Family has been part of business community for more than six decades
It has been a long time since the Lauer name wasn’t part of the scene in Grafton’s retail community.
That string has been intact for 63 years, but will come to an end in February, when Lauer Equipment Sales closes its doors for the last time in the Twin City Plaza.
A going-out-of-business sale is being held to empty the store of its inventory of equipment, parts and even old technical manuals. Furniture and store fixtures are also being sold.
Bob Lauer, who turned 70 on Monday, spoke philosophically about the last Lauer business and the changes its closing will mean for him and his family.
“I have never retired before, so I don’t really know what to expect. Luckily, I have a lot of retired friends who have said they will guide me through it,” Lauer said.
His family moved to Grafton from Menomonee Falls in 1951, when his father Art opened a J.I. Case dealership and parts store at 12th Avenue and Washington Street.
Since that time, the family has operated TrueValue hardware stores in Grafton, Cedarburg, Port Washington, Brown Deer and Menomonee Falls. Each store also had a rental department known as Just Ask Rental.
The family also ran a beverage store known as Lauer Vineyard and a sporting goods store called Lauer Super 8 Sports in addition to the current John Deere speciality store and a mini-warehouse business on the north side of the village.
The Lauers will hold onto the storage business, at least for now.
Through it all, Bob Lauer has been a constant presence.
“I started working for my dad when I was seven, sweeping floors, dusting shelves and moving stock,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I guess I was pretty good at it because they moved me up to management, which I hated. Eventually, I worked my way back to the sales floor. That’s the thing I really like about the retail business.”
Lauer said providing the personal touch was his way of making the family businesses stand out from the competition.
“The goal of a hardware business is to help customers solve problems,” he said.
“I realized that word of mouth among neighbors was always our best form of advertising. If I was able to sell a garden tractor to someone in a subdivision and they were happy with it, I knew that pretty soon three or four of their neighbors would be coming to me for a tractor, too.”
The retail business became an instinctive part of Lauer’s life.
“I will be out for dinner with my wife Janet, and I’ll notice the tile needed replacing or the ceiling needs to be painted. That’s when my wife will say, ‘Can’t you just eat your meal,’” he said.
Despite his dogged commitment to business, Lauer found time to be a part of his community, too. he has belonged to the Grafton Lions Club for 27 years, as well as serving on the Grafton Police & Fire Commission for 23 years, the Grafton Jaycees for 10 years and the Grafton Little League board of directors for a decade.
For that exhaustive community involvement and his ongoing support of local causes, Lauer was named the recipient of the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce 2013 Outstanding Citizen Award. The honor included serving as marshal of the community’s Nov. 30 Christmas parade.
“That was a little weird. I was overwhelmed by the honor, and I know there are a lot of deserving people in Grafton, but it turned out pretty neat. I probably knew 75% of the people who were watching the Christmas parade, waving at me,” he said.
Customers continue to stop in the shop and congratulate him on receiving the honor.
Lauer said he has been trying to sell the equipment business for about a year, but several prospective buyers were scared off when John Deere refused to grant them franchises.
“I would say John Deere equipment and service has been about 70% of our business, but the company is no longer interested in working with smaller shops. They want the business to go to a few large dealerships,” Lauer said.
He said he plans to walk away from the building, which he leases, with a clear conscience come March 1.
“When that day comes, I plan on looking at it as the first day of the rest of my life,” Lauer said.
“It will be the first day in as long as I can remember where I won’t be facing a deadline for something. Maybe Janet and I will just hop in the car, held south and stop whenever we feel like it.”
Image Information: ALTHOUGH HIS FAMILY operated retail businesses for 63 years, Bob Lauer has decided to close Lauer Equipment Sales in Grafton and retire at the end of February. The store is selling off its inventory of parts and supplies before closing. Photos by Mark Jaege