Customer Spotlight: Thousand Lakes Sporting Goods

Grant Prokop is doing what he loves, and he would offer this suggestion to anyone who’ll listen: “Chase your dream. If you fail, regroup, analyze what went wrong, and try again.”

This is sage advice, and it’s even more amazing considering the words come from a 29-year old who’s been working at one business or another since the age of 10.

“I spent 11 years working for my uncle, Jeff Arnold, at his store in Walker, Minnesota,” Grant explained. “My first job at age 10 was to work the counter at the Fishing Hall of Fame in Walker. I was small enough that I had to stand on a milk crate so I could see customers over the counter. My grandmother would tell me to make sure I packed a lunch when I left for work in the morning. If I forgot a sandwich, I would be stranded there because I was too young to drive. And I didn’t dare call to say I forgot a lunch: then I’d hear about it!” 

Grant’s maternal grandfather started Arrowhead Promotion and Fulfillment Company in Grand Rapids in 1983. His parents moved the family to the area in 1987 making Arrowhead a “family business.” Grant’s love of fishing made Leech Lake and Walker, only 40 miles from home, a comfortable place to spend weekends and any spare time.

Grant is now the owner of Thousand Lakes Sporting Goods. The five-year old business relocated to the former Bridgeman’s building on the corner of Highway 2 and Fourth Street Northwest in downtown Grand Rapids. The new building opened a week before Memorial Day, and the location is proving to be a blessing.

“Our initial store location on Highway 2 in Cohasset was a great first step for us,” said Grant. “We leased the building several years ago with a small loan thanks to Kirk Adams at Deerwood Bank, and that’s just what we needed to get started. However, as we made improvements to the building, we knew we couldn’t recoup that money. We knew someday we wanted to own our own building, and now we’re here.”

Grant is the youngest of five children. He freely admits he is a college drop-out. He enrolled at Montana State University and fell in love with fly fishing and downhill skiing. After a few months he knew that hitting the books to earn a four-year degree wasn’t in the cards. 

“I had no regrets for leaving college at the time, but I wish I would have finished,” said Grant. “I know that sounds odd, but I had a dream, and I had to chase it. I wanted to own Reed’s Sporting Goods when I was 12 years old, and by the time I was in my late teens, I knew I wanted to own my own store.”

“My brother, Matt, provided the spark I needed to figure out how to take my love of fishing and hunting and channel that into a business,” said Grant. “He knew my dream of running my own sporting goods store, and he challenged me to pursue that dream. We talked to one banker who told me I needed a pro forma. I went online to search what a pro forma was. It took a bit of work, but with help from the IEDC and Entrepreneur Fund, we were able to put together a solid business plan.”

Grant ran into Nate Lloyd, a business banker at Grand Rapids State Bank and the older brother of a high school classmate, at a local pub. They began talking about Grant’s desire to relocate. Nate helped Grant determine how much Thousand Lakes could borrow to purchase the vacant Bridgeman’s building, remodel it and relocate from the Cohasset site. He laid out everything for Grant, explained things well, and then navigated the loan request through GRSB’s approval process.

“Once we got underway, the loan process went smoothly and quickly,” said Grant. “It helped that Noah Wilcox likes some of our product lines,” said Grant with a chuckle. “He and Julie had stopped on several occasions to buy some merchandise and talk fishing. When it came time for us to finance the move, I knew that GRSB needed to be part of the process.”

“GRSB is a family bank and a great presence in the community,” Grant said. “We liked the idea of doing business locally; everybody wins.”

When Grant and his team made the move, the crisp-looking layout of the store came from Trina Jacobson. Trina has great expertise in retail, and she helped lay out the store—a larger space than they had in Cohasset—in a way that is inviting but also offers exposure to the range of products Thousand Lakes offers.

“A great retail layout is common sense,” said Grant, “but a good store layout pays attention to how a customer behaves and thinks. The skill to do that is anything but common.”

The premium clothing and equipment lines that Thousand Lakes sells help differentiate them from other sporting goods stores within a 60-mile radius.

“Buy it once… don’t buy it twice,” is Grant’s advice to his customers. The clothing he sells is built to last and many of the sporting goods come with lifetime guarantees.

“This is kind of a vicious industry,” said Grant, “especially when you consider the competition we get from Amazon, where in two days you can have virtually anything at your doorstep. However, we hope our customers see the big picture. We’re a local business employing local people and we offer services that extend beyond what people buy in the store. Anyone can sell products at a discount; we offer our customers much more than that.”

Grant and his brother, Matt, own the business together, but “the business owns us, too,” said Grant. “I spend lots of hours at this business, and it truly is never-ending. There is always more to do.”

Do what you love and love what you do. Grant Prokop may not have a college diploma on his wall, but he’s learned a few things many of us take a lifetime to figure out.

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