Earlier this summer, we opened up our 2nd annual “Local Business of the Year” contest by asking you to submit a short story answering the following question: What makes your business special?
We were blown away by the amazing history, anecdotes, photographs and videos that you shared with us. Submissions came in from all across the United States and Canada that represented a wide array of industries, including animal feed, appliance, automotive, cycling, hearing health care, home improvement, outdoor sports, run specialty & more.
Each story was intrinsically unique, inspiring and illustrated exactly why their business’ role in the community is special. It comes as no surprise that narrowing all submissions down to our top three was no easy feat.
After much deliberation, our top three finalists for this year’s Local Business of the Year award are The Gray Mill, LaFontaine Automotive Group, and McLain Cycle & Fitness. Now it’s up to you to decide the winner!
Read the three business submissions below and vote for your favorite using the poll at the end of this article! The winner will be chosen by popular vote and our panel of brand marketers at the Aligned Conference. Voting will be open until 9/21/17 and individuals can vote up to once daily.
Nominee #1: McLain Cycle & Fitness
Standing outside our store looking in, you may think we are your average bicycle shop. Get to know us, you will soon find out we are much more! After being in business for almost 40 years we have learned that we are nothing without our community.
Several years back, we improved the way we do business. We implemented free service tune ups on bicycles purchased from us for as long as you own the bike. We wanted our customers to not dread coming to the bike shop for service, but to look forward to it.
This is not the only thing we’ve done for our customers. With an eye on the future, we’ve implemented a kid’s bicycle trade up program. Purchase a kids bike (12″-24″) from us and when your kid outgrows it, we put 100% of your initial purchase price back towards the next bike, you just pay the difference. When the kids return the bike they have outgrown, we donate it to local non-profits. In the last five years, we donated on an average of over $20,000 in kids bikes every year.
We have partnered with several non-profits, one of our favorites is called Norte Youth Cycling. They have helped us build a bike friendly Traverse City. They have programs that teach kids how to ride to school. If a child or parent can’t afford a bike then they can check one out in their bike library for a long as they need. A lot of these bikes in their library are bikes that we have donated. Just recently we have donated all of our trade-in balance bikes to them. They then took the bikes to teach kids how to ride during gym classes without training wheels.
McLain Cycle also started with Norte putting on a family bike ride. We would start from our 8th street store in town and ride around town (3-5 miles) ending up at a grouping of food trucks for dinner. This ride has been so successful Norte decided to move it to start at a local park because regularly over 200 people show up. It’s been so amazing to see their projects bloom in our community.
McLain Cycle has also recently donated bikes to a couple local school reading programs. Students were invited to read books of the summer, if they made their book reading goal in the program they were surprised with some of these bikes.(Students in need there targeted) These are just a few examples of where our bikes go. To us, this is what makes our business very special and more importantly this is what makes our community so special.
Nominee #2: The Gray Mill
There are so many things that make The Gray Mill special, but the most important one is family. Our story is long, but family is the one component that is constant.
In 1940, Bill Graybeal, a serviceman from North Carolina, met an Italian woman named Josephine Mittica walking down the sidewalk. Bill was a Navy pilot who was on leave from Grissom Air Force base. I’ve heard it was love at first sight. They married within a year. Those two people were my grandparents.
In 1952, with the hopes of living the ‘American Dream,’ my grandfather and a man named Clarence Miller opened The Gray Mill Upholstery Shop in a garage in the heart of our small town in the middle of rural Indiana. They built couches and chairs by hand. They were wonderful! How do I know, you might ask? We just had a customer come in that was still using her custom-made Gray Mill accent chairs purchased in 1952, they are 65 years old this year! She even said her daughters are fighting over who getting them when she dies someday! As you know, retail was a raging industry in the early 1950’s and of course my grandfather wanted a part of the action. Mr. Miller wanted nothing to do with selling furniture and the two men parted ways. My grandparents became business partners and they embarked on a journey into the wonderful world of retail.
Business was booming and the store expanded twice before landing here at the corner of 5th & Broadway, in the heart of downtown Logansport, Indiana. It was 1972, Sears & Roebuck was moving into the brand-new Logansport Mall and their downtown building was for sale. There’s a rumor that Grandpa went home on lunch with a mortgage in hand for Grandma to sign. My grandmother was the oldest child of an Italian immigrant; she was frugal, and she was furious. How could they ever spend so much money on a building? It must have been the love that the two shared between them that pushed her to sign that paperwork because, 44 years later, here I sit in that same exact building telling you our story.
The most important part of our mission statement at The Gray Mill is the part that has never changed; to offer the best QUALITY, SELECTION, and VALUE in the home furnishings industry paired with the highest caliber of customer service. This concept is more readily known as just simply “being nice to others.” The goal of this family business has always been to treat every window shopper, paying customer, and staff member as if they are a part of OUR family. I’m sure that my grandparents never thought of the importance of those words. 65 years later I am reminded of them everyday as the old-time customers share stories with me of just how good they have been treated at The Gray Mill.
Apparently, back in the 70’s, my grandfather extended a courtesy credit to a new doctor to our community. His exact words were, “Your grandfather didn’t know me from Adam, all he knew what that I knew no one in town, that I had a family and I needed a house of furniture. I told him I did not have the cash to pay for anything since I was just out of med-school and starting my residency. He let me pay for that furniture as I had the money, I couldn’t believe that. The kindness of your grandfather was one of the main reasons that I stayed in Logansport for my entire career.” Stories like this are endless, and it every time I hear one I am reminded of how important family can be.
My father, Mike, began working at The Gray Mill in 1974, at the age of 18. His brother Bill, followed in 1975 after he moved back home from college to marry his childhood sweetheart. The boys both worked tirelessly running the delivery truck and eventually joining the sales force. As the years passed, Grandpa and Grandma bought up the buildings next door, and The Gray Mill grew larger. The store was offering all types of high-quality furniture, had a full bedding department, as well as floor covering, wallpaper, and window treatment departments. The goal is to create a ‘one stop shop’ for everything home interiors.
Unfortunately, in 1986, our family was dealt a devastating blow when Grandma passed away on her lunch hour from a massive heart attack. It was one of those “here one minute, gone the next’ deaths. Our whole community was heartbroken, but especially my Grandpa. He never really recovered from his grief. The Graybeal boys stepped up to the plate for their father, and took over all responsibilities. It didn’t take long for Dad and Uncle Bill to realize it was their turn to shine. The boys bought the family business from their Dad in 1989. In 1993, they added to our family legacy by buying up the final building next door and opening Graybeal’s Carpet Plus; total floor covering and installation. Since then we have done everything from being a yearly sponsor of our local Habitat House, to silently donating flooring and furniture to fire and tragedy victims.
My grandfather was my favorite man on the planet, right behind my dad. I graduated from Purdue University in December 2008. I was offered the job of my dreams as an art dealer, but I couldn’t take it. I truly felt a calling, a duty to continue my family’s legacy. I have been here working for my family ever since. It didn’t take me long to realize just how important of an impact my family had made here in Logansport, IN. You would never think that selling home furnishings could be so important, but as the months went by, I realized that we did more than just help people buy couches and carpeting. We help other families to build “home.” Home… the place that you can’t wait to get back to after a horrible day, the place where you enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with the entire family, the comfy spot in your bed, and the seat on the couch where countless Christmas mornings are spent together making priceless memories.
Home is the place where you feel the most comfortable, and at The Gray Mill, we have created a shopping atmosphere that feels like just that. My Gray Mill family, both my blood and my staff, treat each person that comes through our doors like they are our own. We laugh together, we smile and we joke, we eat, we drink, we ask questions, and most importantly; we are honest. We do so much more than just sell furniture, we assist others in investing in their home, and building the home where they will live life.
I’ve been blessed because when I go to work, even on my worst day, I really do go home. That is something special, and as a 31-year-old millennial, I feel grateful every single day to feel this way. I love my job; most people can’t say that after an entire life of jobs! Inside these walls, I’ve experienced the lowest of lows and the highest highs. The best part of this journey has been experiencing it with my family; my staff, my customers, and my community. It is truly outstanding to me to stand back and really see the influence that my family has made in our community through our work at The Gray Mill.
In June 2017, Sears of Logansport, Indiana, closed its doors for good. The Gray Mill celebrated its 65th year of business. Ironic really, to think that a “mom and pop” store running on good old-fashioned family values and hard work outlasted one of America’s retail greats… Or is it? Don’t we all need a little more family in our lives?
Nominee #3: LaFontaine Automotive Group
The following unique story truly reflects why The LaFontaine Automotive Group and its owner and leadership should be considered for the Promoboxx “Local Business of The Year” award.
As the dealer principal of the family-owned and operated LaFontaine Automotive Group, established in 1980, Ryan LaFontaine and the LaFontaine Automotive Group dealerships have been the source of countless incredible life changing initiatives and opportunities that have changed people’ lives, built lifelong relationships, connected families and strengthening communities.
With more than 20 years’ experience in automotive sales, Ryan was not handed the keys to the LaFontaine Automotive Group… he earned them. He started working for LaFontaine Automotive Group at age 15, under the tutelage of his mother and father, to learn every aspect of the automobile dealership business. He began by moving cars around his parents’ showrooms and lots. In the summers throughout high school and college, he sold new cars and used cars, worked the service drive at the dealerships and learned accounting procedures in the back office. After graduating from Northwood University, Ryan focused his attention on redefining the automotive dealership experience.
At the time considered a major industry differentiator, The LaFontaine Automotive Group opened GM’s first “green” dealership in 2008, turning it into the nation’s top Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership by sales. Ryan LaFontaine is the driving force behind the organization’s rapid growth which includes: 33 franchises and 19 different retail locations and 5 Body Shops throughout the metro Detroit area. His advocacy for the environment and the community has led him to open four nationally recognized LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified facilities including: the Ford Motor Company’s only Gold LEED Certified dealership in the world in Birch Run, Gold Certified Cadillac Buick GMC of Highland, Silver Certified Volkswagen of Dearborn, and Silver Certified Chevrolet of Dexter. In addition, LaFontaine Chevrolet of Dexter was recently awarded “General Motors Green Dealer” for its participation in actively benefiting the environment through its green effort. Ryan is proud to participate in these programs and remains committed to ensuring the LaFontaine Automotive Group facilities are designed to be extremely environmentally and resource efficient.
The leadership and vision of the LaFontaine Automotive Group have also benefited thousands of individuals and families who have established successful careers and made the dealerships their home. The LaFontaine Automotive Group is proud of its employee retention attributed to their belief in providing education programs for employees and staff. They have invested millions of dollars in an Internal Training and Services Center. According to Ryan: “Investing in people and talent has allowed the company to continue to grow and be recognized nationally as one of the top dealership groups in the nation. The automotive group’s generosity and mentorship extend beyond the walls of the dealerships. Focusing on the future of the industry, the LaFontaine Automotive Group established a comprehensive annual internship program for 30 graduating students of Northwood University along with a $100,000/4 year scholarship award.
The LaFontaine family also invests over a million dollars a year into the local communities through dealership investment and charitable giving. Ryan believes that this type of leadership needs to start from the top down and inspire others to do the same.
When it comes to family, you’ll be hard pressed to find a business more committed. The LaFontaine Automotive Group’s entire business is centered around “The Family Deal.” It is far more than a marketing slogan, as Ryan leads by example, making sure employees put their family first. He strongly believes this makes for better, harder-working employees, who genuinely enjoy coming to work. Ryan and his family encourage employees to give back to their local communities, through hands-on charitable work and become role-models in their own communities. After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in early 2008 and then successfully battling cancer into remission, his outlook on life dramatically changed. He built on that experience to become a better person and to make a huge difference in the cancer community. Along with the support of his family and sister Kelley, he founded the charity “U CAN-CER VIVE.” In the past six years prior to becoming a 501c3, U CAN-CER Vive raised over $1,000,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Upon receiving 501c3 status in February 2016, U CAN-CER VIVE has raised over $500,000 benefiting cancer research in the state of Michigan. In addition, he actively supports initiatives at Mott Children’s Hospital, Imerman’s Angels, Relay for Life and Caden’s Car Show, to name a few.
The LaFontaine Family and Automotive Group of Dealerships continues to be an inspiration to us all whether you are working in the automotive industry or an individual or family living in a community where a LaFontaine Dealership resides.
It is our humble and most sincere belief that the LaFontaine Automotive Group is most certainly worthy of this award.
Vote for your favorite business:
Interested in learning more about our Local Business of the Year contest? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.