Cowboy Heroes

by Jim Olson

“To Own a Trading Post

This is a true story. A story about business. A story about making an investment (in people and finance). A story about helping out. A story about following your heart.

People often ask me, “How did you get into the Trading Post business?”

First, a little history. Back in the day . . .

For about eighteen years, I bought and sold ranches, land, agriculture and commercial properties (both as an investor and agent for others) around the state of Arizona. Between that, running a ranching operation and doing farm/ranch management, I had my hands, more than full. The saying, “Running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off,” comes to mind.

I had many ups and downs along the way, but after many years of hard work, it seemed like financial security could finally be realized. The dream of all Americans—so they say.

Then, in 2007 through ’09, I was loosing money. A lot of money. After believing I finally had it made, the “great recession” just about broke me! It was a little disheartening to think I had worked so hard all those years only to wind up basically in the same place I was before.

I contemplated selling the business. I was looking for something else to do. I was tired of chasing my tail (so it seemed) and felt a new venture was needed. After all, I originally got into real estate with a three-year plan to get rich, then get out and go do something I wanted in life (yeah right!). What would I do now? Here it was, eighteen years later and I certainly was not rich—and I did not feel like I was doing what I wanted. It was more like, “doing what was required,” (which was fine when money was rolling in—but not so much now).

About this same time, we had an old Trading Post listed for sale through the Real Estate company. It belonged to some friends who were selling due to health issues. Then the husband passed away. The poor old lady was left running it all on her own, and her in bad need of a kidney transplant.

Then, two things happened at about the same time. First off, two of the Real Estate agents approached me about buying the company. Looking back on it now, that was a blessing in disguise (and perfect timing). Then, as I was wondering what the next step would be, fate stepped in.

The lady who owned the Trading Post called me one day and said she was going to shut the business down. With her husband gone, it was just too much for her to handle. I asked her what her plans were and she said that since we had not seen any interest from “Bonafied Buyers,” she was just going to put the inventory into storage and close the doors (what a shame since the business traces its roots back to 1877). She felt like she was at the end of her rope. Without even thinking twice, I offered to help.

My first thought was that I hated to see her walk away and close the doors. I knew we would never find a Buyer that-a-way. However, if it came to it, I would pull up there with my horse trailer, a couple of workmen, and help haul the the stuff to storage myself. I told her as much.

After a bit of conversation, Ms. Linda (the lady owner), inquired if I may want to buy it myself. It got me to thinking. I felt a strong voice within saying this would be the right thing to do, a better way to help out. That is the background, now here is the real story…

I have always been a person looking for opportunity. Not just financial opportunity, but the chance to help someone out when needed. So when offered a chance to buy a Trading Post, my thoughts were:

It looked like it could make a little money. While I had no plan of going into retail on a full-time basis, I saw an opportunity in just liquidating the inventory over about a year to year-and-a-half or so.

Then there was a chance to help out a couple of ladies (both in need of a helping hand right about then). Not only would it help out Ms. Linda (who desperately needed to go take care of her health) but my Mother-in-law also could be helped out here.

Ms. Betty, (my Mother-in-law) had been involved with Trading Posts in the past. She was very knowledgeable about the business, and, it just so happened she was searching for work at this time (with little success).

So my wife and I discussed it, and it seemed like a good thing to do. By buying the Trading Post, we could help out two ladies who could use a hand and maybe make a little money while we were at it. That seemed like a perfect scenario to me and I kept feeling this strong urge to go for it.

We made a deal with Ms. Linda to purchase the store and a deal with Ms. Betty to run it (as a full partner).

So now we’re all in the Trading Post business as a family. It fell together as if it was meant to be, so we went at it without hesitation. Then, within a few weeks, things started happening that give me the chills when I think back on it.

About three weeks after taking over the Trading Post, Ms. Linda called me, crying on the phone. I asked what was wrong and she said she had gotten a phone call. They wanted her to come down for a kidney transplant in two days! I said, “That’s great news!”

Then Ms. Linda told me, “This would not be happening if you guys had not bought the store. You see, when you agreed to buy the business, I finally went down and finished filling out the paperwork to get on that transplant list.”

I told her that was super! I also commented she sure didn’t have to wait long. (She had told me before the wait was three to five years for most people.) She was sure surprised when they called her after only being officially on the list about three weeks. As it turned out, it was kind of a miracle they had a donor already and she was the only perfect match available on short notice.

So Ms. Linda had her kidney transplant and was supposed to be in the hospital for a week. On the fifth day, I called to see if I could stop and visit. She said, “That would be fine, except I am out driving around looking for Mexican food.” She was feeling (and doing) so well they released her early!

After her first checkup, she called again and began to cry. I asked if everything was okay and she said, “I just want to thank you. If you guys had not taken over the business when you did, I would not have a new kidney today. It’s as if a ‘higher power’ were at work here.”

The timing was perfect. Once we took over, Ms. Linda went and did the rest of her paperwork. Then, the almost impossible happened when she got a new kidney three weeks later. Then her body accepted the new kidney without a problem. Her doctor told her he had never seen a transplant go so smoothly. Normally there is at least a little “rejection” of a new kidney. Ms. Linda said the doctor told her she had basically won the equivalent of the “Medical Lottery!” The chances of all of those things lining up like they did in such a short time for her were a million to one!

Back at the Trading Post, we were busy in liquidation mode. We sold a lot of inventory at bargain prices and things were going well. Ms. Betty was happy with her new position and we were quickly getting back our initial investment. After several months, we got together to reevaluate our business plan.

My wife and I were actually having fun with the business as well. What started out a purely an investment to make a few dollars and help out a couple of ladies, was now turning into something else.

I have always been an aficionado and collector of Western things. We had already taken several things from the store and put in our collection at home, which was a nice bonus. We enjoyed very much the type of product line we carried.

Along the way, people would also come in and ask us to find this or that for them and we would run it down. A lot of people were bringing stuff in to sell as well. I was learning a lot more about Cowboy and Indian Collectibles and Western-type items than I ever dreamed possible—and was liking it.

When we did our evaluation of where we were at after one year, the idea came to all of us, that none of us really wanted this to stop. We were having fun at what we were doing, the nature of the business fit us to a ‘T’, and, we were making a little money at it.

We decided to stay with the business.

Now we had to change gears. We went from business liquidation mode to growth and expansion mode. We had to undo a year’s worth of “fire selling” and start to rebuild inventory.

We looked around and found the perfect building right next door for sale at a great price (we were renting where we were at). So we bought the building and everything went very smoothly for a commercial real estate transaction.

Then, other opportunities for rebuilding the inventory came along, at what seemed like perfect timing. Every time we had a few extra dollars, good deals would be presented to us it seemed. Things fell into place like the were “meant to be.”

The last few years we have continually grown and expanded the business. Exciting things are happening. We all work together as a family. Each of us does different things we enjoy in the business. And, we now get to help out hundreds of people each year (by buying their products or goods when they need it). We also help buyers find quality products at decent prices and provide many community services through the business.

Lord knows what the future holds. Each time I think about this little story it reminds me of old sayings like: “Follow your heart.” “By helping others, you help yourself at the same time.” “Trust the inner voice inside—it’s your Maker guiding you.” “Do something you love and things will work out.” And a hundred other inspirational adages.