By JENNIFER TIMAR, Livingston Daily
BRIGHTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) – Iraq War veteran Justin Billard is starting a business in Brighton Township that will employ and support his returning comrades.
Tools for Veterans is housed in a workshop that Billard, 42, has set up in his garage. There he collects old hand tools, cleans and restores them and sells them online or at local events, reports the Livingston Daily.
He plans to expand the business to a larger workshop in the Brighton area next year. He also hopes to fill the store with veterans who love to restore old tools.
âYou want to contribute to something that you understand and believe in,â he said. “If you have a connection, you are more passionate.”
Billard previously ran a private investigative agency. But now, with a wife, 4-year-old daughter and a pair of newborn twins, it was time to turn to a less risky career, he said.
Billiards new venture, Tools of Veterans, will donate a percentage of profits on a quarterly basis to charities that support veteran causes with a focus on those in Livingston County
He currently employs two veterans and one employee who is not a veteran. He hopes to hire more in the future.
Billard is also working on a series of videos telling veteran stories – he describes them as âkitchen tableâ interviews – which he will share on social media.
âI think documenting these stories is important to get the big picture. What did they do on their return? Were they married while on duty? Some guys have 30 or 40 years of post-service work experience.
He said he would also post instructional videos on tool restoration.
Billiards favorite tool he restored is a bench vise he found at a neighborhood garage sale.
When he found it for sale, it was covered in grime and rusty. The pieces haven’t moved at all.
While restoring the vise, he discovered words stamped on a small plaque on the side of the tool that gave him a clue to its history.
The plaque stated that the vise was in WWII-era by the Defense Plant Corp., a government-chartered agency that supported manufacturing during the war.
Today, the Colombian vice is in perfect working order and is the centerpiece of one of Billiard’s workbenches.
Each tool it sells to buyers will come with a thank you note.
âIt explains how tools have a history and a journey, and then it becomes part of their history. “
Other prized restorations from his workshop included a 1930s stain filler used by one of the Detroit automakers at the time.
He found a workbench from the late 1800s in a house in Troy. He restores it for use once he moves into a larger workshop.
He also acquired a one-of-a-kind iron American flag made for a retired Detroit steelworker in the 1990s.
âThese are the interactions that I love,â he said. âHear stories about toolsâ.
Billard said he invested around $ 50,000 in inventory to get the business started.
Tools for Veterans will accept donations of old tools that need to be restored.
âWe’re going to pick up from the people. Maybe they have boxes of old tools from their dad and don’t know what to do with them and don’t want to throw them away.
For starters, they’ll schedule pickup days once a week in Livingston County and surrounding communities, including Ann Arbor, Lansing, and Metro Detroit.
âOur other goal is to be in farmers’ markets and partner with existing businesses, for example setting up in something like a brewery parking lot and having a ‘fill the trailer’ event. “
He said he was working on getting a trailer and adorning it with the company logo and other graphics to use for drop-off events.
He will sell the restored tools on eBay, Etsy and the Tools for Veterans website, toolsforveterans.com, which kicks off Veterans Day, Billiard said.
âThere is a market for this stuff online, especially things that have stories,â he said.
He also plans to sell some tools at events, but the focus will be on disseminating information about the company and how to donate tools.
He said he wanted to operate as close to “zero waste” as possible. Anything that will not be restored will be sold for scrap.
Billiards grew up with a sense of duty to his country. Both his father and grandfather served in the military.
âI was going to go to college and a career path, but there was still that sense of duty and I was able-bodied. “
He served in the United States Marine Corps. for eight years with a Marine Wing Support Squadron. It was deployed in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
He said he witnessed an exchange of cultural experiences when he was abroad.
âWe were doing a lot of humanitarian missions,â he said.
He remembers, for example, standing guard during the first free elections in Iraq.
Billard left the army in 2006 at the age of 28. He started his detective agency while living in Boston and started another after moving to Michigan.
He said the charities he plans to support will be local, rather than large agencies and national nonprofits.
âBy donating to some of these national organizations, I don’t really see the impact, but I can have a bigger local impact. I like small groups that do mental health in the community and not big ones like the VA.
He said he was inspired by the Detroit-based initiative The Empowerment Plan, which reuses excess fabric from automakers to create coats that turn into sleeping bags for homeless people.
“If we could buy just 25 of these jackets and they could give them away, it’s a very local and memorable thing we can do.”
He said he is passionate about causes that involve mental health counseling, veteran service dog training, veteran homelessness and suicide prevention.
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