Geneseo Farm & Fleet celebrates anniversary with company CEO

Claudia Loucks
Arnie Swanson, now retired, who worked at Geneseo Farm & Fleet for 42 years and was store manager for 35 of those years, poses for a photo with Farm & Fleet company president and CEO Jane Blain Gilbertson, Janesville, Wis.
Jane Blain Gilbertson, third from left, president and CEO of Blain’s Farm & Fleet Stores, visited with staff at the Geneseo Farm & Fleet store to help them celebrate the 55th plus 1 anniversary of the opening of the Geneseo store. With Gilbertson are, from left, Tracy DeMay, assistant manager; Michelle Neilbaumgardner, store manager; and Liz Parrish, assistant manager.
Long-time employees at Geneseo Farm & Fleet were recognized by Jane Blain Gilbertson, company president and CEO, when she visited the store in celebration of the Geneseo store’s “55th plus 1” anniversary. With Gilbertson are, from left, Cheryl DeRycke, 23 years; Lena VanHyfte, 42 years; Dean Verplaetse, 41 years; Gary Boberg, 37 years and Lloyd Foster, 34 years.

The Farm & Fleet Store in Geneseo reached a milestone in 2020 by marking the 55th anniversary of its opening in Geneseo, but was not able to celebrate because of the pandemic.

This year the store celebrated its “55th plus 1” anniversary with a visit from Blain’s Farm & Fleet President and CEO Jane Blain Gilbertson and team from Janesville, Wis.

Gilbertson, daughter of the late Bert Blain, co-founder of Blain’s Farm & Fleet store, complimented the staff at the Geneseo location, and said, “The company has continued to grow and particularly in Geneseo. The Geneseo store saw strong growth in 2020 and because we were deemed an essential retailer during Covid, we were able to be open. People also found us online and could order online and pick up items at the store.”

She said many people used the drive-thru feature during the pandemic…”Our stores were open both inside and outside and within a couple of months, people were shopping in the store as well. We did a great job in making people feel safe.”

The Farm & Fleet stores are family-owned and Gilbertson said, “We proud ourselves in still being a family-owned business after 66 years. We have never left any community, which is rare. Because we are independently family-owned, we can make decisions for the long run, and we make decisions for our employees and our customers. We treat our associates like family and our customers like neighbors. I think people trust us, and in particularly during Covid, we had the basic things they needed and they could shop in a safe environment during the past year.”

Farm & Fleet was founded by William Claude Blain and Norman “Bert” Blain in June of 1955 in Janesville as a discount supply store with products to the farming community of Wisconsin.

Jane Blain Gilbertson worked in the family business during her high school and college years, but after earning a degree in retailing, she worked as a buyer at Macy’s in Kansas City, MO. A year later she joined the family business and she said, “After college I thought I would do my own thing, which I did get an opportunity to do, before joining the family business.”

She began at Farm & Fleet in Janesville as a children’s wear buyer and gift ware buyer, then oversaw the marketing area, merchandising area and operations, and said, “I had many responsibilities through the years and in 1992, I became a vice president and oversaw all merchandising and operations, then executive vice president in 1997 and was named president and CEO in 2014.”

She and her husband Michael Gilbertson, who is a licensed architect; have two daughters, Sarah, who works in marketing at the Farm & Fleet store in Janesville; and Nicole, who recently completed studies for her MBA at Loyola University Chicago.

From that beginning in 1955, today, the stores have grown to offer items in nearly every category imaginable and Gilbertson said, “You can even find chicks in our store,” and there currently are baby chicks at the Geneseo store.

“We call ourselves a modern general store,” Gilbertson said. “Our merchandising standards are quite good and we pay attention to detail. We want shopping to be a pleasant experience for our customers.”

There currently are 43 Farm & Fleet stores in four states – Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan.

Gilbertson said two new Farm & Fleet stores will be opening in 2022, although she did not disclose the locations of the stores.

“We are proud to have been in Geneseo for 56 years and we thank the community for supporting us for so long,” she said.

The Geneseo store opened in August of 1965 on Oakwood Ave, where NOSH is currently located, and five years later, due to a need for more space, built a new store at its present location on South Chicago St. Additions to the original building were completed in 1981 and in 1999 when a complete renovation, including a new store front, was added.