May 26 05:53 AM

Celebrating 35 years

September 29, 2010
Bob Zgnilec, 74, may not think of himself as an entrepreneur but he is. His track record dates back to 1975.

You see, the characteristics of an entrepreneur are identified in high energy people, self-confident, disciplined, problem solvers, people who take risks and have learned from the 'school of hard knocks.' They accept responsibility for their actions and achieve success on their own terms.

Yes, Bob's an entrepreneur.

I've known Bob for a longtime. In the early 80s as a young newspaper man I'd visit his store to sell Bob ads. He was direct, but polite.

"What is it your paper offers the others don't?" I recall him asking.

I stumbled through my prepared sales pitch with the grace of a bull in a china shop.

Bob Zgnilec, 74, is still sharpening chains entering his 35th year. Bob started Lumberjack Shack in 1975. photo by Randy Jorgensen.

"I tell you what," Bob told me sternly, "I'll give you and your paper some of my business. I'm open from 6pm to 9pm, if you stop in next week, I'll have an ad for you."

Bob did business on his on terms.

I liked Bob and a friendship grew. He has since assisted me in many projects, mainly playing a key role in helping me secure sponsorship for our Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend. Stihl Chainsaws and Bryan Equipment became our first big sponsors, thanks to Bob and his efforts. It's just the kind of guy he is, helping others.

Recently Bob celebrated the 35th anniversary of the business he started, Lumberjack Shack.

"We are still servicing chain saws I sold 30 or 35 years ago. Our customers are very loyal and I'm thankful for that," Bob told me proudly.

Today his son, Dave, owns the business, but Bob is still there, sharpening saw chains, greeting customers or sweeping up the back room.

Lumberjack Shack is one of the oldest Stihl dealers in Michigan.

Bob and his family moved from the Utica area in 1974. He and his wife Carol recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They have three children, Barb, Sandy and Dave, with 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

"I have always had a love for the outdoors and enjoy a good days' work," Bob tells me.

During the oil embargo in the 70s Bob began heating his home with wood as many people did back then.

"I guess you could say the oil embargo got me into the business to begin with," he continued.

"I spent hours and hours cutting wood, I knew which chainsaws and other wood cutting products were good and which ones weren't. So it was a love of product, a love of cutting wood and honestly, I loved to help people," Bob told me.

In the fall of 1975 Bob started his business from his basement at home. A year later he opened shop on the corner of Webster Road and Van Dyke, just south of Imlay City. He converted a small home into what is now, Lumberjack Shack.

"I thought the name was very appropriate," he told me.

Working his day job and then at his store by night, Bob built an impressive list of customers. He repaired and sold chainsaws, log-splitters, woodburning stoves and all the accessories. Lumberjack Shack was the very first of its kind in the area.

The small business continued to grow as the need and desire to burn wood grew. Bob's motto was simple, "Cut-it, Split-it and Burn-it."

Now remember, Bob was using his entrepreneur instincts to help fill a need in the market no one else was. People were heating their homes with wood, which required the type of products he was selling.

In the late 70s and early 80s Bob began sponsoring what he called, "Saw Dust Days."

"The 'Saw Dust Days' were very popular with our customers," Bob explained.

"Burning wood to heat your home can be dangerous, if not done correctly. So can cutting wood with a chainsaw," Bob went on to say.

"My customers are my friends, I didn't want any of them to get hurt from something I sold them. So it was important to me to make sure they understood certain safety procedures and give them the knowledge to make sure it was done correctly," he stressed.

"The 'Saw Dust Days' were a good way for me to thank my customers and a way for me to make sure they used the products safely. I felt it was my responsibility to them," Bob stated.

Bob's philosophy rubbed off on his son, Dave. It's just as important today as it was when his father ran the business. Dave took the business over in 1989.

Dave, as it turned out, was a natural, he is, as they say, mechanically inclined. Working at the store with his father, as he often did, he rebuilt his first carburetor at 13 years old.

"I was impressed," Bob told me, "I attended all these classes and Dave simply grabs some tools and does the job."

Under Dave's leadership, the Lumberjack Shack grew even larger. The store more than tripled in size. His focus is still the Stihl chainsaw brand of products, but he offers much more.

Today, Lumberjack Shack offers Arctic Cat ATV's and snowmobiles, a full repair and service department for all products he sells. He has been a award winning Exmark lawn equipment dealer since 1993 and also sells Hustler lawn and garden equipment. They also offer a full line of tree climbing equipment and supplies.

It's a success story. A story of hard work. It's a story that has been in the making for 35 years now. A story of a man committed to his customers, his family and his community.

Yes, I'd say Bob is an entrepreneur, wouldn't you?

Randy Jorgensen has been with the Tri-City Times since 1980, he lives in Imlay City and is active in many community organizations. Randy enjoys the outdoor sports and travel. His columns are generally of life experiences with a touch of humor.
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