DeKALB – When Chuck Keller needed a job with flexible scheduling, he decided to apply to Blain’s Farm & Fleet in Sycamore.
Keller was familiar with the store: his father started working at the location about 30 years ago and was the store’s small engine mechanic and his mom did general maintenance at the store, including mowing the lawn.
“A lot of farmers in town knew my dad, and they often recognize me and come up to me to chat,” said Keller, who has been working at the store for four years. “The one big draw about the store is its customer service. [The workers] are always friendly and they go the extra mile to help you out.”
Blain’s Farm & Fleet is celebrating its 65th anniversary in DeKalb County. Farm & Fleet built its third store in DeKalb: its first two were in Janesville and Rice Lake, Wisconsin.
“The DeKalb store almost became our headquarters because there is a very strong agricultural community here,” said Jane Blain Gilbertson, the store’s CEO, president and owner. “The early focus of the business was agriculture and automotive: farm and fleet. Then we added hardware, work wear, including jeans, overalls and work boots, casual wear, housewares and more.”
The store’s automotive section has also expanded through the years.
“We always sold tires and parts, then in the mid-’70s we added brakes and oil changes,” she said. “Our Toyland is also a very big tradition every Christmas. ... We now offer drive-thru pickup and ship-to-home nationwide.
Blain Gilbertson credits the DeKalb County locations’ success to the continued success of Blain’s Farm & Fleet.
“If the DeKalb customers weren’t so loyal at the beginning, I don’t know if we would have had the opportunity to grow,” she said. “If the early stores didn’t go well, we wouldn’t be around today.”
Blain’s Farm & Fleet has 43 locations in four states: Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa. Two more locations are planned in the next year in Rhinelander and Grafton, Wisconsin. Farm & Fleet employs about 4,500 total employees.
There have been four locations of Blain’s Farm & Fleet in DeKalb County: 144 Second St. in DeKalb opened in 1956, 1515 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb in 1964, 1600 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb in 1972 and 1300 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore in 1995.
Blain Gilbertson said that a full remodel and reset of the Sycamore’s 133,000 square-foot store is planned for summer 2022.
Sandy Stover has been working for Blain’s Farm & Fleet for 38 years. She started working at the store’s front desk in 1983 and is now the sporting goods department head.
“I love the customers, many come in and ask for me by name,” Stover said. “What makes the store different is our customer service and great employees.”
Tina LeCuyer, the store’s men’s department head, started working in the store 36 years ago in 1985.
“How we treat our customers is what keeps people coming back,” she said. “We do our best to know our items, are as friendly, kind and courteous as we can be, our prices are competitive and we sell a lot of high-quality brands.”
Judy Simmonds, the store’s training coordinator, has worked at the store a total of 41 years.
“I started working right out of high school, and I remember one of the owners, Bert Blain, was visiting the store,” Simmonds said. “I said ‘Hello, Mr. Blain,’ and he asked me my name. He said, ‘Judy, it’s Bert, not Mr. Blain. Yes, I’m the owner of the company, but it’s you that make my company what it is.’ That really stuck with me. They treat the employees like family. It’s been a pleasure to work for the company and an honor to be a part of the store’s 65-year history in the area.”
Blain’s Farm & Fleet is located at 1300 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore. For more information, visit www.farmandfleet.com.