Webster's New World Dictionary defines tradition as "the handing down of stories, beliefs, customs, etc. from generation to generation."
From what it once was to what it has become today, it's obvious that the founder of Jay's Sporting Goods, Jay Poet, was a firm believer in the tradition of family, as well as the traditional values of treating his customers with a certain degree of respect he felt should be part and parcel of the business whenever someone shopped at Jay's Sporting Goods.
Jay's quest to fulfill his dream of developing a first class sporting goods store began nearly thirty years ago, in a small garage on 7th Street in Clare, Michigan. The year was 1968. A shooter and lifelong hunter and angler, he sold a fair amount of guns, ammunition and reloading supplies, seeking to fill the void left by the disappearance of the small town gun shops where every customer was known by name, and their favorite ammunition was always in good supply. But, it was a very tough beginning at Jay's Gun Shop. About that time, Jay said, "It was hard work. I was putting in 80, 90 hours a week". That his approach quickly gained acceptance was evident by the response to their direct mail. Arlene, Jay's wife, hand-typed every envelope in their living room and continually mailed flyers to their growing list of customers with seven year old son Jeff and infant son J.J. underfoot.
Jay began by stocking what he could afford and selling it out of his garage. "We were on a limited budget, but part of the paycheck always went to buying a reloader or a rod or something like that", said Arlene. As the business began to pick up, it was obvious the garage would no longer be big enough to accommodate the goods as well as the customers. They went from a garage to an 8,400 square foot facility with just 14 parking spaces.
In 1974, the first official Jay's Sporting Goods store was opened, no more than two blocks away from the original location. In addition to his standard fare of guns and ammo, the expanded space allowed him to add fishing gear, archery supplies and athletic equipment. And, with each department came another step toward making his early dreams a reality. Both sons became a growing part of the business, with Jeff helping out in the archery department and J.J. doing every odd job necessary. According to Arlene, "Jay and I often discussed how fortunate we are that both of our sons wanted to get into the business. We'd like to think that the store will be in the family for generations. That was one of our goals - to run this together as a family and to stay together as a family."
Yet, despite offering nearly 8,600 square feet of space, Jay's Sporting Goods quickly outgrew the store, and in 1987, the family broke ground on a new site, in a hayfield, one that would soon boast the Midwest's outdoor superstore. The dream was close at hand and easily within reach.
On July 1, 1988, the new Jay's Sporting Goods opened to the public, one day after Jay Poet was diagnosed with cancer. The realization of a lifelong dream had finally come to pass, but not without a heavy price. Some nine months later, the founder of Jay's Sporting Goods, the company that bore his name, passed away, leaving a legacy for his wife and children.
Since that time, the store has continued to grow, as were Jay's wishes. "When Jay was here, he saw to it that everything ran smoothly. He had an incredible memory and a superior mind. He loved mathematics and was fascinated by the geometric perfection of the pyramids in ancient Egypt", says son Jeff. "My memory of him is the part that puts more pressure on me than anything else. I really want to make sure it goes right." Obviously, there is a great deal going right these days at Jay's. Now boasting some 72,000 square feet, it has, indeed, become a destination of sorts for folks who enjoy the outdoors from all over the United States, Canada and a few other countries.
In the years just before Jay's passing, Jeff had become a devoted member of the church. Jeff's pastor's wife talked him into calling a young woman, also devoted to the church, whom she felt was well suited for him. When the two were finally able to get together after trying several times, they knew they would be together for a long time. Knowing how his oldest son felt, Jay wanted to talk to Kathy. She had been offered a good job at Dow Corning. But, Jay talked of family and her coming to work in the store. She turned down Dow Corning and went to work at the Information/Service desk at Jay's. "I felt honored to work with Jay," says Kathy. "We all did the best we could under very difficult circumstances when Dad was sick and when he passed away." Kathy is now in charge of all advertising at Jay's Sporting Goods. "It's wonderful to go to work and have your family working alongside you."
At the time, J.J. was all grown up and working in the store, too. He started out doing all sorts of odd jobs; "I did whatever was needed when I first started". Then, J.J. worked with scopes and from there the Gun Department. This variety gave him a good working knowledge of the store. He is now the Buyer for the Gun Department. J.J. looks forward to the day when his children come to work at Jay's Sporting Goods.
The boys have never forgotten some of the more memorable moments of growing up with Jay. Jeff remembers helping in the garage. He had a special job. Many things were stored in the attic. The only way to get in there was to climb a narrow set of stairs and go through a small hole/door in the ceiling. Jay was a large man and couldn't fit through. So, it was Jeff's job to get whatever was needed.
J.J. can remember becoming interested in sports at an early age "because we had all the stuff". The family had a boat and would often go fishing at Houghton Lake. "No matter where you tied up that boat or how well you tied it, it sank overnight!" says J.J. "We were always bailing that boat out!"
The memories live on as the store grows. But, the success of recent years hasn't changed their basic approach to the way they do business. They are still family owned and family run, headed up by Jay's sons: Jeff, J.J. and Jay's widow Arlene along with grandchildren Derrick, Stephanie, Matthew and other relatives who all believe in the dream as a tribute to the belief in the way Jay treated his family of customers.
Our customers, both long-term and more recent additions, will nearly always find a member of the Poet family working in the store, no matter when they might choose to visit. Jay wouldn't have it any other way and neither will his family. "Everyone should be able to follow their dream", says Arlene. "We've never led our family to believe that this is what they had to do. They should do whatever they want. That's what life is all about - to enjoy what you're doing. Life's too short not to do that".
According to son Jeff, now president, "we're grateful for each and every one of our customers. We want them to think of Jay's Sporting Goods for all their outdoor needs. And we want their shopping experience to be a good one".
"Our philosophy is simple," says son J.J., now vice-president, "Give the customer what they need and give them the best service possible."
We may have grown since the beginning but our dedication to the folks who come through the door hasn't changed one bit. All our customers are part of the family, one that has grown together for over thirty years.