When Ned Swain first walked into Fore Street in 2003 to sell them on his wine distribution company, he was pretty sure they thought he was a joke. Swain admits he didn’t know what he was doing, right down to his fashion choices. In baby blue camouflage-patterned shorts, he knows he seemed out of place in the high-end restaurant.
However, Swain proved that he knew his stuff, plus, he was carrying good wines at a good price. He had his first customer. Within the span of a week he added Market Wines and Back Bay Grill to his clients. Devenish Wines was off and running in Portland.
At the time Swain was launching his career as a wine distributor, he was new to the business but not to the world of wine. He had become an oenophile during a six-month stint studying abroad in Italy, having opted against enrolling in college in favor of taking classes in Florence. Swain says while he thought being able to study the history and culture of wine in Italy would be interesting and educational, his eighteen-year-old self was also excited about being able to drink in class.
Though he was still underage and unable to continue drinking wine when he returned home, Swain was able to secure a job at the Blue Hill Wine Shop. His family had moved to Blue Hill just recently, making the move from Pennsylvania to Maine right after Swain graduated high school.
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At the wine store, Swain was primarily a clerk, but he was able to put his knowledge of wines to use, and his level of responsibility increased. However, it wasn’t always at the owner’s request that it increased. Swain, noting that the shelves of wine were starting to get empty after a new owner took over, just decided he needed to start ordering wine. So he grabbed the company checkbook, and got to work.
“I was either going to get fired, or the shop was going to close and I’d be out of a job then, too. So I figured the risk was worth it,” Swain says.
It was through his work at the wine store that Swain got to know the man who would set him on his way to business ownership. Phil Devenish and his wife had started Devenish Wines to bring more artisanal wines to Maine. At the time they started, Maine hadn’t had a new wine distributor in twenty years. They were venturing into a new, wide open market, and they invited Swain to join them. He took over the Portland market, setting up his operation out of a storage unit. Business kept growing, and Swain kept moving his wines into larger storage units – then into multiple storage units, and eventually into warehouse space. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that Swain was able to purchase his own commercial warehouse property. If he hadn’t had to use storage units, though, Swain might have never jumped into his second business venture – a moving company.
Because he was working out of storage units, Swain got to know the staff where he was renting space. It was one of the storage unit employees who had the idea to start a moving company – Alex Sargent. Sargent saw an opening in the market after listening to customers of the storage unit company complain about the attitudes of movers they had hired. Sargent mentioned his idea to Swain, they sat down with two other friends, Jon Donnell and Jake Holz, and determined the feasibility of starting a moving company. They decided it was possible. They could rent trucks, had no need for an office space, and would really only have the cost of insurance to contend with out of the gate. At a few thousand dollars to start, they decided it was worth the gamble.
“We can’t not try it. We should just do it, and even if it fails it will be a great learning experience,” Swain describes as the group’s attitude.
The customer service and attitude of their crews is what Swain believes sets Local Muscle apart. “Moving will always be stressful for people,” he says, but the culture of Local Muscle has created a situation where groups of friends end up working together – one person gets hired, tells their friends about other opportunities, and pretty soon there are crews who enjoy being at work because they are with their friends. As a result, their attitudes are good and customers are happy.
Seven years after its inception, Local Muscle Movers is the biggest non-affiliated moving company in Portland. It also now has two locations – the other in Burlington, Vermont – and as many as fifty staff during the busy seasons. Swain is president of the business, and he’s involved in its day to day operation even while still running Devenish Wines. Devenish has expanded to have five salespeople, several delivery drivers, and an assistant manager.
How does Swain handle running two successful businesses? He says he has a lot of energy. And whatever energy he has left over after work, he puts into running. Swain runs ultramarathons – distances above and beyond the traditional 26.2 miles. He even finds way to combine his love of running and his love of work. He recently travelled to Sicily with nothing but a backpack and literally ran around the island from winery to winery trying out new wines for Devenish. He’s also put his passion for running to work for the community, founding and serving as race director for the Robert Burns 10K which is held each January in Westbrook.
His attitude towards running and his attitude towards his work are similar – just keep going.
“I know I’m not the fastest person in shorter races, but I found that the longer the races were, I could keep running and outlast people at longer distances,” Swain says. “You’ll always go through difficult parts in a marathon and you have to find a way through it.”
Swain’s love of the outdoors and his appreciation for hard work make him and the state of Maine a perfect match. While he enjoys travelling, Swain loves being able to drive a short distance and be in the forest, or hop into his kayak and paddle into the ocean, getting away from it all for a few hours. Portland’s arts scene is also a huge draw for him.
“Culturally, Portland punches far above its weight,” he says.
The culture of the entire state also has a draw for him.
”Maine has an awesome blend of self-reliance, individual freedoms, respect for people’s individual freedoms because it is a big spread out state, there’s a respect for hard work…It’s really hard to survive in most of Maine. People don’t live here because it’s easy, they live here because they love the environment, they love something about Maine.”
Swain discovered his passion for wine in Italy and brought his knowledge back to Maine. He got to work, starting as a clerk, impressing others in the industry and creating relationships that opened new opportunities. Now, he’s the successful owner of two businesses, both of which continue to expand. Swain has worked tirelessly and has never been afraid to take a chance. His determination has paid off, for him, for his business partners, and those they employ. That’s why Ned Swain is a Maine Icon.