3:15– A little of my background
6:09– How did you discover your passion for retail?
9:24– A piece of advice
11:36– The earliest days of Hobby Lobby
16:30– About being CEO of Hobby Lobby
20:39– The foundational principles of Hobby Lobby
David Green earned his credentials in the retail business through many years of employment with various retail chains, thirteen of which were spent with T.G.&Y stores, where he served as a store manager and area supervisor. His modest beginning turned into a retail empire known as Hobby Lobby, with over 800 stores and sales topping $4.5 billion in 2017.
David is the author of two books, More than a Hobby, and his most recent book Giving It All Away… And Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously. The latter chronicles Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court battle involving the Affordable Care Act along with the larger story of family legacy and the power of generosity.
David & his wife Barbara are the proud parents of two sons and one daughter. Mart Green, Chief Strategy Officer of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby and Darsee Lett, Vice President of Art/Creative. Son-in-law Stan Lett is Executive Vice President of Hobby Lobby. Together they enjoy ten grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. They are actively involved at their church as well as many other Christian ministries and charities.
Full Transcript:
Ray: Well hey gang this is Ray Hilbert, your host here at Bottom Line Faith and this is a really, really special episode of the Bottom Line Faith program. Recently we had the chance to travel to Oklahoma City and sit down with Mr. David Green the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby. David is one of the most successful and godly businessmen our country has ever seen. He was so kind and so gracious that he gave a full hour of his time and so because of the length and the quality of the conversation we have split this interview with David Green into two parts and so we are excited to present you part 1 of our recent conversation with David Green.
Ray: Well, hello everyone this is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, and I am absolutely thrilled to be in a wonderful place, in Oklahoma City, in the headquarters of Hobby Lobby, and we are speaking today with David Green, who is the founder and CEO here at Hobby Lobby. David welcome to Bottom Line Faith
David: Well, thank you it is good to be with you today.
Ray: I just want to go ahead and put out right on the table that you recently released a book you and Bill High. Why don’t you take just a moment and tell us about the book because that’s going to be the foundation for a lot of what we talk about here on the program.
David: Well, the book is titled Giving it All Away and Getting it All Back Again, and so the book is primarily wanting to talk about generosity and mainly legacy, family legacy and how it is so important for us to live our lives thinking about our legacy.
Ray: Did you ever imagine that you would write a book?
David: No, to be honest, I hadn’t. Thank God for Bill who came alongside me and helped me write this book. We talked for many, many hours. I’ve been working with Bill for about fifteen years. So he knows my family who knows myself. I thank God for him and help that he’s giving me beyond the book.
Ray: Now, we’re going to get into some of the details and such that are in the book, but I actually read the entire book in one day on Christmas day. The Lord woke me up about four in the morning, and I just started reading. I had gotten the book a couple of days earlier, and I said “You know, I’m just going to read it.” and I couldn’t put it down. It was absolutely incredible.
David: Well, thank you. It was a labor of love in here again I’m thankful for someone who came alongside and was able to put the book together, the way that he did.
Ray: So, David, let’s kind of go back to the beginning. Let’s talk a little bit about, and you do share these things in the book but, tell us a little bit about your family life growing up, about your parents, and you were really left with an amazing heritage.
David: Yes, I was, and I’m very, very proud of my heritage. Even though I came from very humble beginnings, my mother and father were pastors of small churches, and I had five brothers and sisters. So all the time that we were growing up probably my dad and mom never pastored a church as over 100. But God was faithful in supplying our needs. We grew gardens and as soon as we kids could we would get out and pick cotton in the fall of the year and do everything we could to support the family. But we saw miracles, God doing miracles in our family to support us. We always had what we needed in terms of food and clothing, and God was good.
Ray: Well in the book you shared examples, or at least stories were groceries, and food would anonymously show up.
David: Exactly. I wish my mom and dad had written a book because they could have about God’s provision and the miracles that we saw in our family. My mother and dad were such good examples for us in there giving and in their generosity. They were great tithe payers they believe the patient pay tithe and back in the forties a lot of members and pay their tithes in terms of vegetables, things out of their gardens and things of this nature. So we would watch them tally and some people would say that’s awful legalistic but I never saw it that way. I saw as my mom and dad, they really wanted to give God the first 10% of what they had received, and I had a big influence on me and, I know, my brothers and sisters to see they love for the Lord and their willingness to give their first 10%.
Ray: And one of the things that I was struck by was you talked about in some ways you were almost like the black sheep in the family because you chose a different path. You fell in love with retailing very early on didn’t you? Tell us about that.
David: Well, I think my mom and dad- I don’t know what they understood that you could do things Eternal and not be a pastor or missionary and I think they wanted all of us six children to be pastors wives or pastors, missionaries. But, they got five out of six. So, I was the one that they didn’t get as a pastor. So there is quite a period of time in my life that I thought well “I was the black sheep” and there had to be something wrong with me because God did not call me into the ministry of being a pastor, missionary. So, I did have a problem with that for a few years, but of course, since then I’ve learned that God can use you wherever He’s called you.
Ray: Well absolutely and we’ll talk more about that in a little while, but one of the things that I’d love for you to share is you discovered this passion for retail very early on. So, take us back how did you discover this passion, maybe it was the first time setting up a display but take us to the moment that was like “This is like really amazing stuff.”
David: Actually when I was a Junior and senior I took a course in school called distributive education, and I thought it was the neatest thing in the world because you could get two credits for one class. You actually got credit for working and making money, and that was the best thing that has ever happened to me. My Junior and Senior year I took this distributive education, I worked, I was usually out of school by 11 o’clock, and I was at work at the local 5 and Dime store, so I loved going to work, and I loved the doing the displays and just seeing buying and selling merchandise. So by the age of about sixteen, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a retailer.
Ray: The bug caught you very quickly and so at what point- You talked about your parents and family seeing that ministry, vocational ministry with the pathway that they were hoping for you praying for you, but you got this other passion. At what point did you discover this could also be your mission field? In business and in the marketplace?
David: There was an event that I went to, a huge assembly where there were missionaries from all over the world were assembled there. I remember them taking up an offering for literature for these missionaries to have literature of the Gospel that they could use in their countries. I don’t know what I gave on that particular moment but by the time I was flying home on an airplane I knew that God was saying to me “You need to give $30,000,” and we were a very, very small company and I said “How in the world? We can’t give $30,000.” I knew that didn’t come from me. But we talked, and I talked to my wife, Barbara, when I said: “I think God and I know God is asking us to give $30,000, so why don’t we write four checks $7,500 a piece, four months post date them and send them in and give the $30,000.” Well what happened, I found out that those things were post dated four months after these missionaries had stayed over and were praying because they really didn’t have enough money for all of those to have the Gospel. I got a call, and the call said “You know this happened” and I knew that God had spoken to me and so it was at that time and moment that God could use a merchant and that it was in God’s will, what I was doing.
Ray: A moment of faith on an airplane ride set a course of trajectory in your life that continues unto this day. Would that be fair to say?
David: Exactly. I know that I am called to be a retailer, and I know that God also anoints me the same that He anoints a pastor and I think He anoints all of us in whatever field He has given us. He has given me this field of retail, and I know that God anoints me in what I do, as He does all of us I think in whatever He asked us to do.
Ray: And I love that David, that’s just beautiful. So success for our program here at Bottom Line Faith is that if one listener who is discouraged, perhaps wondering what that next thing is that God has for them, or maybe God has put something on their hear for business or what have you and they, for whatever reason, they haven’t stepped into that. What advice would you have for a business leader right now, perhaps a business owner or CEO who is questioning rather not what they do can count for the Kingdom. What encouragement or advice would you have to say for them?
David: You know, I feel like that God has given us all purpose in our lives, and I think as I would advise my grandchildren and soon-to-be great-grandchildren, my advice will always be a Scripture that’s found that says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do that very best at what that is.” and in that obedience if that’s not your end though, God will promote. Man’s not the one who promotes us, its God that promotes us. But He promotes us in a position of obedience. That is we should do what we do onto the Lord the very best that we can and also as onto the Lord. And I think that is how we find our final destination and to where God would have us to be.
Ray: So in business and in the marketplace, there is some uniqueness to that platform. We get to talk to customers and vendors and maybe even competitors that that maybe we wouldn’t get inside a traditional ministry. What would you say about that?
David: Yes I think God gives us, all of us, no matter who we are. He gives us particular opportunities to be witnesses for Him, and in our case, I feel like a lot of what we do is not just for our customers but for our employees, to serve the Lord and let them know that’s what’s really important. You know, on every Easter Sunday and every Christmas Day we have full page ads in every single paper that we have, and that’s on the ways we witness is to stay “Here’s who we are. We’re Hobby Lobby we are a retailer but what’s really important is on this day is the day to our Savior was born. Or this is the day that the resurrection of our Lord-” and so there’s so many different ways that we find that in business that we can witness to our employees as well as to our customers about what’s really important and what we do.
Ray: Wow, fantastic and David you talk in the book about nostalgic, about back in the early days. So take us all the way back to the very beginning. About how and why you started the company, help us understand those early days. What was it like?
David: Well, actually the early stages in a five and dime when I was in my Junior and Senior year, and of course that’s where God really showed me what I was going to do and by the way that’s where I met my wife in that 5 and Dime. I tell people I met my Million Dollar Baby in a five and ten cent store. So that’s where we started life. We got married right after I got out of high school and began to work for a company called T.G.&Y which was a blessing to have that company and it was doing very, very well. But I guess like a lot of individuals who want to do something on their own and in 1970 Barbara, and I borrowed $600 from the bank to start manufacturing some little frames in our garage, and so that’s where it began. I tell people the first five years Barbara worked for no pay at all and my two sons were seven and nine, and they would glue these frames together for seven cents apiece. So it all got started with the borrowing of $600 it took all of our salary for livelihood. We had three children at that time, and so we had to borrow the $600 to get the company started.
Ray: You came from a background in some of the things in your retail career. You were working a lot of hours prior to really getting the company going and this helped shape some of your philosophy here. Can you speak to that a little bit?
David: Yes. I think most people in retail want to tell you that it’s really, in general speaking, it’s really, really long hours. I think most people in retail would tell you that they’re working, you know, sixty hours- might be the norm and the average. So really that was important as we build our own company that we wanted to have a company that was really very family-friendly and so Hobby Lobby is only open sixty-six hours a week. We don’t open on Sundays. We close at 8 o’clock. I don’ think you’ll find any retailer of any size at all that is open just sixty-six hours and that’s all about the family. If my family is important to me than other peoples’ families should be important as well. So, we try to run the company in a way that our managers work five day work weeks and that our hours are a good balance between work and life.
Ray: Well on that note you’ve been in the retail business, many decades now and you’ve seen so many changes. Would you speak to what you are seeing now with, you know with Amazon and everything that is happening. How do you see that shaping our worldview? How do you see retail changing? Now only generally but maybe for Hobby Lobby as well.
David: Yeah, I think there is no question there is some change going on, and we feel that with Hobby Lobby we have a lot of products are going to be quite as open to the e-commerce. Although we have e-commerce ourselves, we feel that if you want to buy arts and crafts, we think we have a good selection as what’s out there. So it’s growing rapidly, but to this day we’ve never had decreases in our same stores. We still have increases every year, which is how you measure. You don’t measure by the new stores because we add fifty to sixty stores every year. Our same stores’ sales have increased, and I don’t remember a time when they haven’t. So, even with the changes of a lot of e-commerce and Amazon, God has blessed us, and we’ve continued to have increases, so we thank God for that.
Ray: Yeah. I did something recently. My wife and I- She went online and bought all of our groceries and went down to Kroger’s and click it was out there waiting for us in the parking lot. It’s just amazing the pace and speed at which delivery of services is changing. Do you see, you know, in the crystal ball, do you see in your world the standard retail store remaining healthy?
David: I think it’s going to be very, very important for you to be the best at whatever you do. So we feel like our goal is, and that is what God asked us to do anyway. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it your very best.” so we feel like, that retail, brick-and-mortar, we believe will always be here. But you better be the very best. So, every year you find out that there’s been different stores that are going out of business. But I recall before Amazon and before e-commerce, people went out of business every year anyway. Although I know the Amazon contributed to some of that. But we feel like we better be the very best at what we do.
Ray: Yeah. On that note, you are currently and still CEO
David: That’s correct.
Ray: And so how are you enjoying that after all these years? Are you still excited every day?
David: Well there’s always challenges. There’s always big challenges that never arrive. It’s amazing because it’s a moving target and we carry 75,000 items in our warehouse and another 25,000 that we push that is seasonal and of that 75,000 items, 15,000 are dropped a new 15,000 are- and so it is a constant movement and so that itself keeps you excited, because it doesn’t get boring.
Ray: Do you still get that tingly feeling up your spine when you walk into retail- one of your stores?
David: Well, yes I still excited. There are though days I have to admit. But generally speaking, I love what I do. I work six days a week; I’m here not because I have to be, but I’m here on Saturday. I tell my wife if she feels like a widow let me know and I’ll come home because I don’t have to be here but she has a lot of things going on, so it works really well for us. Now that we have no children at home.
Ray: Fantastic and now you speak often about the three loves of your life, your wife being one. Tell us what are those there.
David: Well, of course, I tell people we have a lot of new people coming in here that are going to be our new managers, and I just let him know what’s important in my life and that is my faith, my family and then my work. That’s the order that I like to put it in and encourage them to put it in the same way. That their family should be more important than the business. But that never bothers me to say that because if you’re crazy about your family you want to support them and you’re going to take care of your business.
Ray: Fantastic and you’ve set year after year after year after year records and profitability, and you’re known for being out of doubt.
David: We have no long-term doubt.
Ray: So like the Cathy family at Chick-fil-A you have had this extraordinary success not being open or one of the busiest retailing days of the week, how is that possible?
David: Well, I think that you better be the very best if you’re going to be closed on Sunday. Because I think Chick-fil-A is always voted the number one restaurant, for if you want chicken, that is where you buy it and we’re hoping the same thing about Hobby Lobby. That they will come to Hobby Lobby if we are the very best and I’m sure we lose some business from people that want something on Sundays, but we feel like there’s something special about it in God’s blessings. He just blesses us in the obedience. We don’t try to tell other people what to do in their business, we just have to follow what we feel like he asks us to do and there was a time that we open and we felt like the Lord wanted us to close on Sundays. So we did so, and God has blessed us.
Ray: Yeah, fantastic. As you just said you would never push or prod, anyone, to do that, but I believe- Well, let me ask you this. What would you say to a business owner right now who is wrestling at that kind of decision? How would you advise them along those lines?
David: You know, we tell our story a lot to a lot of people that come through here, and I always start by saying “This is our story.” But we also need to, each one of us, we need to be looking and asking the Lord for leadership and his direction in whatever He would have us do, and it should always line up with God’s word. Between God’s word in our prayer, I think God will guide us where He would have us to be.
Ray: That’s really a great transition. You know we kind of talked about the foundation of the business and putting those kids to work early on. Your wife, she really ran the business right? In the early days, which allowed you to build it. So now it truly is an empire, there is no question by the world’s standard it is an empire. But you have some foundational principles or how you run the business, and you really walk us through this in one of the chapters on tenants and foundational principles for your business. Just quickly walk through these and if you would elaborate on them. The first one that I was read about was that your employees matter. Talk to us about that and how you live that out.
David: Yes, that’s right, and you know its the right thing to d first, because it’s the right thing to do. Secondly, it’s good for business. I don’t want to be good to my employees because it’s good for business. I hope I’m motivated because I care, and we care, and we should care about our employees. So, we want to do everything we can to do all we can for our employees. Our minimum wage for employees is $15.70 for all of our full-time employees. Here at the corporate office, we have a clinic, last year we had over 15,000 people visit it. We have an MRI machine, so it’s pretty complete to take care of our employees. Taking care of their insurance, considering their hours, so we hope that our is for our employees and I think that’s very important in what we do.
Ray: What have you seen as the results in terms of retention versus, you know, turn over? What do you see versus industry standard, as a result of these practices?
David: Well, I know that Hobby Lobby is very profitable, so at the bottom line, something is working. We are very profitable, more so than our competitors, more so than most retailers. So, we feel that doing the right thing for the right reason is important, but we also believe it pays dividends. Being close on Sundays by the way we attract people that want to be in church on Sunday. People that love their family and want to be with their family and those are the type of people that I think become the very best employees. I don’t think we really understood the value of what we were doing when we were closing on Sundays. The busy day per hour was Sunday, but we closed because we knew that that’s what God wanted us to go. But we really, really didn’t realize the value of the people that we would attract because of being closed on Sunday.
Ray: It just had a trickle-down effect all the way through.
David: Exactly.
Ray: Sometimes we don’t always have these plans, but God knows.
David: That’s right.
Ray: Follow his principles, and He promises to keep His end of the bargain. So, you talk about employees matter but ethics and talk a little bit about how some of the principles and policies have working with vendors here entertainment and those sorts of things. I found this really fascinating as I was reading the book.
David: Well, I think a lot of times we have to remember that, I think, God tests us. You know, and so we just want to find ourselves faithful, and sometimes there are opportunities out there, I recall a time when we needed the money really, really bad. That we could come back from Calouretta and bring alcohol back. The number was about $300,000 year that we could earn by bringing alcohol back on backhauls on our trucks but those types of things we find never end in terms of things I can happen. That we should pass the test and there’s another occasion where that we had a store that I had ten years left on my lease I had fifteen years on it and after five years the neighborhood had deteriorated in such a way that I had to close or my people would be in harm’s way. We had a wholesale liquor company that come in and take me out of the lease, and the lease was six hundred thousand a year, and I had ten years left on it. We passed on that, and it just so happened that we paid that $600,000 for those ten years. It was sitting there, and we paid that. But, I would make the same decision today. Knowing that we would never have someone come along and take us out of that lease. So, those are the things that I think that God when we pass those though tests that’s when he really blesses us, is when we pass those tests and hopefully we will do that in the future.
Ray: Well I’m going to play skeptic just for a moment, you know, someone might, I’m sure you’ve heard “Oh, it’s easy to make those types of decisions once you’re successful and have the funding and those sorts of things. But as we learned here today it began way back on that airplane, probably even before, but that airplane ride when you listen to God’s voice that was $30,000 you didn’t have.
David: Exactly.
Ray: But it’s set in motion the entire trajectory of your business.
David: I’ve looked back on that and I’ve said “Maybe, God says if I will give when I don’t have that I will give when I do have.” and so it might have been that sort of test that “If this guy will do what I ask of him when he doesn’t have it then he will do it when he has it.” So, hopefully, that was important for our future.
Ray: Yeah that biblical principle about when we are faithful with little things he will entrust much more.