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You Know You’re From...Medford: Cole Hartl

Published: Mar. 22, 2021 at 8:36 PM CDT
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MEDFORD, Wis. (WSAW) - Out in the country of Taylor County, are the sounds of heavy metal.

“2014 this shop was built,” said Cole Hartl. “I always wanted to work for myself.”

In this shop, a couple of artists string together some of the finest metal wall decor you’ll see.

“This is the Fall Buck,” Hartl points out. “This is the one that put us on the map.”

For 7 years, Cole Hartl has owned and operated Metal Decor Studios

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“It’s been a learning curve the whole time we’ve been doing it. I still learn stuff to this day.”

Look closely and it’s not hard to tell where the passions lie for this Northwoods company, with pieces ranging from ducks to bears to deer.

“There’s a lot of people that cut metal art, but there’s not a lot of places that put the detail in the finish like we do,” Hartl said.

“When you get here in the morning it’s a pile of steel. You leave in the afternoon it’s a piece of metal art,” added Matthew Sperl, Cole’s co-worker.

Another passion you can see in their art is American pride.

“That tattered, torn look to it,” Cole said, singling out one of their popular pieces. “I think it just has a little more to do with, you know, America’s not new. It’s been through its ups and downs.”

Kind of like Cole. He lived life a little close to the edge in his youth.

“I guess you could say that,” he said with a big laugh.

That side was reeled in when he joined the National Guard in 2005.

“Taught me a lot of discipline.”

That discipline was needed when he was shipped to Iraq in 2010, where he spent 11.5 months in harms way, escorting top officials.

“I was the gunner for lead truck,” he said. “‘Eye opening’ would be a good word for it.”

“That was a little stressful,” said his mom.”

For parents Wendy and Lynn Hartl it was almost a year spent on pins and needles.

“One night we were skyping with Cole and he’s suiting up,” recalled Wendy Hartl, Cole’s mom, “he’s putting on his kevlar and his flak jacket and all the good stuff and you’re watching him do this. It really strikes you.”

“You just count the days to come home. But you’ve got a job to do there,” Cole said.

“He came out of there a different person,” his mom said.

Cole returned in 2011 when he finished up his active duty commitment. After 2 years of inactivity, he was honorably discharged, got married, and welcomed daughter Jada to the world.

After parting ways on good terms with another start-up, Cole created Metal Decor Studios-- Wisconsin Bases, Veteran Owned.

“Every piece has its own set of challenges,” said Cole.

With sales coming online, both on their Metal Decor website and an Etsy store, the loss of trade shows because of the pandemic hasn’t hurt them as bad as it could’ve.

“We actually ended up growing a little bit from 2019 to 2020.”

But its not without challenges. The price for metal sheets has nearly tripled since November, from $78 to about $200.

“There’s just not enough out there to supply the demand right now,” Cole said. “That’s forecasted to change in July and I hope that happens.”

In the meantime, they’ll keep grinding. Everyday Cole uses the self-discipline the Guard taught him, fighting off one passion for the other.

“You have to have the discipline to be here working instead of out hunting, or shed hunting, or fishing,” he said with a laugh.

Cole is in business with his parents. Dad designed the websites, mom handles the book keeping and online sales. The goal is to move into a store front in the next few years where they can have direct sales to customers and more room in the back to make their product.

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