2019 Small Business Person of the Year
Presented by President Ryan Klopcic – Fall Open House
Each year, the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce recognizes a small business chamber member on the basis of growth, staying power, business accomplishments, and community involvement. Past presidents of the Chamber reviewed the nominations in August and selected this year’s winner.
The award this year could have been given in 1953, when the business was first founded on a handshake between two friends. It could have been awarded in 1975, when the second generation joined in, expanding the customer base and incorporating the business. It could have been awarded in 1991 when the third generation stepped in to learn the business and eventually become the owner.
Most of you in this room have utilized this company’s services. They do the jobs no one else wants. They literally “lighten” the load of work for their customers. And they are known in the community not just for their familiar light-blue company vans, but for their core values which permeate everything from their hiring process to their service guarantee.
Spend a few minutes on their Facebook page, and you’ll see images of their employees on vacation or participating in the chamber golf outing, you’ll see highlights of those employees’ accomplishments and examples of the work they are doing for residents and businesses. You’ll see the company’s support for worthy community projects, and most of all , you’ll see the story of a family’s investment in Fort Atkinson that began with the image of a solitary man carrying a ladder on his shoulders and a bucket in his hand, walking with purpose to assist a client in need.
Eli Cloute of Cloute, Inc. was nominated by several people for this year’s Small Business Person of the Year, and the common denominator amongst all of them was the strong character he demonstrates both on the job and off. Yes, it’s true that the company has staying power, as we’ve already established, having been around for three generations. And yes, they are continuing to grow, having purchased the former Smith Motors building and expanding their employee base to a total of 76 full and part-time staff, many of whom are given their first chance at employment as young adults just entering the workforce for the first time. As for innovation, the company has responded to market demands, starting as a window and wall washing company, then adding carpet cleaning, painting, pressure washing, gutter flushing, janitorial services, and new this year, a handyman maintenance service, which your chamber has been very thankful to utilize when the roof leaks or the furnace needs checking. Every decision they make is for the long-term vision for their business and the people they employ.
And people are the reason the company is as successful as it is. Says nominator Rochelle Mitchell with PremierBank, “From a customer standpoint, they respond to our requests with great communication, even as their team grows. They have the most courteous, respectful and conscientious employees!”
Eli and his father Bob have set a standard not often seen in an industry where messiness is the norm. But they work hard at building trust and dependability, and they do that by infusing every job with excellence.
Former employee Doreen Wendlandt recently retired after 20 years with the company, the first eight of which were out of the Cloute family home. She has seen first-hand how the company has grown. “Cloute, Inc. employees are a team,” she said, and that includes Eli and his family. “It wasn’t unusual to find him showing up at a late night jobsite, not to check up on the employees, but to offer a helping hand when there was extra work to be done. He fostered a culture of helping us be our best selves, which reflected in our work and our service to customers.” Doreen concludes with a popular quote, which says, “Good leaders believe their team works for them. Great leaders believe they work for their team. I can say that the Cloute, Inc team is lucky to have such a great leader as Eli working for us, to help drive us forward.”
Running a business of any size is challenging, but Eli is doing so on top of several other commitments, like his service as a board member on the new Crown of Life Christian Academy, and as head of his growing family, now up to five active kids, where his wife Tami is a very successful Mary Kay Beauty Consultant. He and some of his staff are vital members of our two largest project committees, Rhythm on the River and the golf outing. He has further served the chamber as a board member, and is a strong supporter of Project LEAD, routinely sending staff through this annual leadership training program.
Eli’s wife Tami says, “Eli’s focus of faith, family and career has kept him grounded while he’s built a strong sense of community and family within the organization. His futuristic mind set always keeps us on our toes, and his love and energy in everything he does fills our hearts. He’s still working on teaching the boys not to touch the windows!”
It’s tempting to say Eli Cloute has left indelible fingerprints on our community, but for a window washer, that might not be much of a compliment. Let’s just say that even when the prints have been washed, Eli’s signature remains.