This is a picture of my grandfather, T. Ben Laughlin – or Grandad to the grandchildren. And he’s, perhaps, an “off strategy” pick for a LOCALMOTIV Featured Merchant. But it seems appropriate to make him our first because he taught me very valuable lessons that profoundly influence me today. Indeed, he was very important to me.
I remember him as a very wise, principled, generous, and warm one-of-a-kind man. Interestingly, he was an entrepreneur--and a retailer. And, I’d never made the connection between what he built so many years ago and what I am doing today. That is, until just very recently, when I wrote an Instagram post to pay tribute to him.
Surely, there’s a connection, right?
He began his career as a merchant in about 1949 when he opened his first Laughlin & De Gannes shop “to service the motoring public” somewhere in Trinidad & Tobago. In true entrepreneurial spirit, he grew his business into a very successful company that is still in operation 70 years later. It’s now run by my cousins.
Indeed, he made an impression on me when I was younger, especially when he took me on tours of his stores and offices. Even for a little 9 year-old(ish), it was plain to see that he ran his company with his heart every bit as much as with his exceptional business acumen. It is no exaggeration to say that everybody I met on those visits absolutely adored him. And, he loved them too. I was in awe and so proud of him. I also wanted to be just like him.
Of course, I remember those rare but magical moments as if they happened yesterday. But it took me another 40 years–and a very meandering path–to cofound a company. Funny that its mission is to help people like him.
No doubt, I see a little of T. Ben in all of the local merchant heroes in Oakland. Perhaps that’s why, whenever I walk into a shop and meet the owner, I experience it with such excitement and wonder.