MYRTLE CREEK — When he wasn’t on the playing field at South Umpqua High School, Jeff Johnson could be found in the lumber yard at Del’s Building Supply.
The teenager, as a part-time worker for three years, made a good impression on Dick and Shirley Petterson, the owners of the supply business. The teen also house sat for the Pettersons when they were out of town.
Then several years later, when the Pettersons were looking to retire, they mentioned the possibility of selling the business to Johnson.
“I came by to visit, and Dick said, ‘Why don’t you buy this damn place from me?’” Johnson said. “Two weeks later, we were sitting at a table working out the numbers.
“We had a close relationship,” Johnson added. “They called me their No. 3 son. They gave me this opportunity. I’m very happy with the decision I made.”
Dick Petterson died in 2004, about three years after Johnson took ownership of the store. Shirley Petterson lives in the Myrtle Creek area and frequently visits the building supply store at 102 S. Old Pacific Hwy.
“I’m very, very pleased with him, and I know Richard would be very, very proud of him,” Shirley Petterson said. “We made Jeff an offer he couldn’t refuse. He’s done a wonderful job with the store. I know my husband would just be beaming.”
The business was established in the early 1950s by Del Blanchard of Myrtle Creek, thus the name of Del’s Building Supply. He owned and operated it until 1974 when the Pettersons purchased it.
Dick Petterson was an industrial arts teacher at South Umpqua High School and had worked several summers at the building supply store. He left teaching to run the store, and Shirley Petterson left her secretarial job at Myrtle Creek Junior High to be the bookkeeper of their new business.
The Pettersons owned and operated the store for 28 years before retiring.
Johnson was born and raised in the area. He graduated from South Umpqua High School in 1992 and attended Oregon State University. When a human resources position opened up at D.R. Johnson Lumber in Riddle, he returned to South County to take the job.
Johnson said it wasn’t hard to return to the Myrtle Creek area because he had good childhood memories. After returning, he married Kelli Allen, a 1995 Riddle High graduate. They have three children: Marcus, Sydnie and Kade.
“We wanted to raise our family in a small town atmosphere,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of great memories here, and we wanted to create those for our family as well.”
After five years at D.R. Johnson and at just 26 years old, Johnson was enticed by the Pettersons to become the new owner of Del’s.
“I wasn’t looking for a change. I was content with where I was, but it was such an opportunity,” Johnson said.
In his first six years of ownership, Johnson said the store was “busy, busy, busy.” He said he worked long hours seven days a week, learning all aspects of the business and helping customers as the economy was strong. He expanded the business in 2004, creating Del’s Industrial Supply, whose employees called on lumber mills and industrial sites from Glendale to Sutherlin to sell parts and supplies.
Johnson said sales increased by 300 percent over his first six years with the store. In 2008, Johnson was named Young Retailer of the Year for business owners 35 and younger by the North American Hardware Association. But that same year, the economy began to struggle.
“We went from very rapid, rapid growth to dropping off a cliff,” Johnson said.
“We went from not getting much rest because we were so busy to not getting much rest because we were worried about not being busy,” said Johnson who cut his work force from 15 employees down to 10 during the slump. “I tell people the first six years were more fun than the last six years.”
Johnson said the store has survived by paying attention to its customers and details. To be more convenient for customers, no check-in is needed before driving into the lumber and building materials yard.
“We’re on the honor system,” Johnson said. “I really haven’t had any problems with it. It expedites a customer’s visit to our store. I think they appreciate it.”
Johnson said he also believes his store’s products are reasonably priced and if an item isn’t available, it can be ordered.
“The loyalty of the customers and the loyalty of the community to shop here when at all possible is a huge part of our success,” said Johnson, who is involved in the community as an eight-year member of the South Umpqua School Board, the South Umpqua Schools Foundation and the local chamber.
Johnson said there’s been an increase in business in recent months, and the number of full- and part-time employees is back to 15. He gave kudos to his employees, crediting them with helping make the store a survivor and a success.
Dawn and Max Meyers of Tri City, longtime customers of Del’s, said they do business there a couple times a week for their home projects.
“That’s the best store that ever hit this country,” Max Meyers said. “It’s not only the store, but the people in it. They do anything for you. If they don’t have it, they’ll get it for me. Jeff does a good job running his store.”
Judy Bell of Tri City is another longtime and frequent customer of the store.
“They always greet you with a smile. They’re anxious to help you,” she said. “If it’s heavy, they’ll pack it out for you. I like to shop local, and it’s a great place to do that.”
• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.