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Into the lab with Pontiac's Exferimentation Brewing

For co-owners Eric Benton, Andrew Stamper, and Scott Boughton, it's passion that has them brewing beer until 3 a.m..long after their shifts in the automotive industry have ended for the day.

The three friends opened Exferimentation in July 2016, though they started working on their quirky signature beers for several years before that. The co-owners consider themselves the "mad scientists" of the brewing trade, eschewing the traditional ales and lagers for something more unique. Hence the name, from"Experimenting with fermentation."

There's Clownpocalypse, a toasted coconut cream ale born out of a conversation co-owner Eric Benton had about a zombie clown apocalypse. There's the Pink Tickler, a hibiscus wheat beer that's also the brewery's most popular. And there's a red ale with rosemary, cayenne pepper, and black pepper, a pineapple-rhubarb wheat beer, and a lemon-coriander sour beer, to name just a few. The trio is always working on other unique flavor combinations, testing them out on their all too willing loyalty program members, the Mad Scientist Club.

It all started out so innocently.

"We started homebrewing on my back porch and progressed from there to a small industrial space in Rochester," says Benton. "We had a club and brewed ten gallons at a time. We had that for 18 months, and by the time we got to the end of the 18 months, we had 30 people showing up and drinking all of our beer. They were drinking more than we could make," says Benton. "We figured that it was time to go pro."

Though it may seem like a current trend, homebrewing has been around for thousands of years. And like the many brewers before them, the Exferimentation crew learned how to brew beer through the trial-and-error process. Come up with an idea, see what works, let people try it, and proceed based on their enthusiasm for the product.

Keeping their focus on the beer, Exferimentation has spent the bulk of their money so far on brewing equipment. Work on the tasting room, a storefront in downtown Pontiac, was done themselves. The trio rehabbed the floors, installed the tile, and built the bar and tables all by hand. And this done in the evenings and weekends, working around their "regular jobs."

In searching for the right space for their bar, Exferimentation looked at a couple of locations before finding downtown Pontiac. The historic storefronts, walkability, and the potential for economic revival made it obvious that it was the city that Exerimentation was about to call home.

"We didn't know that we wanted Pontiac until we went into Pontiac to look. And then we absolutely knew that we wanted Pontiac," says Benton.

Benton's big on the city's future, saying that he thinks it's about two to three businesses away from a development tipping point, leading to it becoming a bustling destination for a night on the town.

The building where Exferimentation is located, 7 N. Saginaw St., is already abuzz. Directly across from the recently renovated Flagstar Strand Theatre, 7 N. Saginaw St. hosts a vintage clothing store and, not one, but two breweries. Five days after Exferimentation signed the lease on their storefront, Fillmore 13 Brewery signed theirs. The two breweries share a hall. But the competition doesn't irk the Exferimentation team one bit. All it means, says Benton, is that there are more people drawn downtown.

Part of that, he says, is that he knows craft beer fans are the type to try as many new beers as possible, and not settle into a single establishment. It's a "the more, the merrier" situation that creates the foot traffic a business desires. 
And in talking about beer towns, Benton has his eyes set on a certain city in west Michigan known for its dozens of breweries, which holds the title of Beer City, USA.

"Look out Grand Rapids, here comes Pontiac."

Name and title: Eric Benton, co-owner (other owners are Andy Stamper and Scott Boughton)

Year Exferimentation opened: Opened 7/21/16

One interesting job you had before running Exferimentation: I was the chocolate and frappucino buyer for Starbucks.

What's the best brewery soundtrack: Best soundtrack to me is Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons.

What's your favorite beer flavor of all time: We love citrus around here, especially grapefruit. It's becoming commonplace these days, but grapefruit with its slight bitterness fits just right with an IPA.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Common Grace in Dearborn seeks to create coffee with a purpose

Dale Tremblay-Dulong wants to up Dearborn's coffee game. It's what motivated him to open Common Grace Coffee Company in west downtown Dearborn, which started serving customers earlier this year.

But it's not the only thing motivating Tremblay-Dulong. The first-time entrepreneur believes in the power of community, he says, and the rich diversity of Dearborn's population is one of the main drivers for Common Grace opening in this particular city.

Another motivating factor is a desire to develop and maintain relationships with coffee workers around the world. Tremblay-Dulong says he wants to be more purposeful in purchasing coffee, using importers and distributors who have relationships with the farmers and can tell their stories. Creating direct relationships with the farmers is also a possibility, he says.

All these motivators are reflected in the Common Grace motto: For the city. For the craft. For the world.

"We recognize that coffee is most often consumed as a commodity. People consume it most days of their lives and it's the center point of our gatherings. But it's also a lot of people's livelihood all over the world," says Tremblay-Dulong. "We want to value the craft of coffee while trying to buy coffee that is intentional and makes a difference."

Tremblay-Dulong didn't grow up wanting to start his own coffee shop. He worked in the restaurant industry in the past and had left the field to go into church ministry. That's where he thought he was going to stay. But coffee brought him back.

He first came up with the idea for Common Grace in February 2016, and the shop opened just one year later. In the meantime, Tremblay-Dulong started roasting coffee and selling it at local farmers markets. He was searching for a location on the outskirts of town but found one right in west downtown Dearborn, a twist of fate that Tremblay-Dulong says couldn't have gone better for the company.

The shift to the coffee business was a surprising but positive development.

"I guess it's something that was brewing inside me all these years that I didn't even know was brewing," he says.

In the short time Common Grace has been open, Tremblay-Dulong is amazed to see what's taken place. He says he's watched a community develop, with people becoming more connected all while being exposed to great coffee. He glows at the story of receiving a letter from a customer sending the staff at Common Grace a note of appreciation.

Besides people being drawn to its craft coffee, Common Grace is looking to foster community through different events. There's live music once or twice a week. Book clubs and conversations are a regular occurrence. Tremblay-Dulong hopes to expand the shop in the future and has different coffee concepts planned. But he believes that a guiding purpose for Common Grace is to create a platform for gatherings, and intends to keep that vision front and center.

And for Tremblay-Dulong, the city of Dearborn itself plays as big a part in his vision for Common Grace as anything else.

"This is a super diverse community. Much of the world lives in segregated pockets of people living next to each other without ever meeting, but Dearborn is full of people that are different from each other," he says. "It's a city filled with people who would never normally grow up next to each other."

He says he's excited about that diversity and hopes that Common Grace can be a neutral ground for the city and its residents from all backgrounds.

Common Grace Coffee Company celebrated a soft opening earlier this year and remains open up to its official grand opening party, which Tremblay-Dulong hopes will be in mid-April.

Name and title: Dale Tremblay-Dulong, Owner

Year Common Grace opened: 2017 we opened but started in 2016

One interesting job you had before running Common Grace: Jimmy Johns delivery driver

What's the all-time best coffee and snack combo: Coffee and almond chocolate croissant

What's the best soundtrack to running a coffee shop: Don't Stop Believing by Journey

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

John Bry takes helm at Main Street Oakland County

John Bry knew a good deal about Oakland County long before he ever set foot within its borders. That's because he has been working in the Main Street program for a while now--and the county has a bit of a reputation within the nationwide program.

That's because Oakland County is the first and only county in the United States to officially join Main Street, which is a program if the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Main Street uses historic preservation and placemaking techniques to drive economic development and revitalization in traditional downtowns and commercial districts.

Bry first started working in the Main Street program over two decades ago. It's a career that has taken him from his native Auburn, Indiana to towns in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and Florida. He's left the Main Street program for other jobs and academic degrees over the years, but he's always come back to it. And now his love for historic preservation and downtowns has drawn Bry to yet another town and another state; he was recently hired as Program Coordinator of Main Street Oakland County.

For Bry, it's an opportunity to finally enact some of the ideas he's developed over the years. These include building a digital library of preservation and development resources, establishing downtown entrepreneur zones, and creating a county-wide funding pool for historic preservation efforts and projects. And with Oakland County's strong embrace of the Main Street program, he's confident he'll accomplish these goals.

"Some of these things have been ideas I've had in my head for a long time, but Oakland County has been receptive and progressive enough to say, you know what, we'll give it a try. And maybe in my past careers, I haven't been in a situation where they've been totally supportive," says Bry. "So the fact that Oakland County is interested is great."

It was Bry's great grandmother who set the seeds for a fully realized passion for historic preservation. Bry grew up on the family farm outside of Auburn, Indiana, in an old farmhouse that was part log cabin. His great-grandmother would take a young Bry on trips to explore the local cemeteries—a pastime he still has a passion for today. The cemetery trips were a result of his family starting the local monuments company in Auburn a hundred years earlier, he says. After the trips to the cemetery, Bry's great grandmother would show him old family photographs and tell him stories.

Bry's parents also contributed to his love for history. They were always working on the family farmhouse as well as an old Victorian house, he says. As a kid, his parents would take him on historic home tours. Left to his own devices, Bry would explore the area, poking around old abandoned houses and buildings. He even found the arches to the now long-gone building that housed his family's monuments company. Bry would go on to reconstruct the arches and donate them to a local senior living home. On one of his returns to Auburn, Bry purchased a Victorian home on the edge of downtown. It was dilapidated and under threat of demolition, and he's since restored it.

When Bry left for college and decided to study historic preservation, he says he was surprised to learn that his passion could become a career. He's become an advocate for the practice, demonstrating to communities that historic preservation isn't just about saving old buildings but also a way to boost local economies.

"It can be a challenge sometimesand especially in America, we don't make it easy to rehab historic buildings and placesbut I think everyone, at the end of the day, when they look at a completed project in their community or neighborhood, they say, I'm glad we saved that," says Bry.

In his new position, Bry says he hopes to usher in a new generation of the Main Street Oakland County program, one that engages all 22 member communities by being as inclusive as possible and always open to new ideas. There are eight guiding tenets of the Main Street program, and he's added one more: Flexibility. It's about finding a common ground where all stakeholders are allowed to play a role. Be you, he says. Maybe you have your own way of getting somewhereat least you got there.

"I don't have all the answers; I don't have all the best ideas. But when you start to bring in all these other people in to be inclusive, some really cool stuff starts," says Bry. "That's when the magic happens."

Name and title: John Bry, (CMSM)-Certified Main Street Manager, Program Coordinator Main Street Oakland County Program and Principal Planner

Year you started in Main Street: First official full-time gig, 1995

Interesting job before Main Street: I would have to say that would be between detasseling seed corn a couple of summers in Indiana, and operating a full-sized replica of a historic canal boat called the General Harrison in Ohio.

What's your favorite era of historic architecture: That's a tough one. I've come to appreciate Mid-Century Modern from the 50s and 60s, but still fall back to early styles from the early and mid 19th century with styles such as Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate as some of my favorite periods.

What's your favorite restaurant(s) in your new home of Oakland County: I enjoy local Mom and Pop places that are sort of off the grid for most people. Sorry to say I have not gotten out to many of them yet with bouncing back and forth to Auburn (my hometown) about every other weekend to check in on my grandma (She turned 90 in Oct). BUT, so far the Omega Grub Station in Pontiac and the Liberty in Pontiac are a couple that have become favorites for me. Looking forward to exploring much more as I get to know my new community.

After 35 years, Dearborn retro furniture and accessories shop stays current as ever

While other vintage shops have come and gone, Dearborn's Retro Image Co. Antiques and Vintage has persevered, establishing itself as a go-to location for unique pieces of jewelry, clothing, and furniture. 
The husband-and-wife ownership team of Jay and Karen Kruz have seen the grandchildren of their first customers walk through the door, three-and-a-half decades later.

While the items Retro Image sells are decades-old, this is not some dusty old antique store. The mid-century fashions and furniture the shop carries are as hip and contemporary as ever, and it's the era that Jay has centered his business around since first opening the shop.

That's not to say that there haven't been changes over the years. Jay says that they used to carry more items from the 1920s and '30s and that items from the 1970s are gaining in popularity these days. It's the sort of small shift to meet customer demand that has helped keep Retro Image open all these years.

Furniture, too, was an adaptation. While the store initially focused on clothing and accessories, it began carrying furniture as its customers grew older and needed to outfit their apartments and houses.

"We flex to what people want," says Jay. "But if it's cool and quality, it'll be here."

The vintage business is a field that Jay prepared for from a young age. He grew up in a family that owned jewelry and coin stores; his father worked coin shows. By the age of 14, Jay had started working in the resale business with It's the Ritz, which was then located in Old Redford and is now located in downtown Birmingham.

But it was a walk along Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles that sparked the idea for Retro Image. There weren't many retro shops in Metro Detroit in 1980, Jay says, and seeing the many vintage shops along that famous California shopping district inspired Jay to come back and start his own version in Dearborn.

Jay met his future wife, Karen, in 1989 and got into the estate sale business in 1990, starting with Karen's mother's house. Running estate sales has become an important component of the Retro Image business. Karen, who had worked in retail and as a nail technician, decided to join the business full-time in 2000.

Being married and running a business together seems to work well for the couple. By focusing on what they're best at, the pair has found a way to keep work at work and not bring it home with them.

"She does the business end of it, the technical things," Jay says. "I do the negotiating and buying, getting inventory. She helps disperse inventory."

Should they need to get something done at the shop, Jay and Karen live just a few blocks away. The couple have long been members of the Dearborn community, both as residents and as business leaders. They take part in neighborhood clean-ups; Jay's been on the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority board for about seven years. They've watched the changes that the shopping district has gone through over the decades and are excited by what they've seen lately.

East downtown Dearborn has quietly become a shopping hub for local creatives. The retro cool of Jay and Karen's shop has long been a magnet for people coveting unique and interesting furniture and accessories. Celebrities like Jack White, Renee Zellweger, and Michelle Monaghan have shopped at Retro Image, they say.

With nearby businesses like Green Brain Comics and Blick Art Materials and the new Artspace Lofts, Jay and Karen believe that a new district is forming and that it's only going to get better. Even the rumored arrival of a vintage clothing store across the street isn't seen as a threat, but instead as rather as one more reason for people to visit east downtown Dearborn.

"We're not the biggest or financially successful business on this strip, at all. But I think we draw really good and interesting people to Dearborn," says Jay. "And I think that's important."

Name: Jay and Karen Kruz

Year Retro Image opened: 1981

One interesting job you had before running Retro Image: Jay restored pinball machines and jukeboxes and worked in a coin shop. Karen worked retail in Fairlane Mall in the 80's when it was hopping and did nails for 15 years.

What's your favorite item you've come across over the course of your career: Stunning leaded glass "Tiffany" chandelier.

What's the best tip for shopping for retro and vintage items: When you see something that piques your interest, buy it. Everything doesn't have to match in your home. Retro pieces make everything more interesting.

Retro Image Co. Antiques and Vintage is located at 14246 Michigan Ave, Dearborn, MI 48126.

Brome Burgers’ Sam Abbas on how Downtown Dearborn is an ideal place to grow a business

"If it will work here, it will work anywhere."

That's what restaurateur Sam Abbas says about Dearborn's downtown districts. He believes that the city's diversity of businesses, customers, and residents make it the ideal testing ground for entrepreneurs.

While Dearborn is home to some of the biggest companies, like Ford Motor Company and Carhartt, the small mom-and-pop businesses also help drive the local economy. The city has college students and business executives, school teachers, and manufacturing workers. Its cultural diversity, too, proves as good a barometer as any.

For these reasons and more--he also says he missed the place where he was born and raised, and that genuine Midwest spirit--Abbas returned from a stint in Arizona, bringing his first business back to Michigan and eventually starting another one.

Sam Abbas founded Yogurtopia, a frozen yogurt and more shop that has expanded with multiple locations across Metro Detroit, and Brome Burgers & Shakes, a fresh and organic fast casual hamburger restaurant. 
He's not only guided those businesses through periods of growth and additional locations but was also invited to be a member of the Board of Directors of the West Downtown Dearborn Development Authority, where he serves as the Chairperson of the Promotions and Organizations Committee.

"Dearborn is a place where a business can start, and you can grow from here," says Abbas. "It's kind of like an incubator."

Abbas left Dearborn to complete an MBA from Arizona State University, opening his first Yogurtopia there in Arizona. He learned a lot from running his first Yogurtopia locations, something that prepared him for life back in Michigan. He saw a lot of potential in his hometown and moved back, opening Yogurtopias in Dearborn and its neighboring communities.

Sensing an opportunity for a local hamburger restaurant that focused on fresh, organic ingredients with items made in-house and from scratch, Abbas came up with the Brome Burgers and Shakes concept. A fast success since opening in October 2015, he's already planning a second location. Brome Burgers & Shakes is scheduled to open a location in downtown Detroit's financial district sometime mid-year 2017.

Abbas credits the success of Brome to the lessons learned from Yogurtopia.

"I had always wanted to go into the restaurant business, and I wanted to get my feet wet," he says. "It's a very, very challenging business. You want experience. Yogurtopia allowed me to get that and expand into Brome Burgers."

Not only does Abbas believe Dearborn to be the ideal testing grounds for a new business, but he also views it as a hidden gem. He says that other downtowns in Metro Detroit don't have what Dearborn has, with its museums, big-time employers, and the new John D. Dingell Transit Center. It's on the verge of becoming the new hip downtown of the region, he says, with cool developments, funky architecture, and great restaurants. 

Still, for all of the growth his businesses are experiencing, that doesn't mean it's time for Abbas to kick back and relax. There's always work to be done and lessons to be learned.

"It never gets easier. You think you master one thing but the restaurant business is always challenging," he says. "There are all these different personalities to handle, from the line cooks to the vendors. And as a business owner, you have to wear all the different hats."

"In the restaurant business, you don't own your time. Time owns you."
Name and title: Sam Abbas, Owner
Years Yogurtopia and Brome Burgers opened: 2013 Yogurtopia and 2015 Brome
One interesting job you had before running your restaurants: Business project manager for Cigna Healthcare

What's the best thing about running a restaurant: Seeing a satisfied customer
What's your favorite hamburger: The Mex (Corn Salsa, Cheddar-Jack Cheese Sauce, Pickled Jalapeno, Avocado, Chipotle Mayo) is heavenly

Origin story: Dearborn's Green Brain Comics

With Dan and Katie Merritt, comic books are a family business. The couple has owned and operated Green Brain Comics on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn since 1999. And they've been around comics even longer than that. 
It's that decades-worth of comic book knowledge that has established Green Brain's reputation as one of the region's go-to sources for the newest comic books and graphic novels, from the most mainstream superhero comics to the more obscure and offbeat independent books.

Katie Merritt first started working at a Wyandotte comic book store as a teenager and is nearing her 29th year in the industry. Her husband Dan began when the couple purchased Green Brain from former owner Gary Reed in 1999. Even their daughter--now an adult who grew up in the shop--works at a comic book shop out in California, a fact her parents get a kick out of. It's the family dynamic that has fueled Green Brain's growth throughout the years.

"I think the fact that we do this together is a perfect balance. It gives us the opportunity to pursue our own things outside the shop and not feel like it's all-consuming," says Katie. 

For Katie, it was a simple retail job as a teenager that completely shaped the course of her life. Visiting her future brother-in-law at Comic Gallery in Wyandotte, and soon started working there herself. That location closed and she moved to then-owner Gary Reed's other location in Dearborn, Comics Plus. Katie would go on to manage that location for ten years and meet her future husband, Dan Merritt.

When Reed wanted out of his comic book business, he first offered the store to long-time manager Katie. Unsure if she wanted to take on the responsibility of owning a business, she consulted with her husband. Dan, wholly unsatisfied with his career in manufacturing, jumped at the notion of the Merritts owning the comic book store. A purchase was completed and a name change was in order. Green Brain Comics was born.
Dan swears he can find a book to suit just about anybody. He says this is mainly due to the comic industry's increased diversity in offerings, especially over the past ten or so years. There are more types of books, more styles of art, and more topics addressed. It's a direction the comic book industry and the Merritts have embraced.

"Comic books aren't just for teenage boys anymore," says Dan.

While comic book stores can suffer from an insider's club mentality, a place where superfans gather to discuss the well-studied minutiae of a character that has been around for decades, that's not the vibe the Merritts look to cultivate. Green Brain isn't a clubhouse; it's a bookstore. The books just have pictures in them.

"We want it to be like the Barnes & Noble of graphic novels, of comic books," says Katie. "Anyone can come in. Families, people that don't know anything about comics can know that they can feel comfortable here and say 'I don't know anything about this' and no one here is going to make them feel bad, that they're the noob."

It's that desire for inclusivity that has spilled out of the store and into the neighborhoods. The Merritts are actively involved in the east Dearborn downtown community. Dan is chairperson of the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority, and the couple frequently works with the Arab American National Museum on events. They once hosted President and Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics Geoff Johns, who created a new line of Green Lantern comics where the superhero is a Muslim Arab-American born in Dearborn. Dan is also working with the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra, curating a selection of superhero movie pieces that the orchestra will perform in April. Free Comic Book Day, kids outreach, family-friendly events and more, are all coming out of Green Brain Comics.

This January 21, Green Brain will host a tabletop gaming event, free and open to the public. It's just one more way for the Merritts to reach out to the community and invite them into their world.

Green Brain Comics is located at 13936 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.

Name: Katie Merritt

Year Green Brain Comics opened:
The shop opened as Comics Plus (owned by Gary Reed) in 1985. I started working here in 1988. We became owners in 1999 and changed the name to Green Brain in 2001.

One interesting job you had before running Green Brain Comics:
When I was 14 and 15, I worked in a Dairy Queen-style ice cream shop. There were easy days and challenging days, but mostly I ate a lot of ice cream. 
What's the best part about running Green Brain Comics:
Making people happy by providing an engaging source of entertainment and a place to hang out with others who share their interests. Working with people who also share this passion and are fun to be with. Basically, I get to go to work every day and talk about things I love with people who love the same things.

 Your favorite comic book/graphic novel of all time:
There is no way to pick one favorite among the thousands of great books, but one of my favorite series is Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers. It was one of the first comics I read when getting into them in the 80's and one of the reasons I fell in love with the medium. It showed that great comics don't have to be about superheroes. I love the intensely deep world building and that the characters have aged along with me for 30 years. 

If you were a comic book/graphic novel character, who would you be:
Right now, I think I would be Wonder Woman so that I could take my magic lasso to Washington D.C.

Name: Dan Merritt

One interesting job you had before running Green Brain Comics: 

I was a machinist for several years before entering the comic book retailing world. One of the things that made machining interesting to me was creative problem solving, and we did plenty of that in the small manufacturing company that I worked for here in Dearborn. It prepared me for running my own business in ways that I never expected. There are little challenges that pop up in the store, and it helps to look at them from all sides to come up with solutions that involve more than just duct tape.

What's the best part about running Green Brain Comics:

The best part about running Green Brain Comics is being surrounded by the medium that I love and spending time with other people that love it as much as I do. My partner Katie, our staff, and our customers, we all love comic books so much. Every day, I get asked to make reading suggestions to customers. It gives me a charge to help find just the right book for that person. And then to see them when they come back in a few weeks for the next issue or volume.

Your favorite comic book/graphic novel of all time: 

One of my favorite writers is Warren Ellis. Several years ago Warren wrote a series called Transmetropolitan. It's the story of a reporter styled after Hunter S. Thompson, who lives and writes in a near future world much like ours. His commentary on that society and the presidential campaign he is hired to cover is fueled by his contempt for it, and his very large appetite for designer drugs. So much that is written about in Transmetropolitan is disturbingly close to what we have experienced over the recent election cycle. For better or worse, this an amazing series that I go back to often for insight, entertainment, and a couple of laughs.

If you were a comic book/graphic novel character, who would you be: 

As corny as it sounds, I've always felt a kinship with Captain America. Not because I am particularly militant, more that I am inspired by his resolve to uphold the values that make us all Americans. Respect, perseverance, and the rights of all Americans have often been a hallmark of the best of Captain America's stories. And particularly, as a comic book retailer, our First Amendment rights are of utmost importance to me. Much like when Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," I use Cap as a role model to remind me that I need to stand up and speak truth to power.

Tom Kelly prepares Michigan for the next industrial revolution

Tom Kelly is preparing for the revolution. And he wants Michigan to be prepared, too.

Technology is rapidly changing the way things are manufactured, and Kelly wants to make sure that Michigan's manufacturing companies are at the forefront of what some are calling the world's fourth industrial revolution—or Industry 4.0, as it's been coined.

As executive director of Automation Alley, Kelly has made it his job to convince the manufacturing industry to invest in Industry 4.0. The phrase was originally coined in Germany, where leaders of an economy similar to Michigan's had seen the writing on the wall and decided that they were going to have to embrace the disruptive technological changes poised to affect manufacturing. Big data, cloud technology, cyber security, 3D printing, autonomous robots, sensors and the Internet.  Each of these is coming, all at the same time.

"The only way we'll be successful is if we understand and move very quickly to protect what we do very well," he says. 
Kelly says Michigan needs to let the world know that it's not just a center of automotive and manufacturing technology, but of technology itself. And to do that, he says, the state needs to continue drawing the best minds in technology from all over the world.
A native of Syracuse, New York, Kelly was recruited to work at a Metro Detroit startup after college. After an MBA from the University of Michigan and a successful run up the corporate ladder, Kelly switched tracks and began to work for the state's Small Biz Tech Development Center of Michigan. Over the course of seven years, Kelly would advise roughly 300 startups, putting his combination of engineering and business acumen to use.

Kelly was then recruited to join Automation Alley. The advocacy agency was first thought up and launched in 1999 by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who wanted an organization to shine a light on how important technology was to the economy and how far advanced our region was in it. The organization has since gathered over 1,000 members and, though their focus has shifted to stay ahead of the times, it continues to advocate for Michigan technology and industry.

"We think that Industry 4.0 will be more impactful to job creation in Southeast Michigan than even autonomous vehicles," says Kelly. "Now we must win that, too, but factory automation is actually what is going to help us regain our footing in the world."

Kelly has spearheaded Automation Alley's focus on Industry 4.0 since he was named the executive director of the organization earlier this year. There's a significant shift in manufacturing, he says, and not just in automobiles, but also in everything from the defense industry to the produce industry. 
Production is moving closer to the consumer, says Kelly, and that means there are jobs to be had. But even though manufacturing may get much more localized, it won't be in the manner of yesteryear. Those days are over and not worth grousing over, says Kelly. 
In pointing to Industry 4.0, Kelly points to the future. And with Automation Alley, Kelly hopes to convince the area's manufacturers that it's a future worth investing in.

"We are positioned well to win the next battle. Stop fighting the battle from yesterday. That's over. But now, with the digitization of everything, we can win. So let's run like crazy down that path," says Kelly. "We're in great shape to do that."

Name and title: Tom Kelly, Executive Director

What is one interesting job you had before running Automation Alley:  I worked for the Michigan Small Business Development Center as a Technology Business Consultant helping tech startups from conception through rapid growth. I advised over 300 companies in seven years, but what I learned from each of them in the process was priceless. 

What's the most exciting thing about the technology industry today:  I believe manufacturing will change more in the next five years than the last 50. Industry 4.0 will change everything, and future winners and losers are being determined today.  

What's your favorite car of all time:  '78 Pontiac Grand Prix with a Landau Top. It was the first car I ever had, and I remember that car and those days fondly.

Car sharing research study begins in Dearborn

Thirty University of Michigan-Dearborn students, all residents of the Union at Dearborn, were selected to take part in a research study conducted by automotive supplier DENSO International America, Inc.  in partnership with the Detroit-based advanced energy and mobility technologies accelerator NextEnergy.

The study will analyze the car sharing habits of people who live, work, and frequent the same location. Students will be given near free reign over three Ford Focus electric vehicles, requiring only that they reserve the vehicles through a custom third-party reservation app. They're permitted to take the cars wherever they please, from dinner dates with friends to concerts downtown, from grocery stores to trips back home.

Students are even allowed to leave the state with the cars, but they're not allowed to leave the continental United States with the vehicles.

"MDrive is a great opportunity for University of Michigan-Dearborn students to participate in an eco-friendly, alternative transportation option on campus," Chancellor Daniel Little says in a statement. "Our students will be one of the few who have the potential to influence the new technology decision-making process for vehicle sharing products, services, and business models."

On-board diagnostics equipment and cameras have been installed in the cars, enabling DENSO to collect real-time data and record user experiences. DENSO also installed three charging stations at three parking spaces for the electric vehicles.

In return for the use of the cars, students are required to answer short surveys after each trip. A weekly discussion board will also be held.

According to Michael Bima, a lead engineer in the North American Research and Engineering Center at DENSO International America, "Our goal is to learn more about what technologies are most needed in car share vehicles of the future. And this will help us collect user feedback to design products for the car sharing market."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

If you don't evolve, you die: How Jacob Bishop re-energized the Mr. Alan's brand

Despite having grown up in and around his father's shoe stores, Jacob Bishop showed little interest in joining his dad's company once graduating from Michigan State University. 
He wanted to strike out and build something of his owna not so unusual impulse for a 22-year old. Jacob and his brother Adam did just that, opening Soles Inc., a small high-end sneaker boutique in Miami's South Beach that grew to five locations throughout Florida.

Jacob would eventually move back north and take over the family business, re-branding and re-energizing the decades-old company by drastically shaking up the business model. And it seems to be working. Mr. Alan's is now Elite Mr. Alan's, a place for finding the latest trends in shoes and clothing, not just the best bargains.

It's a quality over quantity approach. Some told him it wouldn't fly. Michigan is not Florida, they said. Keep it simple and don't get too colorful. But as incremental changes proved successful, Jacob was emboldened. It was time for change.

"If you're not either growing or evolving, you're dying," says Jacob.

Jacob is the son of Alan Bishop, founder of the Mr. Alan's chain of shoe and clothing stores. Like his son, Alan also split off from the family business at an early age. At just 18 years old, Alan opened his first shoe store in 1974. Alan's father, Robert, had his own stores, specializing in women's shoes. So as not to compete with his dad, Alan opened a shoe store that carried men's shoes.

As with any successful business, Mr. Alan's changed with the times. Starting out in men's dress shoes, the company eventually began carrying men's casual shoes and even a few sneakers. Clothing was later introduced. As the decades wore on, Mr. Alan's shifted to a price-point-driven model offering good products at good prices, nothing too fancy. Sneakers became the focus. This shift is best identified by one of the catchiest slogans to be transmitted across Metro Detroit's broadcast airwavesMr. Alan's: $29 or two for $50.

Somewhere around 2012, the brothers Bishop merged their Soles Inc. brand with their father's Mr. Alan's chain of stores. Soon, Jacob would be making the trek up north to help with the strategic merging of companies. What he thought would last one month turned into three and then six. Following his father's departure from day-to-day duties, Jacob did something he never thought he'd do. Along with his brother, he became Co-CEO and Co-President of Mr. Alan's.

"The company was doing fine; they were doing greateverything was pretty much consistent," says Jacob. "We weren't necessarily growing, we weren't necessarily declining, but we were not, for a good chunk of time, evolving as a company. Which, I think, leaves you very vulnerable. So even though we were flat, we were a sitting target."

To change that, Jacob took what he learned in Florida and applied it to the Mr. Alan's stores here in Michigan. Though some told him it wouldn't work, Jacob started small. He introduced higher end and better quality products into one section of the store and waited to see how customers would respond. 
"If I only mess up 20 percent of the store, I only mess up 20 percent of sales, right?"

Sales, in fact, only grew. Soon the higher end concept took up half of Mr. Alan's stores and eventually would come to take over the whole store. Drastic updates and improvements were made to the furniture, displays, and overall designs of each store. To reflect that evolution, Jacob changed the name from Mr. Alan's to Elite Mr. Alan's.

The company is now in expansion mode. The older Mr. Alan's stores have been re-designed and re-branded as Elite Mr. Alan's. New stores have been popping up throughout Metro Detroit, including the latest at McNichols and Grand River, near the new Meijer development. It's the thirteenth Elite Mr. Alan's store. The company plans to open six more over the next 18 months and 24 more over the next three years.

Like his father before him, Jacob Bishop is proving that in business, evolution is key.

Name and title: Jacob Bishop, Co-President and Co-CEO of Elite Mr. Alan’s

Year Mr. Alan's opened: 1974

Year Mr. Alan's Elite opened/began: evolution into Elite began in 2012

One interesting job he had before running Mr. Alan's: Jacob started his own car detailing business in high school. His niche was that he would pick up the cars from his customers (wherever they were), detailed the cars at his house and then returned the cars to his customers.

Your favorite shoe of all time: White-on-white Nike Air Force 1

Biggest lessons you learned from his dad about running a business: To treat your brands with the same respect used to treat the customers

Entrepreneur launches 'Rochester-opoly' in time for the holidays

When Lynne Vettraino saw a Monopoly spin-off game customized to her hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania while visiting family, she knew at once her adopted hometown of Rochester, Michigan, needed one too.

"It was so cool to see places I know as spaces on a board game," Vettraino says in a press release. "As someone who finds myself always saying how great this region is, I have finally found a way to focus my enthusiasm on a project that can market the fantastic place I live and love.”

So Vettraino set about designing and manufacturing the game, and selling "advertising space" in the form of property deeds, Chance cards and game pieces to local businesses and nonprofits.Top sponsors include Crittenton Hospital, Frank Rewold & Son, Inc., Chief Financial Credit Union, Great Oaks Country Club, Village of Rochester Hills, Rochester Post, Rochester Telemessaging Center and Royal Park Hotel. Proceeds from every game sold will benefit the Rochester Community Schools Foundation. 

The game will be available in early December and sold for $30.00, plus tax. Vendors selling the game include: Chief Financial Credit Union, Crittenton Hospital Gift Shop, Dillman & Upton, Leader Dogs for the Blind, Olive Vinegar, the OPC, Paint Creek Center for the Arts, Rochester College Bookstore, Rochester Hills Public Library, Royal Park Hotel, South Street and Twin Lakes Golf & Swim Club. Rochester-opoly is a limited edition, so people are encouraged to purchase them while supplies last.

You can learn more about Rochester-opoly at this page on Facebook.

Startup Story Night accepting submissions for Detroit storytelling event

Everyone has a story to tell, and Southeast Michigan Startup and the New Economy Initiative want to help entrepreneurs tell theirs.
The two organizations are presenting Startup Story Night, the first of its kind in Detroit. It’ll be a night of storytelling, hosted by a nationally renowned storyteller, and will take place in a unique venue in the wonderfully diverse city known for creation, creativity, and boundless ideas—and the resolve to never quit.
The night will shine a spotlight on five local entrepreneurs who will share their “a-ha” moment: when they realized their idea or product would work, despite the challenges and adversity they faced—and in spite of those who may have told them “no,” or not even given them the time of day. And readers who have attended Southeast Michigan Startup's High Growth Happy Hours or followed coverage of entrepreneurs who are scaling their businesses will have the opportunity to share their story and learn from their peers.
Here’s how the process will work:
  • Submissions for stories are open until Dec. 9. Stories must not exceed 10 minutes.
  • A local committee will narrow down the submissions to five entrepreneurs and their stories.
  • The five entrepreneurs will be announced Jan. 3, 2017.
  • Startup Story Night will take place Jan. 19, 2017.
In addition, Detroit native Glynn Washington will be the featured host and storytelling coach. Washington is the host and executive producer of the WNYC-produced podcast Snap Judgment. Washington, a University of Michigan graduate who also received a law degree from U-M’s law school, has a background of supporting and working with entrepreneurs. From 2007 to 2010, Washington was the director of the Center for Young Entrepreneurs at Haas, also known as YEAH, a program at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business that serves at-risk students in middle and high schools.
Washington has received national acclaim in publications like The Atlantic, which called him the “fastest-rising public radio star in memory.”
In addition to his hosting duties, Washington will conduct a workshop exclusively for the selected entrepreneurs to help them polish their stories and advise them in the art of storytelling onstage, under the bright lights and in front of an audience.
To submit a story for consideration, head over to Startup Story Night and fill out the short submission form.

Detroit Grooming Company CEO keeps hands-on approach to business growth

In just three years time, Michael Haddad has gone from complaining about the itchy beginnings of a new beard to selling hundreds of handmade grooming products per week.

Haddad is CEO of Detroit Grooming Company and, along with co-founders Shaun Walford and Chad Buchanan, has grown the company from one handmade product to approximately 200 products. The company started in from a 300 sq. ft. self-characterized closet and has now grown into a 7,000 sq. ft. light industrial building on Wolcott Street in Ferndale. Detroit Grooming Company also has its own barber shop on Woodward Avenue in Ferndale and is building a second one in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood.

Detroit Grooming Company didn't start with a grand vision but instead a genuine curiosity. In 2013, Haddad and Walford, both employees of Buchanan at a local jewelry shop, decided that they were going to grow their beards out for No Shave November, aka Movember, a grassroots movement to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. 
With the duo scratching their faces as their beards grew in, they purchased a beard oil to share, hoping it would alleviate the itchiness.

Displeased with the product, Haddad and Walford wondered if they couldn't make one themselves. Fast-forward three years later, and Detroit Grooming Company has launched the Black Label Collection, a limited line of grooming products that include beard oils, butters, and cleansers. Fifteen percent of sales from the Black Label Collection will go to, which benefits a number of non-profit cancer organizations.

"It's crazy what a little bit of time and a little bit of research actually does," says Haddad. "Because you can be a complete novice at something and the Internet, although it's used for cat pictures and pictures of people's dinner, can also be used to actually make change in your life and affect the outcome of other people's lives, too, in a positive way."

After a period of research and trial-and-error, Haddad and Walford showed what would become their first product, Corktown Beard Oil, to Buchanan. Immediately taken by the tobacco and vanilla scent, Buchanan wanted in, and the three became business partners, launching what would become the Detroit Grooming Company.

Expanding from one product to 200 didn't just happen overnight. Much of what Detroit Grooming Company sells comes from either instances of personal need, customer suggestion, or wondering if they can do something better than their competitors. And it's the co-founders that test the products on themselves. Get an idea, see if it works, and adjust accordingly.

"It's accidental how some things happen, but you have to have deliberate actions afterwards," says Haddad. "Each one of us have contributed to the creation of these products."

Starting in that 300 sq. ft. closet, Detroit Grooming moved to a space on Fort Street in Detroit before outgrowing that and moving to a bigger space in Ferndale. They've since moved to the even bigger 7,000 sq. ft. space in Ferndale. 
A barber chair from the 1920s sits near the front, awaiting restoration and an eventual installation in the Corktown barber shop. One row of shelves has hundreds of finished products, awaiting shipment. Another row contains hundreds of ingredients. An enormous vat sits atop two table-top heaters (the vat too big for one heater to handle on its own).

The co-founders are heavily involved, making their products by hand, preparing packages to ship, the majority of which they do themselves. All this despite the fact that they've gone from selling 10 orders per week to selling over 100 orders per day. 
Haddad says that for all their success, the same desire to create back in 2013 is the same that drives them today. They're just creating a whole lot more.

"We're able to handle it," Haddad says of the company's growth. "You just scale. You move along with the trends. You don't fight anything. You go with what's flowing. That's how you find the best."

After 35 years, Royal Oak vegetarian restaurant gets better and better

Nick Raftis is the third owner of Inn Season Cafe, the small but mighty vegetarian and vegan restaurant located on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak. But for Raftis, Inn Season Cafe is as much an institution as it is a business.

Raftis grew up in the 1960s and '70s, a time when vegetarian options were scarce, when, as Raftis tells it, your average restaurant left vegetarians little choice but to order a hamburger without the meat. Things are different these days, though, and dining options for vegetarians are much more varied and available.

In the face of rising competition, Inn Season has managed to not only stay open but thrive. 
Inn Season Cafe was established in 1981 and Raftis purchased the business in 2002. But Raftis doesn't believe in resting on one's laurels. The key to success, he says, is change.

"You have to change according to the times," Raftis says. "Our food quality has gone way up. As the compromised integrity of the food products in our normal food channels have become corrupted, we've moved to those where we know where it's grown, how it's grown."

Focusing on local and organic food products is just one way Inn Season Cafe has been able to stay successful. Raftis has another philosophy for running a business and that's to make necessary long-term decisions. 
While it might be painful to make those infrastructure upgrades that don't result in any immediate and obvious returns, it's the customers who notice. As Raftis says, "You can get cheap with the money but it fafects the experience."

Raftis himself has an interesting backstory. He was born in Detroit and grew up through the cultural shifts of the late 1960s. As a teenager, he spent time hanging out at the Hare Krishna temple in Detroit. A vegetarian by the age of 16, Raftis would travel around India when he was 18 years old. 
He's owned several businesses since then, including an engineering firm, the Sunflower Cafe in Ann Arbor, and a video rental store in Saginaw. A singer and songwriter, he's currently recording an album produced by local rocker Tino Gross of the Howling Diablos.

Though it may have been established in 1981, the restaurant doesn't feel out of date. Raftis points out that only the ceiling and molding – and maybe a mirror – remain from the dining room's past. 
The kitchen equipment has been modernized, and the HVAC system is up to date. You could say that the one constant is the food, but the Inn Season Cafe team is constantly trying to improve that, too.

The person that makes the food, however, has been leading the Inn Season Cafe kitchen for over two decades. Raftis, of course, credits much of the restaurant's success to Chef Thomas Lasher and recently sold him a stake in the business. 
Lasher creates delicious healthy food, an important distinction from vegetarian and vegan plates that can often feel bland and uninspired, says Raftis. Whether you're a vegetarian, vegan, or even a meat eater, Lasher creates dishes that are healthy and satisfying.

"The good food, when you eat it, you feel energized. Like, hey man, let's go do something. Let's get up and walk around," says Raftis. "And that's the way people feel when they eat here."

35 years and counting.

Profile: Megan Ackroyd prepares to steward Scottish bakery into third generation

As the holiday season draws close, the lines grow longer and longer at Ackroyd's Scottish Bakery, a small storefront in Redford. And like the multiple generations of Ackroyds that have been running the bakery since it first opened, they've been serving their traditional Scottish meat pies, sausage rolls, and bridies to multiple generations of families across the region. 
It's a fact that's not lost on Megan Ackroyd, president of Ackroyd's Scottish Bakery, third generation.

"At Christmas time or Thanksgiving, certain families have traditions that are based around our food. That's such a huge compliment and we don't take that for granted at all. It's really incredible for me to be able to say that," says Megan. "My family's business is someone else's family tradition. That's a very specific thing. It's a huge honor. I want to keep that going."

Megan assumed the role of president after her return to Michigan in 2010. It was something she never planned on -- she didn't even plan on staying in Michigan. Fresh off a nearly eight year stint in corporate America, Megan figured she'd return to her family's shop, get re-acquainted with the business, and open a new Ackroyd's Scottish Bakery in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
But her return stirred a deep emotional connection to the family business and its customers. So she stayed. Megan has committed herself to growing the Ackroyd's brand, making sure that it sticks around for generations to come.

In 1949, Megan's grandfather Allan Ackroyd and his brother Silas came over from Windsor, Ontario and opened their first shop as Ackroyd's Meat Market near the intersection of 6 Mile and Schaefer roads in Detroit. First a butcher shop, Ackroyd's morphed into a bakery as the brothers began to carry other companies' meat pies and pasties. Soon deciding they could cut out the middle man, they began making their own traditional Scottish meat pies.

The business grew with multiple locations opening across metro Detroit. At somewhere around seven or eight years old, Megan started working at the family's Birmingham location. Too small to see over the counter, she would peek around its edge to take customers' orders.

"I loved working there," says Megan. "It wasn't like my parents were ever forcing me to be there. I was just there for fun."

Ackroyd's is now down to one location, the storefront on 5 Mile Road in Redford. But business is good, and Megan is currently working on a strategy to grow Ackroyd's into a multiple location business once again. The online presence of the company continues to grow. 
They've also begun selling their products at the new Red Dot Coffee Company in Northville. Other companies, like Door to Door Organics, sell their shortbread cookies. And Detroit's Bon Bon Bon recently used the Ackroyd's shortbread as a main component in its Butter Cookie Bon Bon treat.

Megan is also planning on a redesign for the Redford location, which is fairly utilitarian with its metal racks and spartan decor. She's tapped Branded by Detroit to create custom wooden shelves and a hand-painted wooden sign. 
She wants to tell the story of the unique products Ackroyd's creates and carries. In addition to the range of cookies, teacakes, meat pies, sausage rolls, and many other products they make in house, you'd be hard-pressed to find another business in metro Detroit with the special products they import from the United Kingdom, including foreign candies, pops, and groceries. And the special UK Christmas treats are just about to arrive, too.

"December is, hands down, our best month," says Megan. "It is the busiest, it is the craziest, but it's also the most fun around here."

Ackroyd's remains as much of a family business as ever. Megan's father, Allan, Jr., still works in the back, having always preferred the production side of the bakery, while Megan works the business side of things, her own preferred role. At 90 years old, her grandpa, the co-founder Allan Ackroyd, is also around. Megan's partner Joe Hakim handles the marketing side of the business. And Megan and Joe's three-year-old son is now getting familiar with the store, rearranging the products on the shelves and trying to eat whatever cookies he can get his hands on.

Give him a couple years and you might be ordering from him, too.

Name and title:  Megan Ackroyd, President

Year (or years) business opened: Detroit, 1949. Moved to Redford in '72. Additional store in Birmingham 1983-2004

What is one interesting job you held before owning/running your own biz:  During college, I edited scientific manuscripts (mostly about fruit flies) for the head of the Entomology (bug) Dept at Michigan State 

Favorite memory from working in the shop: It's a toss up between taking class field trips to the bakery, during which I got to see my grandma and dad (such innocent thrills as a kid, huh?), and working with some of my best high school friends from Marian and U of D. We had so much damn fun, but I can't speak for how my dad felt about all of the fun we were having. :)  Those are by far my most treasured memories of working in the Birmingham location.

Favorite item you serve and why: Our meat pies. They are an instrumental part of our company's history and future, a unique product and the process for creating them is a multi-day labor of love.

How Canine to Five's Liz Blondy grew her dog daycare business from city to suburb

Liz Blondy has gone from zero to 250 dogs in eleven years' time. 

Owner of the Canine to Five dog daycare, boarding, and grooming company, Blondy has shepherded the business through a slow start on Cass Avenue in Detroit into a thriving company.  She purchased a nearby pet grooming business, grew the Detroit location, and expanded with a second location in Ferndale. She's now ramping up for a 8,500 sq. ft. addition to the original Detroit facility. 

And she has two dogs of her own now, too.

It all started over a couple of drinks with friends. With no plans to start a business of her own, Blondy was content with her job as a business-to-business sales rep. But she had met some friends at a bar in downtown Detroit in 2003 and eventually learned that her friends dropped their dog off at a day care facility in Farmington Hills every morning, a considerable distance from their homes in Detroit. 

Intrigued, Blondy went home and declared that she would open a facility in the city. After visiting a company in Canada and writing a business plan in November 2003, Canine to Five Detroit opened at 3443 Cass Ave. in May 2005.

"Fortunately, Canine to Five Detroit grew really, really slowly," says Blondy.

Having never owned a business or managed a pack of 100 dogs, Blondy is grateful for the slow start. Two dogs showed up the first day she opened, and she'd average about nine a day the rest of the year. In the second year, Blondy cared for about 18 a day. In the third year, Canine to Five averaged about 30 dogs a day. 

Blondy used that time to learn how to run a business; how to order office supplies, how to break up a dog fight, and how to manage a staff. Since Canine to Five is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, Blondy spent most of her time there those first few years, often sleeping and doing laundry at the building.

It took Canine to Five Detroit seven years to average 70 dogs a day. In contrast, it only took ten months to average 70 dogs a day in Ferndale. The Ferndale location was such an immediate success, in fact, that Blondy was already planning to move to a bigger facility within a year of opening in 2013. She left her lease at the 5,700 sq. ft. building on Hilton Road and purchased the 22,000 sq. ft. facility Canine to Five Ferndale now calls home at 1221 E. Nine Mile Rd.

"When I opened Canine to Five Ferndale, for the first six months, I was very hands-on there, too. But I quickly realized that I couldn't be spending 60 hours a week at Ferndale and still grow both businesses and serve as the COO of Detroit still," says Blondy. "Having good managers and a good supervisory team at both places has been really essential."

Blondy recommends taking existing employees to help open a new location. It's something that will help you grow, she says, stabilizing the expansion.

Having two locations has allowed Blondy to take lessons learned from each and apply them to the other. The slow start in Detroit gave her the time to find out how to run a business. And she says she's learned a lot from the Ferndale relocation, so she's now better prepared for the future Detroit expansion. The two Canine to Five locations now employ approximately 60 full-time and part-time workers that care for about 250 to 270 dogs a day.

Blondy has also learned that a business with a Detroit location and a suburban location are two different beasts. Each city has its own personality, wants, and needs. It's important not to treat the multiple locations with a one-size-fits-all approach. 

There is one thing, however, that needs to be the same.

"Both businesses can have very different personalities, but exceptional customer service has to be the constant between the two," says Blondy. "I'm not gonna try and have everything be super cookie-cutter because I want the locations to have different personalities. But I want, no matter what, the customer to feel good when they leave."

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