Jon DeMars

Fleet Farm General Manager Jon DeMars poses for a photo shortly before the opening of the DeForest location in October.

A lot goes into opening a new Fleet Farm store. At the new DeForest location, some 300 trucks delivered more than 5,000 pallets of merchandise to be put away beforehand.

Jon DeMars, the store’s general manager, described the process of opening the DeForest Fleet Farm at the Dec. 20 Waunakee Rotary meeting.

Groundbreaking on the new store occurred just over a year ago, and in June, hiring the 250 workers began. Fifty of those are full time, and eight are managers. Fifteen specialists in different areas use their expertise to help customers.

“At Fleet Farm, we really like to stress customer service. Having these roles really allows us to help customers more,” DeMars said.

With Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate, DeMars said hiring takes effort. Fleet Farm representatives reached out to the community to do so. Workers were needed to first set up the fixtures, and high school students put labels on the shelves.

When those pallets arrived, DeMars described the scene as “controlled chaos,” and 40 temporary workers were bused in from Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison to help.

Fleet Farm has a gas station, car wash and auto center, along with outdoor storage area, creating many sites to maintain. Several licenses are required as well, such as a federal firearms license and alcohol and tobacco license. DeMars takes care of these and said his name is on many important documents.

The team at Fleet Farm is integral to what the store does, he said.

“The important thing with retail is having fun,” he said.

The workers take breaks together and participate in the community.

Fleet Farm has sponsored several events in DeForest, including Music in the Park, and representatives have shown up at the DeForest Farmers Market with souvenirs to give away. The company also provided grants to the DeForest Area Foundation and FFA.

Fleet Farm used social media to promote the store’s debut and fun activities accompanying it, such as a store scavenger hunt and six weekends of grand openings.

“It was really fun to have these kinds of events,” DeMars said.

Fleet Farm also has Orange Friday, the Friday before the deer season opener. The Wausau store draws about 800 who show up before 6 a.m. that day.

While DeMars admitted retail is not a growing enterprise, he said Fleet Farm is a little different. The growing company opened five stores this year and will open another five next year.

“We try to keep to the core values,” he said, “to provide customer service and the products important to customers.”

As far as Fleet Farm grand openings, the DeForest store’s was the most attended and had the highest sales of all others, DeMars said.

“The community has been so good to work with,” he added.

The store recently received the DeForest Windsor Area Chamber of Commerce award for New Business of the Year.

A native of Minnesota, DeMars said he grew up on a vegetable farm that raised carrots and potatoes. He attended South Dakota State and earned a degree in agricultural education. He’s been with Fleet Farm for 10 years, has opened three different stores, and is now in his sixth location.

Some fun facts about Fleet Farm stores – those silos are empty, he said; only bathrooms are located in the lower level. They are simply a calling card, signaling to passersby.

Also, Fleet Farm and Blain’s Farm and Fleet were started by two separate sets of brothers who are not related, as some have come to believe, DeMars added.

Clarification: This story has been edited to reflect a clarification. A notice about the clarification also appeared in the Jan. 17, 2019 print edition of the DeForest Times-Tribune.

This article originally contained an implication in a sentence regarding the ownership of two businesses. The article originally stated “… Fleet Farm and Blain’s Farm and Fleet are owned by two separate sets of brothers who are not related, as some have come to believe, DeMars added.”

While Fleet Farm was originally owned by the Mills family, it is not still owned by them today. Fleet Farm is now owned by KKR & Co., an investment firm.

(1) comment

peterfeldman

This note is just to clarify that Fleet Farm is no longer owned by its founding brothers or the Mills Family. The family name was actually dropped from the name “Fleet Farm” after it was purchased by the Wall Street private equity firm KKR in 2016, the same group that triggered the Toys “R” Us chain’s bankruptcy. Thus, any implications that Fleet Farm is “family owned” today are inaccurate.

Bert and Claude Blain opened the first Blain’s Farm and Fleet in June 1955. Their good friends and auto parts store owners, Stu and Hank Mills, learned of Blain's success and opened the First Fleet Wholesale Supply that same year, which later became Mills Fleet Farm. Today, the Mills family is no longer involved in the business.

Blain's Farm & Fleet has no affiliation with Fleet Farm. The truth is that Blain's Farm & Fleet is the original. It was founded by Bert and Claude Blain, and is still owned and run by Bert’s daughter, Jane Blain Gilbertson. Blain's Farm & Fleet is still the same great family-run company that lives where their customers live, serves their neighbors and gives back to the community.

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