Saturday, Oct 20, 2018
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Matt Markey

Sale keeps Cleland’s Outdoor World a family affair

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    Theresa Cleland, left, who started Cleland’s Outdoor World with her late husband Gary more than 50 years ago, has sold the business on Airport Highway to Jan Trask and her son Ken Shields. The new owners plan to continue the Cleland’s brand.

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    Some of the bows on display at Cleland's Outdoor World in Swanton.

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    Cleland's Outdoor World in Swanton, which has been sold to a local family with three generations of history in the firearms business who intend to continue the brand.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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Sometimes, things just have a way of working out. Call it luck, call it divine intervention, or call it living the right way. You can throw five syllables in the air and say it was all so serendipitous.

Any of those would be correct when describing the recent sale of Cleland’s Outdoor World, a fixture in the Toledo market for more than 50 years. This iconic, family-owned hunting and shooting sports business is going to stay put and stay open — and remain a family business.

It will just be a different family carrying the keys to the door.

In 1967, Gary and Theresa Cleland opened a small firearms repair shop in the garage of their home on Garden Road.

Gary, an aircraft mechanic with a passion for firearms, earned a reputation as a skilled gunsmith.

As the business outgrew the garage, Cleland’s moved the operation to a building on Airport Highway a few years later.

They stocked their store to meet the demand for firearms and accessories, and as Gary continued to repair guns, Theresa handled pretty much everything else.

The products they carried eventually expanded to include a full archery shop, and a pistol range was added, but from the day the doors opened, the approach never changed.

“We never looked at the people coming through the door as customers — we considered them friends,” Theresa Cleland said this past week.

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Cleland's Outdoor World in Swanton, which has been sold to a local family with three generations of history in the firearms business who intend to continue the brand.

The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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In 2010, when fire destroyed the business and most of the contents, the Clelands operated out of a temporary facility as they rebuilt on the same site, expanding the handgun range and adding an indoor archery range.

Gary, who in 1991 had received the Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge, the highest individual award authorized by the U.S. government for excellence in marksmanship competition, passed away about a year ago. Theresa, 73, decided it probably was time to consider selling the business.

“It is a little bittersweet and emotional to think about because this place was his dream, but I think it’s time to move on,” she said.

Finding the right buyer was a challenge she put in the hands of Mike Scannell and John Healy of Miller-Danberry Commercial Realty. They kept the approach low-key from the start, knowing this was a business with a well established niche in a highly specialized market.

There were some interested parties, but not the right ones. Then the planets lined up, the archery gods were smiling, or maybe things just worked out in ideal fashion.

Genoa natives Jan Trask and her son, Ken Shields, had been deep into the planning stages to build a huge shooting complex with 15 indoor lanes. They had purchased the land, had it rezoned, and the blueprints were in the works.

This was a family legacy project, since Jan’s father had opened Kenny’s Gun Shop in Genoa in the 1960s, working out of his house.

Jan did a lot of hunting and fishing, and developed into an accomplished shooter who competed in events at Camp Perry.

Career and family priorities took her away from that for many years, but after the deaths of her father and her husband, Jim, she and her son, Ken, got together and decided to get back into the firearms business on a much larger scale.

They faced a colossal task trying to start from just a shared vision and an empty plot of land.

“It was a huge undertaking,” Jan said. Then that serendipity thing happened.

Ken, who coaches a girls softball team, heard from a pitching coach she had been looking at a property with a newer existing building that was for sale on Airport Highway, with the intention of turning it into a softball facility.

Once he was certain it was Cleland’s, Ken decided he would do the pitching, proposing to his mom they buy the place instead of plowing everything into a piece of ground and some architectural sketches.

“It took a lot of thought because this was still a big undertaking, but when he pitched it, it didn’t scare me,” Jan said.

“I got nervous because I hadn’t worked in a couple years, and I’ll be 59 next month, but here was this exciting opportunity.

“We would be taking over an established business with 50 years’ worth of customers, rather than starting from scratch.”

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Some of the bows on display at Cleland's Outdoor World in Swanton.

The Blade/Kurt Steiss
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Ken called the decision to shelve their construction plans and pursue the Cleland’s deal a “no-brainer.”

“We were ready to go to the bank and ask for some money for our project when I heard about it,” he said.

“Then here is this business with a great name — it was a much more sensible move, and a much safer move for us.”

The Miller-Danberry team did its part, Theresa was comfortable with the mother and son prospective buyers, and the deal came together.

“It was a huge relief,” Theresa said, “because it was really important to me that this shop stay open. And out of all of the people who looked into buying it, they are the best. This has always been a family type of place.”

The new owners will keep the Cleland’s staff in place, and Theresa’s son, Chad, an instructor and gunsmith who has won multiple shooting championships in muzzleloader, will remain involved.

Ken, 40, said he hopes to make a few minor changes that will focus on improving the customer experience and expanding programs that offer instruction and opportunities for young people.

Jan said she is thrilled to be involved with a business that has such a strong reputation and a rich history in the firearm and archery shooting community.

“I think we’re honoring the legacy of my dad and my husband, who would love this place,” she said.

“And we’re keeping the Cleland’s name going, which is very important. This is the only place in the area where you can do everything — you can buy it, get it fixed, and get lessons.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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