Friday, February 17, 2012
My grandfather, Robert Bruce McClendon Sr. owned a small grocery store in Johnston South Carolina.
My father was born in Modoc South Carolina in his grandfather’s house behind his store. When my grandfather died my father, although still a teenager, took over that store and tried to run it. The problem he ran into was allowing people who should not have had credit to buy on credit. My father lost that store.
My father attended Newberry College in Newberry South Carolina for one year. He went on a football scholarship. Normally when sons go off to college they live off of money sent from back home by their parents. For Bruce, it was the reverse.
He attended college where he studied business and played on the football team. He also sent money back home to his ailing mother to take care of her and his younger brother and sister.
He earned money by working in a drugstore and by making an arrangement with a local dry cleaner. He would pick up laundry from fellow students and walk the several miles to the dry cleaners to drop it off. The dry cleaner gave my father a discount and my father charged a fee for pick-up and delivery.
My father told me that some of the guys he did this for would drive by him in their new automobiles as he was walking to the dry cleaner and blow their horns and laugh at him. He would say “I am going to be able to buy you someday.”
My father decided that perhaps the air force was the best bet for him. Perhaps he could send money home and get an education. He enlisted and became a weather man and a training instructor. When his hitch was up he went to selling insurance for Life of Georgia Insurance Company and later found a job selling cash registers for National Cash Register which later became known as NCR.
Once his fellow salesman decided that the only way they could beat him in a contest was if they did not tell him there was a contest.
The one thing that motivated my father to do something, other than a contest, was to tell him that he could not do it.
On the final day of the contest there was a salesmen’s meeting where the then leading salesman in the contest bragged to my father how he was in the lead and that there was no way my father could beat him because there was only a few hours until the deadline.
My father went to his office and called people who had purchased from him before and put his cards on the table. He told them what had happened and asked if those companies had any need to make any purchases. Several of them did (especially the man from the bowling story) and my father was able to win the contest with plenty of room to spare.
About 1973 National Cash Register began to take a new direction. They decided that salesman would no longer earn commission. My father was making more than sixty thousand dollars a year (which at the time $60k would buy a 3,000 square foot brick home in a nice neighborhood in Spartanburg South Carolina) to just over twenty thousand per year.
Obviously my father had to do something.
He began to investigate franchises. He settled on Western Auto and we set off to find a town where we could open a Western Auto Store. A few years before a man had decided to open a Western Auto Store in Iva South Carolina and had gone so far as to buy land and stake off a building. He found that the powers that be in that small town were not very welcoming to a new business and so he decided not to open a store there.
My father found Iva and had a great deal of time trying to get anyone to sell him land. It seems that one or two local business men would hear that he was looking at a piece of property and would go out and convince or coerce the owners of that property to sell them an option on the property so that my father could not buy. The idea was that my father would have to lease the property from the businessmen.
Finally my father found a widow woman who owned some property and did not want anything to do with those businessmen. She sold my father the property at a fair price and he made plans to build the Western Auto.
We put our house in Spartanburg up on the market and went to building the Western Auto. Everything worked against the building of that store. The weather, Western Auto itself through miscommunication, government policy, you name it everything went wrong.
Finally it came down to a point where two payments of sixty thousand dollars each were due the same day. My father had sixty thousand dollars of savings left in the bank and wrote two checks of sixty thousand dollars each to pay for the two payments. On the very day the second check cleared the bank the closing took place on the house we were selling in Spartanburg and the final amount paid to my family for the house after all expenses and commissions were paid was exactly sixty thousand dollars. God was with us all the way.
We started out with that original sixty thousand dollars in investment in a brand new 5000 square foot Roebuck Building (Metal Building whose builders were based in Roebuck South Carolina). We had to do it all.
My father built fixtures. I learned to put shelving fixtures together and merchandise shelves. The installer from Western Auto came down to show us how to set up displays and found that we already knew how to display better than he did.
We hauled merchandise from the Western Auto warehouse in Gastonia North Carolina on our Johnny Cash special Chevy pick-up truck (67,68, 69,70) and we built what we needed rather than buy it whenever possible.
During this time I would tell my father that I did not know how to do a particular thing and he would tell me “You won’t never learn no younger.” This was his way of saying now is the time to learn. And learn we did.
This store stayed in business for thirteen years up until my father’s death and I learned a great deal of retailing from him and from merchant friends of his.
One of his best friends at the time was John Graham of Carolina Cash in Spartanburg South Carolina. Mr. Graham and my father became friends while my father was servicing his company