“It’s amazing how this business has grown and changed, when you take time to think about it.” Todd Gabrielson added that comment while answering questions for this interview about his business, Pokegama Lawn & Sport.
Pokegama Lawn & Sport is a third-generation business. Todd’s grandfather (his mother’s father), Stanley Gruska, started the business as Stanley’s Repair Shop in Hibbing in 1946, just after World War II. Stanley repaired just about anything, and his business thrived. One year while attending the Minnesota State Fair he met Carl Kiekhaefer, the founder of Mercury Marine, a small machine shop in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. He also met a fellow from Little Falls, Minnesota, who was starting up a boat manufacturing company (Crestliner). Stanley decided to expand the repair business by adding these lines of business, and Stanley’s Repair was in the marine business.
Todd’s uncle, Stan Jr., took over the business in the early 60’s but passed away in 1978. A year later the business was sold to Todd’s parents, John and Jane, when John’s employment at Minntac was jeopardized following a car accident.
“My parents purchased the store from my aunt, and they learned fast and ran it very well,” Todd explained. “I was 13 years old at the time and began working at the dealership on day one cleaning, assembling equipment and rigging and repairing boats and motors. After high school, I attended St. Cloud State and joined the Navy for the nuclear power program. I left the Navy in 1986 and on a visit home learned that my parents were looking at opening a second location in Grand Rapids.”
Our John Deere representative, Ed Honzik, lived in Grand Rapids at the time and informed my parents that the current John Deere dealership was up for sale, so they bought the inventory and moved into the property on which our business is now located (Highway 169 two miles south of Grand Rapids). At that time, my mother—who handled the finances—met Clair, Craig and Steve Wilcox at Grand Rapids State Bank and began our relationship with GRSB and have been working with them ever since.
In 1987 Pokegama Lawn and Sport added the Arctic Cat line at the Grand Rapids store, and in 1990 the family decided to sell the Hibbing operation and to exit the marine business. However, Pokegama Lawn and Sport retained waterfront equipment products from Floe and Shoremaster.
In 1998 John Gabrielson’s health took a bad turn, and the couple decided to sell the business. “This was a logical move on their part,” Todd explained, “but I was little taken aback when they told me they had found a buyer for the business. And it wasn’t me. I asked them for a chance to buy the business, and they agreed.
“I worked with Craig Wilcox and John Deere to put a business plan together, and fortunately, GRSB loaned me the money to purchase the business,” he continued. “The bank knew the business had been successful, so I got loan and bought out my parents, and they moved to Arizona.”
The business had two employees in 1998; today there are 10. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to surround myself with great employees that understand the needs of our customers. Their efforts have contributed greatly to our growth.” Todd has a full range of outdoor product lines. John Deere consumer and commercial equipment, Arctic Cat snowmobiles and ATV’s, Floe waterfront equipment and trailers, Trophy and Felling trailers and Stihl outdoor power equipment.
“We outgrew the facility we’re in years ago,” said Todd. “We need to grow beyond the 8,000 square feet of our current space. I acquired nine acres and 600 feet of Highway 169 frontage where the Black Cherry Lounge once operated; this will be a much better location and give us the space my employees and customers deserve. The building plans are ready, and I want to move forward soon on this project. We’ll be able to add more employees with extra room to operate.”
Todd Gabrielson likes the business he owns, and he’s excited for what lies ahead. “As I said at the outset, it’s hard to believe how things have progressed, but this is a good business and I want to see it grow.”