Ebels General Store, a family enterprise, has been going strong for nearly 100 years
By Karen Fuller
Ebels General Store has weathered nearly 100 years, through the Great Depression, two world wars and other difficult times. Bob Ebels, CFO and son of Ebels General Store owners Mark and Dawn Ebels, is proud of that history.
“Our family business is a neat story to tell and to be a part of,” says Ebels. “We are in a very rural area, with probably more cows than people. So the fact that we’ve been able to undertake the things we have and be successful is a testament to our employees and family. We feel God blesses what we do.”
The family’s story has spanned decades and shaped generations. Ebels General Store came into being in 1920, when Chris Ebels started delivering goods with a horse-drawn cart. In 1927, he moved his store to its current location, and as the years passed, it expanded in size and offerings as generation after generation of Ebelses handed the business down. The 1980s brought stiffer competition and diversification, as current owners Mark and Dawn began to offer butchering, meat processing and meat smoking, leading to the creation of Little Town Jerky in 1994. Meanwhile, years of catering under Dawn’s talented cooking skills led to the formation of Dawn Fresh Catering in 2001. Today, the catering business alone feeds 100,000 people annually.
The store has become something of a destination for people from miles away, and during special events, as many as 10,000 people visit the store on a single weekend, with at least five to 10 new customers every day.
The store has evolved over the years in synchronicity with the values upheld by the family for generations -- conservativism and faith.
“We are conservative by nature,” says Bob Ebels. “The way we approach things is to make sure we have the financial wherewithal ready before undertaking anything.”
He says when the family knew there was a need for expansion, they were able to identify it, but they needed to work with their banker to be sure they had the debt service coverage available to make it work.
“It’s part numbers game and part seat of the pants.”
Dawn Ebels adds that in the 1980s, they saw that, with bigger stores coming into the area, there was a need to branch out and make Ebels a niche store.
“We began to make our own sausage, process deer and have our own smokehouse,” she says. “We also started a catering business in 1989, and a jerky business, Little Town, in 1994. We followed up in 2004 with the opening of our butchering and processing USDA-certified plant.”
Little Town jerky is now sold in about 250 convenience and grocery stores, and the Ebelses plan to continue to grow with new staff and ideas. The butchering and processing plant has provided an important service to local farmers, who bring their products to the marketplace.
Doing a refresh
The last project Ebels wrapped up with Huntington was remodeling the lower level of the business and freshening the outside.
“We invested a lot there and are already seeing good dividends from the expansion,” says Bob Ebels. “We can’t say enough good things about our relationship with Huntington. We have been talking with Doug Morgenstern -- I call him my quarterback -- for years about future planning.”
Morgenstern -- vice president, business banker at Huntington -- put together the financing package to commence the Little Town expansion and the recent building projects, including converting the basement into a clothing and accessories shop, and coffee shop The Bridge. That side of the business is run by Bob’s sister, Laura.
“The expansion was a five-year project, and everything we asked of the bank, they’ve gotten done,” says Bob Ebels.
That’s no small matter. In a business where collateral is king, a family business in a rural setting can put up red flags in any underwriting department. The process has been a mix of effort and courage, plus a huge dose of faith -- which the Ebels family says they have in spades.
“Faith is an important work, providence, too,” says Mark. “You have to trust in God's providence. It’ll work out as it’s supposed to -- you just have to keep taking steps forward.”
Quick Facts: Ebels General Store
Location: Falmouth, Michigan
Founded: 1920. Chris Ebels started the business delivering foods and other essentials door to door in a horse-drawn wagon. Since the original store, there have been five major renovations, spanning five generations, to make room for more retail space and to start new business ventures.
Owners: Mark and Dawn Ebels
Mission statement: The Ebels Cos. are dedicated to providing quality, value and consistency in the foods we make, products we sell and services we provide.
Spotlight on The Ebels Cos.: The Ebels Companies is composed of four main family businesses: Ebels General Store (which now houses The Bridge coffee shop), Dawn Fresh Catering, Ebels Meat Processing and Little Town Jerky Co.
For more information, visit www.ebelsgeneralstore.com.