Introducing Blain’s Farm And Fleet – America’s Modern General Store!
One of the simple pleasures in my life has always been coming across a cozy and welcoming “country store” when I’m on the road. There is nothing like walking into a home-spun “general store” – something that has become more and more rare in this age of impersonal big box stores in most towns.
And, then to further impersonalize our shopping experiences, we wind up online at websites (yes, even ours! 🙂 ) where shoppers find what they need, and with a few clicks, the products are on their way to houses and offices across the globe and that’s the end of it.
So it was a truly pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon Blain’s Farm and Fleet, a company that has what I can only term an “online general store” that made me smile as I began to shop around. I immediately had the impression that this wasn’t your ordinary online shopping site. As I poked around, I had the feeling that there were “real people” and true personalities behind the scenes.
I mean, WHO has a website theme song? Yes… Blain’s Farm & Fleet even has a jingle, and in fact they’ve given me the idea of one for MyFavDeals.org (Update: as I finalize this article for publication, I’ve actually written the jingle! Now to get it recorded…)
I just had to reach out to the company to get the backstory about the store, and to my great delight, they agreed to talk with me!
And now I invite you to pull up a chair and get to know Blain’s Farm and Fleet, a unique and fun “general store,” that isn’t only operating online, but also has 36 real live stores throughout Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin that you can stop in and visit if you’re located in the Mid West.
My Favorite Deals (MFD): With me here in this interview is Kristin Mickelson, the PR and Event Manager for Farm & Fleet! That’s Kristin pictured here with the adorable baby chick. Hi Kristin! Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with us today!
Kristin: It’s my pleasure! Thanks for having me!
MFD: Kristin, I notice that Farm & Fleet has quite a history! Since 1955! That’s pretty impressive in this day and age where it seems like stores don’t quite have that type of staying power! How did Blain’s get started with this? Was it a small Mom & Pop on a country corner at one point? Were they a farming family? Our readers would love to hear some of the story! Tell! Tell!
Kristin: (Laughing) Well, it started when brothers, Bert and Claude Blain worked for their family feed business then decided to sell farm implements and car parts. This expanded into a few small car dealerships but they saw the need in everyday items for their neighbors and friends and felt they could make a difference in their communities with a local general store with a focus on farm and auto parts.
They heard about a man in North Dakota, Bob Keisau who was extending automotive fleet buying programs to farmers and the general public. After meeting with Keisau, the Blain Brothers felt they could make the concept work in Wisconsin, and boom! Farm & Fleet was born!
They opened a small store in Janesville, Wisconsin and continued to grow the company. Bert’s daughter, Jane Blain Gilbertson has taken sole ownership of the now 36 store company. As CEO, Jane is planning steadfast growth with the company, including two new stores this fall in the Chicagoland market.
MFD: Fabulous! And, this photo to the left is Jane, who mentioned how proud she is of being known as the “Modern General Store” that your customers need – and that was definitely the impression I had when I first visited the website. And, of course still being family owned and operated after 61 years is a tremendous accomplishment! Now, I know that Jane’s grandfather was a farmer, but since the family sold their feed business before opening Blain’s Farm & Fleet, can you tell me a little bit about how the product line grew?
Kristin: Legislation at the time the store opened required retailers to only sell merchandise at a discount to businesses, not individuals. So, anyone with 5 or more engines was considered a fleet operator. These fleet operators were issued a card to allow for discounts on the equipment they needed. As many of the were farmers, Farm & Fleet began selling farm supplies, tractor replacement parts and tires. As the business grew and the laws changed, Farm & Fleet evolved into a modern general store with clothing, footwear, tools, and household appliances. The card eventually became obsolete but on occasion we may have a proud card holder bring it in for show and tell. It is fun to hear their stories from the past.
MFD: It’s quite evident that Farm & Fleet is very community oriented. Tell us a little about that!
Kristin: Oh, yes! We’re definitely community oriented. In fact, Blain’s Farm & Fleet supports charitable organizations dedicated to family, community and agricultural education.
We are also advocates for heart health.Over the past 23 years, with the help of our vendors and great customer support, we have raised over $4.1 million dollars to the American Heart Association. In fact, we were recently nominated by the American Heart Association for the National Retail Federation (NRF) Loss Prevention Volunteers in Action Award!
MFD: Wow! As a note, readers can see more about this in these articles at the official NRF site https://nrf.com/news/loss-prevention-teams-honored-volunteer-work and the website for Wisconsin’s Business News Source: http://wisbusiness.com/index.iml?Article=373351. Okay! I’m sorry for interrupting you. Please continue…
Kristin: No problem! We are proud of that accomplishment! We are also passionate about supporting Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H programs. We fund awards and trophies during fairs and provide sponsorships on a local level. We also participate in the Red Brand Home Grown initiative. Red Brand is a brand of fencing we sell and for every Red Brand item sold, a dollar is donated to local FFA programs. Each year, our company sells enough fencing to provide between $8,000 to $10,000+ in donations to these chapters!
We are proud to participate in this program, not only to help the students but also to supply our great customers with quality products from vendors who give back to the community too.
MFD: I think that’s fabulous, and I took a look at Red Brand. That in itself is a great company with a very high quality product. I think your customers will be pleased to see that Red Brand not only supports community initiatives, but also that they have been around since 1889, and their products are not only 100% made in the USA, but the company is also a “green” company using recycled steel. Farm & Fleet has chosen some excellent partners!
Kristin: Yes! That’s very true! We are also very excited about a program we created that strives to teach children the importance of giving to those less fortunate. We call it Kids Helping Kids. Blain’s is proud to match toy donations provided through this program during the fall called Toyland. If you are not familiar with Toyland, let me share!
We create a magic place for the whole family in the middle of our stores from October to Christmas that includes toys for everyone, board games, puzzles, Barbie, Lego, Hot wheels and so many more. Giving kids the opportunity to choose a toy and donate it to another child during our Kids Helping Kids program, we hope it instills the true meaning of Christmas. Last year we matched $200,000 in toys throughout all the communities we serve. We hope this helped hundreds of children and families have a wonderful Christmas. (Publisher’s note: Here is a link to sign up for the Toyland catalog: Blain’s Farm & Fleet Toyland)
We also hold pet adoptions in our stores to bring awareness to the need of finding homeless animals a forever home. We care deeply about our customers fur babies as much as they do and that is another reason we continue to grow our pet and agriculture departments with the items they need. Blain’s Farm & Fleet is currently in 36 different communities and we strive to help in many areas that are specific to their towns. We know our customers have passions and we do what we can to help where we can.
MFD: Okay, now you’re tugging on my own heartstrings. I am a huge supporter of pet adoption and finding homes for shelter and homeless animals. Readers, I urge you to visit Farm & Fleet to see everything that the company is into. Here’s a link to check out. http://www.farmandfleet.com/about/community.aspx Blain’s Farm and Fleet is truly a company that people can feel very good about supporting!
Now, it seems as though Farm and Fleet really took off, considering how many stores you now have! Tell us a little about that.
Kristin: Yes, the company really has grown since our first store opened in 1955! Then, another 4 stores were opened by 1960. The growth continued with another 11 locations opening We opened another 8 stores in the 70’s followed by another 4 stores in the 80’s. As we learned more about our markets and customer needs, we took a close look at where we wanted to place stores. Three stores were opened in the the 90’s followed by our most recent 4 stores from 2000 to 2012. We are on a mission of steadfast growth and plan to open 8 more stores by 2020, the first two will be this fall in the Chicagoland market and we are very excited. In the middle of all that, in 2008 we grew our biggest store and Blain’s Farm & Fleet officially went online.
MFD: I was very intrigued to see that you have a “Theme Song.” Wow! I rarely see companies that have a theme song! What started that?
Kristin: In 1994, we wanted a jingle to use in our expanding radio and television advertising. The song was commissioned to be recorded in a Nashville studio but a snow and ice storm shut down the city preventing the studio musicians from making it to the session. Fortunately for us, members of the Eddie Rabbit Band were stranded at the studio and agreed to cut the song!
MFD: That’s so cool! I’m putting a link in our article so readers can hear the jingle! (Publisher’s note: You can hear the Farm and Fleet jingle here: http://www.farmandfleet.com/about/theme-song.aspx)
Now, with a company that has grown as much as Farm and Fleet has, you must have quite a team!
Kristin: Oh yes! In fact there are over 4,100 people working at Farm and Fleet between all the stores and Blain Supply, which includes the corporate building, distribution center and management office! And, as I just mentioned, we are opening two new stores this fall so about 200 more associates will be in the mix!
MFD: Everyone I have dealt with at Farm and Fleet seems so friendly and committed to the company! You just don’t see that everywhere.
Kristin: We are very proud of the dedicated men and women who are part of the company. Many like to refer to themselves as “Fleeters.” They embody the concepts and culture upon which the company was founded. Each has been an important thread in the fabric of our organization. Each has made their own unique contribution to our company in their own special way.
MFD: Beautiful! What would you say is the best part about running the business?
Kristin: Well, I think Jane Blain Gilbertson, our CEO says it best, and I quote, “We get to treat our customers like neighbors and our associates like family- Really!”
MFD: It’s obvious that there is a lot of pride in the company and its associates.
Kristin: Yes, there is. And when asked what she was most proud of when it comes to Blain’s Farm & Fleet, Jane said – and I quote her again here, “The confidence that our customers, vendors, communities and associates feel in how we do business… fairly and with great value!” That really does say it all!
MFD: There were a number of things that I personally noticed on the site that made me take that second look, and where I thought to myself, “Hmm… These guys are really onto something!” Would you care to talk about some of the things that have set you apart from other websites that sell similar products?
Kristin: Our website allows you to find the products you need for everyday use but also gives great information in our blogs to help plan projects. We also supply check off lists so you have everything you need when you start. We strive to help customers with their everyday lifestyles whether it be at work, home or the outdoors.
MFD: That is a really nice touch, and you just don’t see that on other sites. Now, what about the things that have surprised you the most about Farm and Fleet? Was there anything over the course of the years that you just didn’t expect?
Kristin: Actually, there is! Our biggest surprise was when we went on-line. Within the first 6 weeks we’d done business in all 50 states! Also, we laugh about it now, but our very first online item was a step ladder for under $50. It just goes to show, we carry a little bit of everything to satisfy all our customer’s needs whether it be in the shop or in the kitchen.
MFD: And, considering that 2008 really wasn’t that long ago, it’s amazing how things have grown! And to think that the online product line began with a single step ladder!
Kristin: You are so right. And it’s true, what people say and have always said, “If you can’t find it at Farm and Fleet, you don’t need it!”
MFD: Before we wrap things up, Kristin, what do you look forward to with regards to the future of Farm and Fleet?
Kristin: Again, I’d like to refer to Jane Blain Gilbertson, our CEO, and President. She has her focus on partnership and growth with the right communities AND getting more people to experience not only our “Buy Online” and “Pick Up in Store,” but also our “drive through” for on the fly shopping!
MFD: Do you have any parting words for our readers?
Kristin: (Thoughtfully) Blain’s Farm & Fleet has been family owned for over 61 years, which is something we are truly proud of. We are happy to be the modern general store our customers need in this fast paced life and we hope more people will get to experience all we have to offer for many more years to come.
MFD: I’m sure they will, Kristin. I’m so glad you were able to spend some time with us here at MyFavDeals.org to help us – and our readers – get to know you and the company better. I so appreciate having you as our guest!
Kristin: It really was my pleasure, Kathy. Thank you!
MFD: Okay, everyone, that wraps up our time with Kristin Mickelson, the PR and Event Manager for Blain’s Farm & Fleet! Please take the time to check out their impressive online inventory here at Blain’s Farm and Fleet – and check back with us at MyFavDeals.org in our dedicated section of the site for any specials and discounts that the company offers! Click HERE to see what Farm and Fleet coupon codes or other specials are being offered!
Have a wonderful day, and thank you for reading!