“Having grown up in Brighton, Mich., on a dirt road, getting my hands dirty was natural. Hard work is natural,” said Suzi Trdan, retail store manager of Starbucks and Sundre at Northern Michigan University. For Trdan, who is often smiling and eager to make connections with customers, hard work truly does seem natural.
From the way she positively embraces the bustling day-to-day demands of the service industry while simultaneously managing two locations, it is no surprise that she is an ideal fit for her position at Northern.
The landscape of NMU's campus Starbucks and Sundre has changed drastically since Trdan began working at NMU in 2008. She began a barista specialist in a small Starbucks outlet on the first floor of Harden Hall. She was promoted to a managerial position, all the while pioneering the opening of Starbucks' larger Jamrich location. When Sundre opened in 2015, she was once again promoted, assuming her role as retail store manager of both establishments.
“I am very proud of Sundre and Starbucks,” she said. “They have both done very well and Starbucks managed to stay open during the pandemic. With such growth, I had to double my staff. More or less, I doubled just about everything, which I did in tiers so that it was done at a pace the businesses could handle.”
Having earned bachelor's degrees in both textile engineering and environmental science with a background in designing cars, Trdan's path to her NMU position is less traditional than some. Upon graduating college, she was faced with a tough decision: following her heart or her career. When offered an opportunity to work for Johnson Controls International, a car company, or to move to Marquette with her soon-to-be husband, Trdan chose love, something she gladly notes as a most pivotal moment in her life.
Upon seeing a barista specialist opening at NMU, Trdan saw an avenue for having a similar calendar as her husband, so as to fit their desired family schedule.
“Until then, I was an assistant store manager at a corporate store. That type of retail entailed longer days and a lot of weekend work. It was a perfect segue to go from being an assistant store manager to working at NMU. My hours at NMU are a much better fit for my family schedule, and I love my position here.”
The mother of three has a wide range of work responsibilities.These include employee hiring and oversight, evaluation of sales, making sure quality standards are consistently met, keeping up on all of NMU and Starbucks' corporate requests and requirements and more.
At Sundre, Trdan hand-selects every item sold. Noting that she “loves a product with a really good story,” she aims to source many Michigan items, though she said that Sundre sells “great products” from all over the nation. The snack and supply company is located on the lower level of Harden Hall and offers products that are non-GMO, organic, fair-trade, gluten-free, kosher, vegan and vegetarian.
“It truly took time for me to cultivate and harness thoughtful leadership and mentorship skills. I want to be my employees' cheerleader. I do firmly believe that positivity in the workforce unleashes energy. And with that momentum, I am allotted time to evaluate both stores' successes and opportunities. I use strategic planning to guide our micro-market and host sampling events to spur on more excitement.
“I am afforded the time to track food trends, collaborate with vendors to market new products and assist in the development of Sundre exclusive recipes in purposeful packaging, all with the considerate opinions from our own campus community through surveys I collect each semester.”
A 2014 NMU Excellence in Service Award recipient, Trdan said that the most fulfilling aspect of her work is watching students grow over the course of their time at Northern.
“Student employees work in a very busy outlet. They are forced to talk to people, make eye contact and work fast and hard. It's cool when students shift from being coached to coaching each other. It feels amazing to see them soar. There is typically one employee working at Sundre at a time, so it's a one-person job there. That adds a layer of challenge, including multitasking.”
Upon moving to the Upper Peninsula from lower Michigan, Trdan embraced its community-centered atmosphere.
“Everyone acts like they're your neighbor. That's comforting to me. I'm that person on the sidewalk saying, ‘Hello, how are you?' to a stranger, and it's always received very well. People of all ages seem to be getting out to enjoy what the outdoors has to offer. I love to see that. When it comes to my family, we're big outdoors people.”
Outside of work, you may find Trdan training for her next race by running on a local trail, perhaps accompanied by her bike-riding son. She also enjoys marathon walking with her husband. Another passion of hers is gardening, which makes sense given her love of all things outdoors-related. The adventurous individual aspires to go spelunking and ocean fishing in the future.
“I absolutely love fishing. It is so exhilarating. Ocean fishing is intimidating, which is why I want to try it. There's so much to discover under the water.”
Trdan said that although she is “an open book,” people may be surprised to learn that her family manages a docking business on a lake in Orr, Minn., which covers more than 11,500 acres and has close to 50 islands, most of which are privately owned. Her family's business primarily serves the islanders and vacationers at surrounding resorts.
With a smile on her face, Trdan also recalled getting “lost” in the art of sewing while in college, which remains among her vast array of current hobbies and interests. She said that she plans to pursue an online master's degree in the future through NMU.
Prepared by former student writer and now alumna Jill Vermeulen.