customers to order directly through their dealerships by being part of the Mopar catalog that serves about 2,000 dealterships.
When she moved to Florida, she sought the help of Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the College of Business that offers no-cost consulting services to small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Early on, her SBDC consultant, Mark Mungenast, saved her from making a mistake with registering her business. She had been misled into thinking she had to dissolve her business in California first, but Mungenast explained that she could register her business as a foreign entity and she wouldn’t start all over and lose her credit history and more – even her logo says established in 2016.
Every month, she says she looks forward to her mentor calls with Mungenast, who specializes in marketing, sales, business development and strategic planning. “He’s amazing. He doesn’t necessarily know my business exactly but he knows business. And so being able to bounce ideas off him has been helpful — I never had anyone to talk about my business with.”
Mungenast has helped her with optimizing her website with SEO. But more importantly, Kalenski says, “he’s literally helping me go the exact direction that I had wanted to go, but in a much better way,” That has led to more sales and a better customer experience. “He challenges me with all the right questions, allowing me to focus and really deep dive into my business, helping me grow.”
Kalenski, with an interesting and unique business and an energetic personality, immediately started engaging in the community shortly after relocating here and is just the type of entrepreneur the county wants to attract, Mungenast says. “She’s good for Miami, good for the economy and good for the community.”
A challenge in the year ahead is finding a US manufacturer for her raw materials so that her product can truly be “Made in the USA.” Kalenski will be tapping the SBDC at FIU team’s expertise for that, too.
“The advice that I would give other entrepreneurs is that the business landscape is ever-changing, and just simply solving a problem while utilizing today’s technology is really the key to success. The resources and guidance that I get from the professionals at SBDC will definitely help,” Kalenski says.
“This journey completely changed my life,” she continues. “All kids have crazy dreams of what they want to be when they grow up — I wanted to be one of those Jamboree drivers. Then all of a sudden, I got into creating a product and learning about manufacturing and social media and advertising and then making sales, all because I bought a Jeep and found a problem that needed to solve — full circle. The key to your true wealth and success in life is loving what you do and then everyday it’s a gift to go to work.”
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Antonio Almeida Douat, a student assistant at SBDC at FIU, contributed to this report.