BY KATIE MATTESON
Larry Vail often takes calls at the office or answers questions on job sites from customers who think he’s Jim. It makes sense to expect to talk to someone who’s first name is part of the business name. But actually Jim hasn’t worked there in 37 years.
Jim Tennessen sold Jim’s Garage Door Service to Vail in 1982. Tennessen was 60, Vail was 21.
Tennessen had started the business in 1960 and was ready to retire. Vail was just getting started.
Vail moved to Racine when he was in third grade, the middle child of a family with five boys. They moved from Janesville when his dad got a job as a typesetter at the Racine Journal Times and went on sell furniture and eventually own Total Furniture in Sturtevant.
It was his dad’s accountant who passed on the information about a business opportunity for a young entrepreneur.
At the time, Vail was working in hotel maintenance after graduating from Case High School and completing an associate’s degree in Marketing and Business Management from Gateway Technical College.
“I was mechanically inclined and Dad encouraged me to go for it,” Vail said. “So he co-signed the loan and I had a one-guy, one-truck business.”
There actually was a second truck, but no one was using it. Soon he hired a guy to use the second truck and before long he had a third truck.
The guy in the third truck, Doug Willms, still works for Vail 35 years later.
For the first few years, Vail rented the shop that Tennessen had built near his house on St. Rita Road, then he moved the operation to Eaton Lane off Rapids Drive when he needed more space.
In 1995, Vail purchased a multi-unit building on Carlisle Avenue in the Kenneth L. Huck Industrial Park.
He recently expanded the space for his business after one of his longtime tenants left, moving the office into larger quarters and expanding the showroom space.
A few years ago, he also purchased the former Grenada Theatre building on Charles Street and uses it for warehouse space.
The business now has nine trucks and employs 15 full-time workers and one part-timer, including Vail’s older brother Bob and son Austen, the youngest of he and his wife, Angie’s three children.
Daughter Ashley, her husband and two children live in Indianapolis and son Adam and his wife live in Washington, D.C.
With sales and 24-hour service of residential and commercial garage doors, service doors and retractable awnings, Jim’s Garage Door Service has built a name for itself in Racine. The distinctive red trucks with white lettering can be seen all over town and service stickers with red printing appear on the inside of thousands of local garage doors.
The company offers a wide range of sizes and styles and keeps up with current trends.
“Most people now use their garage door as their front door,” Vail said. “And it’s by far the biggest door in your house so you want it to look good.”
He said wood grain doors are currently very popular and customers want the ability to open their garage door remotely for deliveries and to view the door for security. Connection of his products with cell phone applications make both these functions possible.
Vail has also embraced technology with the recent installation of web-based management software for scheduling, billing and inventory.
In addition to building his business, Vail has also been a devoted community volunteer.
He served as a board member for the March of Dimes for 12 years and worked on fundraisers in Racine and Kenosha.
In recent years he’s been an active member of the Racine Founders Rotary Club. He was named Rotarian of the Year in 2011 and served as president in 2012-2013, followed by service on the foundation board.
He and his wife travel frequently in their motorhome, with mandatory stops to see their grandchildren in Indy, Vail’s mother in Coco Beach and fellow Rotarians in Fort Meyers, Fl.
For more information about Jim’s Garage Door Service, call (262) 632-DOOR (3667) or visit jimsdoor.com. And if Jim isn’t there, ask for Larry.