FARGO — When the opportunity arose to buy the local Dale Carnegie franchise, Bethany Berkeley said she asked herself, "Who buys a business in a pandemic?"

On the one hand, the organization founded in 1912 had already survived the 1918 pandemic as well as the Great Depression and several other economic downturns. On the other, as pointed out in a recent Forbes story, much of the self-improvement empire's business model is based on building relationships through face-to-face interactions.

The organization is named after founder Dale Carnegie, author of bestselling books such as "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living." The courses are based on Dale Carnegie principles, such as "Don't criticize, condemn or complain," "Become genuinely interested in other people," and "Try honestly to see things from the other person's view."

Ultimately, Berkeley and her business partner, Katie Munion, said they had no choice.

"It's not our work or a job. This is our passion. … When this opportunity came our way, we were excited to take this and make it our own. We didn't want our community to miss out on these opportunities," Berkeley said.

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The longtime Dale Carnegie employees assumed full control of the franchise from previous owner Jay Peltier on Dec. 10, 2020, and moved its headquarters to Railyard Offices at 1630 1st Ave N. in Fargo.

"I couldn't be more excited for Katie and Bethany. I believe it is their life's mission to lead the Dale Carnegie franchise of North Dakota and northwest Minnesota," Peltier said.

"Bethany is one of the best salespeople in the business. She is strategic in setting up a vision, partnering with clients and creating a community of transformation. She is fierce, won't back down from anything," he continued. "Katie is one of the best trainers in the industry. She knows exactly how to deliver trainings for specific clients and participants. She challenges and coaches people in such a way that their only choice is to be the best version of themselves. Their skill sets match perfectly. Together, the two have a bright future leading the franchise."

Bethany Berkeley and Katie Munion are the new owners of the local Dale Carnegie franchise. David Samson / The Forum
Bethany Berkeley and Katie Munion are the new owners of the local Dale Carnegie franchise. David Samson / The Forum

A powerful duo

Berkeley and Munion are following in the footsteps of former franchise owners Tonya Stende and Tamara Anderson. Stende established the local Dale Carnegie franchise about 20 years ago, and brought on Anderson as a partner two years later. They sold the franchise to Peltier in 2018.

Berkeley was already a fan of Stende when the two met while working on a United Way fundraising campaign.

"I took a risk and asked her out for coffee, knowing she had such a full plate. But I was so inspired by her," Berkeley recalled.

By the end of that meeting in 2016, Stende offered Berkeley a consulting position with Dale Carnegie.

"Tonya introduced me to my now-passion and what I love most about my life in addition to my family, because Dale Carnegie is a way of life," she said.

From there, she became a Dale Carnegie certified trainer, rising through the ranks to managing partner and president.

Munion was also attracted to Dale Carnegie through a friendship with Stende and Anderson. She met the women while working as a recruiter for a tech consulting company, and saw value in Dale Carnegie's mission to build from within.

"What if we train people and develop their skills into what the organization needs that is aligned with that person's talent and passion?" she thought.

She started her journey to become a certified trainer 11 years ago, rising to the rank of vice president of training and equality.

Berkeley describes Munion as her counterpart.

"Truly, there is no one I'd rather do business with than Katie. She's the yin to my yang," she said. "She practices the (Dale Carnegie) principles on me actively every day. We complement each other so well. That loyalty and trust is there, and that love of Dale Carnegie is there because it's more than just a business venture for us. It's a way of life."

The human connection

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Fargo last March, Munion said they put all of their programs on hold.

While they do offer online classes, Munion said they went to great lengths to bring in-person training back when Gov. Doug Burgum issued his ND Smart Restart plan.

"The value of in-person as a facilitator is reading the energy in the room and coaching in the moment. We can do that online to an extent, but re-creating that energy you feel from people and see in their body language is important," Berkeley said. "We're in the business of coaching people to become their best selves. That's amplified when we're in person and having that flexibility of navigating the room as the people are shifting, and their emotions and their experiences shifting throughout. That's something we can replicate to the best of our ability, but it's truly where we see an immense amount of transformation."

Since reopening, Munion said they've graduated eight programs without a COVID-positive test result.

"We'll launch our 10th and 11th soon, all with our COVID protocol where people are again just really grateful to be able to connect in person," she said.

In the age of automation and today's digital landscape, Berkeley said human skills have never been more important. It's especially true in sales.

Seventy-one percent of respondents to a recent Dale Carnegie survey said they would rather do business with people they trust than going with a competitor at a lower price point.

"Part of our process is taking a look at what are the trends right now we're hearing and the challenges of workforce development and economy. Thinking through what solutions we craft and bring to the market based on what our communities need," Berkeley said.