Johnstone Omaha Sees a Changing of the Guard and a New Home
The close of 2020 has had very serious repercussions for the Johnstone group from Omaha! My employees refer to it as “The Cafferty Group” but I prefer that they wait and use that designation when it is an earned moniker (posthumous perhaps?). After losing my partner of 45 years to breast cancer in February, that feels a bit more plausible! I really miss Mary Ann, she was an amazing wife and mother. Learning to cope with running this place without her help is an adjustment for sure.
It has been a very eventful year. Four of our long-time employees have decided to retire this year, mostly because for them, it felt like the time was right, especially in view of their age and the inevitable impact age has on our health; they wanted to quit while they can still enjoy retirement.
Jeanne Maida, a “girl” we hired in August of 1981, has spent all but three of the last 39 years here (time off for having Babies), and has been everything from the Administrative assistant, to phone cop, to greeter, to counter sales, to girl Friday, to warranty administrator for our group. Jeanne decided that it is time to hang up her keyboard a phone set! Jeanne was excellent at all the jobs she performed here and has just always had a very bubbly personality and fellow employees and customers all recognize that she contributed a great deal to our success. Jeanne was the first woman hired full-time at this company and she set a high standard for all who followed her!
Peggy Lehotak, who came to work here from the Omaha Stockyards Cattle Auction, before they were shut down, has been our credit manager since May of 1994 – over 25 years! For all that time Peg has been amazing to work with, talk to, and to watch do her job. Peg made friends with all of our customers and was firm but always pleasant, and her record for collections has been nothing short of phenomenal! We have written off less than ½ of one percent of total charge sales over the years that she has held her position! Her secret has been simple, be honest and direct, request a commitment, and hold people to their word, (but do it nicely)! Peg has been a wonderful member of the Johnstone team here!
Knight II came to work here in April of 2014, but we knew of Al long before that. He served his apprenticeship in the HVAC business with Several companies in Des Moines and then Armstrong, later Goodman/Amana, and then we got him! What a catch he was, Al came in to manage our growing O/S sales force of 12 people and he oversaw a period of tremendous growth! In our companies’ sales. I joked with Al at his retirement party that we managed that doubling of sales in spite of him rather than because of him, but all of you who have met Al, know that he had a big impact on seeing that become a reality. Al was instrumental in helping us setup a really effective dealer network with training, perks, programs, and without his expertise, it would have been a lot tougher job!
Steve MacRunnel came to us in our Ames store in Early August 2012 when we started that operation, and boy did he earn his stripes! He started off dismantling the old “Bus barns” in Ames and helping us clean it up and remodel it to become a really fine store! Steve, like anyone at a small business helped with all sorts of chores, but his main duties were to keep things coming and going in the warehouse and delivering orders to our customers all around the Ames, Iowa, store territory. Some days for Steve got to be very long! He has been a really stalwart, reliable, cheerful guy and all of our customers and his fellow employees are sad to see him retire, but his health has dictated that, and there you have it.
I have told countless people over the years that we have been blessed with fantastic employees and all four of these are witnesses to that truth! We are what we are because of all those who have helped us create relationships with, and to provide services to our wonderful customers! God has blessed us!
The close of the year found us scrambling to move our home office and largest store from the old home on 108th and L street down the block a mile to 9800 J street (we tell people it is J for Johnstone street!).
Our new headquarters is much larger, 50,000 square feet downstairs and 9,000 upstairs with offices for the “home office” crew for our now 10 store group. What a fantastic facility this is, with drive-in bay, covered loading docks, multiple shipping and receiving docks at heights that match the vehicles coming and going. Lots of room to grow, a place for everything and everything in its place, generator for continuous power for the computers for all operations, training facility, conference facilities, a commons area for gatherings, a huge showroom that is very nicely merchandised. We are very proud of this new facility! It will help us grow by really helping us all to be better able to keep each other “in the loop!” The offices have windows, and wrap around the showroom and warehouse a floor above with a view to what is going on, and reminds us all daily that our mission upstairs is to support all the people downstairs every day! That means customers and employees!
On December 31st, we completed the process of acquiring the Johnstone stores in Grand Junction and Durango Colorado. Those two stores are fantastic outlets and are setting the standard for service that is nothing short of inspiring. Their sales per capita is phenomenal, their market share according to the Johnstone coop analysis is #1 in the group and hangs in at around 40% market share year in and year out! What a great team that Lynn and Gavin Walden, and David and Janis Rhodes have put together! They decided that it was time to sell the business, but they are not finished yet! They are staying on to teach all of our crew some of the secrets to their amazing success! God bless them and their amazing talented organization that will enhance our whole operation in the coming years! We think that we can help them with some logistic issues, and they can help us with some customer service issues! We all win! What a concept!
Covid hit us but not that hard, we were lucky; we are in a business that is indeed essential, but no more essential than is any other business that serves the needs of the community. We had a tough time keeping all our people on the job due to quarantine, illness, etc, but we managed to see sales increase this year by 5% in spite of the dreaded coronavirus! At one time, our home office and Omaha store had 8 people at home recovering from the disease! All are well and working at 100% now.
We hope that 2021 is a banner year in spite of politics and whatever is coming our way from DC.