Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Truth--Small Business is THE Fabric of Our Culture

This series has been focused on lies in our culture. This blog is going to change it up a little and focus on a truth that many people know. They just might not know HOW truthful it really is. All of this blog is going to focus on small business. Specifically, it is going to focus on my life experience with a particular small business, Crosslin Supply. Many of the people that read this blog know that Crosslin's sold to national company, ProBuild a few years ago. ProBuild closed its doors in Smyrna on Friday of last week. This morning I was "inspired" by a dream to write about Crosslin's and what it has meant to my life. My story is not unlike countless others who have been impacted by family run, small businesses across the country.

We moved to Tennessee from Texas when I was almost 5 years old. My dad worked for my grandfather in his auto repair garage in Smyrna. My mom worked for Kroger for a short time and then went to work for a lumber yard in Smyrna, Crosslin Supply. A few years later, my grandfather closed his shop and my dad also went to work for Crosslin's. You could say I basically grew up at Crosslin Supply. It certainly helped shape my life. Below are some of my memories and the lessons I learned because of Crosslin Supply:

Lesson 1--people want to be treated well and will pay a little more if they are. Time and time again I would wonder how Crosslin's could compete with the big stores like Lowes. The answer was always the same--people go to who they know and who they know will treat them well. Everyone wants to be treated like they are important (even if they are not). That deck that the DIYer is building is the most important thing in that guy's mind right now. It may only be $1,000 worth of lumber but it is his crowning achievement. He may not be as important to your bottom line as the customer that builds 100 homes a year but it IS important to that customer that he is treated like you couldn't survive without his business. If he gets that treatment, he will be a fan of your business and will even pay a little more for the same product. If you slip up, even once, he will go to the big box store where he doesn't expect good treatment but will get a cheaper product. In other words, if I get crappy service at both places, why would I pay more for it?

Lesson 2--Go the extra mile--period. I learned that no matter what, give all that you can to your clients or customers. It makes you feel good and you never know what else that will bring you. I remember when the Kingdom Hall in Smyrna was being built. They wanted to build it in just a few days. They requested, and Crosslin's agreed, to have 24 hour access to building materials. My dad stayed at the store through the night and delivered stuff to them in the dark and at all kinds of times. It was cool in its own sort of way. Only a small business would do that.

Lesson 3--When the employee takes pride in the job and are rewarded for it, you will be successful as an owner. There are countless examples of this at Crosslin's. From the doors that were built on site for customers to the organization system and the racks that the employees built to the times when special cuts were requested and the employees took pride in helping someone out. My dad and others helped build many of the sheds and other buildings on that property. They took pride in that place and were often rewarded with bonus checks or lunches or even just pats on the back. Either way, the employees were part, if not most, of the success of the day to day operations. Combine that pride with the relationships built by Mr. Crosslin, Mr. Victory and all the sales staff and you had a great place.

Lesson 4--Weave yourself into the community. There are so many examples of this one from Crosslin's. The company sponsored all kinds of athletics in the community. "Crosslin Supply" was on thousands of little league shirts and school shirts and signs at ball parks and everywhere else. Kids grew up with that name on their backs and then got a job there after high school. They learned to work hard and work harder at college so they wouldn't have to keep working hard in the lumber yard. I heard that one a million times.

There was also the old man's coffee club in the break room. There is a really cool table up there with all kinds of bits, blades, nuts, bolds, etc. carved in. There was a group of old men that would congregate there regularly to drink coffee, tell lies and solve the world's problems. They didn't buy lumber, they didn't work there, they just met and talked. It was part of the community.

The Fish Fry--once a year Mr. Lee Victory would host a fish fry at his home (that is now Ms. Imogene Bolin's law office). My dad and several other Crosslin employees would help set up the event. I always got to go before it got dark and the party really kicked in. That was the first time I met a political leader. I met and had a picture made with Governor McWherter. At that age, it didn't matter what party he was or what his politics were, he was the Governor!

Lesson 5--Your life is shaped by your upbringing and you never know when that will become evident. I grew up in the construction industry because my parents worked at Crosslin Supply. It was the topic of discussion at the dinner table. It was our weekends (driving to look at new homes being built). It was my first job--dad got Mr. Parker to hire me. All of that led me to have a keen interest in homes, their construction and the artistry involved. It also gave me a pretty good working knowledge of the builders, different methods, problems and "the right way" to do things. This body of knowledge has made me, at least I think, a pretty good Realtor. Whats really weird about that is that I NEVER would have said, prior to about 4 years ago, that I would want to be a Realtor. I was a teacher and I enjoyed teaching. It was stable. Then it wasn't. I learned that stability in the job is in the eye of the beholder. Businesses close. Good employees get fired. I can be successful as an independent person and that is more stable than any "job". 

In addition to "life lessons" (and those were just a few of them), I have so many memories that involve Crosslin Supply. This is the part that I dreamed about. It was a sort of montage of all kinds of memories. These are going to be kind of unorganized, quick shots of memories. I hope you enjoy reminiscing with me.
  • Mr. Victory's hats. Coon Victory's office was outlined by hats. There were all different varieties. I will never forget coming into the office at about age 8. The fire truck had been at school and we all got those plastic fireman hats. I gave mine to Mr. Victory and he hung it on his wall. It was there until he left. I was so proud to have a hat on his wall.
  • Crosslin picnics--So many memories here. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
    • we always had the kid shoe races. All the kids would take their shoes off and throw them into a pile. We would then race to put them back on. Epic fun.
    • Softball game--wow, that was fun to watch the old people play
    • BINGO--Mr. Victory would call Bingo and it was, by far, the highlight of the night.
    • Kamikazee Kelly--I believe it was Mr. Victory's 50th birthday (correct me if I am wrong) and the employees hired Kamikazee Kelly to come visit during the picnic. It was hilarious
  • Riding Bicycles--I don't know if Mr. Crosslin or Mr. Victory knew it but Jeremy and I were up there all the time. Dad would go service the trucks or build new racks or during inventory, or any number of other times. We would bring our bicycles and ride all over the place. It was an awesome place to ride with all the ramps and jumps and cool things to do. When they first built the drywall warehouse, the floors were incredibly slick and with a little speed, you could lock the brakes and slide forever. There was this little yellow plastic wedge thing that we used as a jump. One time I was riding super fast and hit that jump. I was too close to the stack of drywall and crashed into it. I thought I broke my wrist and my bike. It was scary.
  • The intercom system--when mom and dad first started at Crosslin's there was a back counter and a front counter. The back counter had an intercom that went to the warehouse where my dad worked. He thought it was hilarious to take the high power nail gun and shoot the speaker/microphone so that it made a terrible noise in the store.
  • The burn pit--ok greenies, this one is not for you. The coolest burn pit in Smyrna was at Crosslin's. As a 10 year old boy, I was infatuated with fire. It was humongous.
  • Friday morning donuts--There was a company wide Friday morning meeting every week. It was early. Jeremy and I had to go to Crosslin's because it was too early for us to be dropped off at school. the upside was that there was always donuts at the meeting!
  • Paint calibration--My Aunt Jo was the paint mixer person who first got the computerized color matching system. She taught me how to use it and I looked forward to Fridays booting up the computer. You used a green slide, a white slide and a black tube to calibrate it.
  • Clayton--this guy was awesome! He was one of the nicest men I ever knew. Crosslin's sold Holland Grilles for a while and Clayton was the man on this grille. He cooked all kinds of things. Everyone's favorite was when he would cook tenderloin and biscuits on the grille (bake the biscuits on it--awesome).
  • Building all the additions--Crosslin Supply changed A LOT in the time that my parents were there. Dad helped build a ton of the additions. The little office wing, the expansion of the office wing, several warehouses, the remodel inside from two counters to one big one, so much more.
  • Other community involvement--furniture building for local teachers, building things for the community--gazebo at the rock school park, deck at the rec park, and much more
  • Not all times were good. When you are family you have sad times too. I think Crosslin's was a family.  Here are some of the sad or scary times I remember (I know there were tons more)
    • Larry Gilliland (probably misspelled) passing away
    • Mr. Crosslin dying
    • Mrs. Mullins falling off the upstairs dock
    • Brian Craig (son of one of the employees) drowning
    • Clayton dying
  • In addition to this very small sampling of stories, there were countless "characters" that have places in my memories of Crosslin's. Here is a very short list of the ones that come to mind right away: Mr. Crosslin or "Frank Jr." (I don't think I ever met Frank Sr.), Mr. Coon Victory and his dad, Mr. Victory, Willie Collier, Ms. Betty, Ron, "Tallboy", Sam, Sandra, Leigh Ann, Joanna, Izzy, Mary Elizabeth, Eddy, Terry Medders, Shorty, Bubba, Mr. Irvin, Elaine, Randy Horn, Brian, Rick, Gene, Sharon, Eugene, Mrs. Eugene (Catherine), Ray, Chris Wray, Kelly, Dean, and literally hundreds more.
I always try to have a take away from my blogs. This one is very long. Even with this abnormal length, I have not done justice to the role one small business played in my childhood, youth, young adulthood and even adulthood. The takeaway is this, small business is the most important "cause" in capitalism. Go, support businesses like Crosslin's. Someone is depending on it. These types of businesses are so incredibly important to our culture. Check out for a list of small businesses in Smyrna. Look them up and go support them.

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