Recently, moreClaremore decided to approach Paul Pixley, owner of the longtime Claremore business, and ask for an interview. After all, Pixley’s has been around for 51 years. The store, as well as the family, is a pillar in the community. Paul accepted my invitation for a chat.
I’ve been to Pixley Lumber quite a few times in my life. My older sister worked there in the 1980s (in the wallpaper department, y’all! No offense to anyone, but is wallpaper still even made anymore?), my stepbrother worked out in the lumber yard in the late ’90s, and although I’m pretty DIY-challenged, I’ve been in the store more times than I can count. However, I’ve never been to the inner sanctum: upstairs.
I met Paul in his large office on the second floor. It’s an enormous space, and the walls are covered in plaques and commendations touting Paul’s dedication and loyalty to Claremore. He is obviously well-liked and active in the community.
In preparation for our meeting, Paul had sent over some history about the company, but I wanted him to tell it in his own words. Much to his dismay, I made him start from the beginning.
Pixley Lumber opened for business in October 1963. Owner Warren Pixley (Paul’s dad) had a wealth of experience in the lumber industry, having worked for the Long-Bell Lumber Company for 15 years. In that time, Warren and his young family lived in numerous Oklahoma towns. After Long-Bell was purchased by another company, the Pixleys decided it was time for a change. Warren had the gift of entrepreneurship, with the corporate skills to make any business a success. The gang moved to Claremore, and decided to open Pixley Lumber. The original location was near the intersection of Fifth and Missouri, where Heather’s Dance School stands today. With the help of Warren’s brother (Paul R.) and financial assistance from friends, family and the bank, Pixley Lumber was open for business.
Son Paul began working at the lumber yard at the tender age of 13. With the exception of one day during his teen years when he worked for a brick mason, the family business is the only job he’s ever known. He has worked his way up from the bottom rung of the ladder, earning just 50 cents an hour in 1964. By the time he turned 16 in 1965, he was officially put on the payroll at $1.25 per hour. The only perk he got as the owner’s son was $1 a day from the cash register, which he was allowed to use at Roy’s Cafe next door for lunch.
After four years at the Fifth and Missouri location, the business badly needed more space. In 1968, additional lumber storage opened at the current location, where the property is leased from the railroad. This had the added benefit of giving Pixley’s access to the railroad. In 1971, the store was constructed at 715 W. Will Rogers. With the new store came an increase in retail traffic, when before, the clientele was mainly contractors and builders. With the increase in retail sales came a need for longer hours and more employees. In the early 80s, the store started staying open all day on Saturdays. After a few years of that, Sunday afternoons became another day to shop. After 20 years of success, another big change took place: thanks to an industrial revenue bond, the funds became available to build what is known as the “door plant.” Pixley Lumber could now build doors, as plain or fancy as customers wanted. No more ordering from outside sources.
This brings me back to the railroad statement. I honestly thought the trains came through the lumber yard each day. We’ve all been stuck by the unloading of rail cars at Pixley at one time or another. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty neat to watch.) Paul was quick to inform me that trains only come to the lumber yard twice a week, Monday and Thursday. And it’s not generally at lunchtime. He proved it to me, going so far as to pull up a website that allows him to track the trains. (No pun intended.) It’s akin to tracking a package from Zappo’s on the FedEx website. Ah, technology. On that day, he was able to show me that four trains were en route to Claremore, from locations like Kansas City and Missoula, Montana. So when you see a train slowing down at the Will Rogers crossing, it’s more than likely not Paul’s doing. Remember to #embracethetrain, kids.
One of the things that impressed me the most about Paul was his personal knowledge of his employees. Obviously, he’s grown up in the business and has worked there for years, but it takes a special boss to take an interest. He told me a great deal about several of his longterm employees, praising their virtues and skills. Of course, first on the list is his sister, Mary Warden, who manages the floor covering department. She has a penchant for interior design, and is quite knowledgeable about proper material installation methods. Not to leave anyone out, but he made note of Debi Taber, who has worked for him nearly 30 years, first as a cashier, now in specialty sales. Dean Ashbrook, who now takes care of outside sales, has worked at Pixley’s since the late 70s when he took a summer job during his time off as a high school math teacher. He never went back to the classroom. Account manager Connie Liggans (also Debi Taber’s sister-in-law) handles office management and bookkeeping. And Dave Ball is another thirty-years plus employee, who teaches small business management in online university courses. Paul’s wife, Beverly, is in charge of the HR department. And Paul’s sons, Mark and Chris, are poised to be the third generation of Pixley management.
The door plant is one of the business aspects that sets Pixley Lumber apart from your run-of-the-mill hardware store. Manager Alma Chancy has been in charge for the past several years. The diminutive woman can be often found on a forklift or climbing the rafters of the building. She demands perfection from her staff, and she often gets it. She’s a main reason why the door plant is so successful.
Ten years ago, competition in the form of a big-box store came to town. After 40 years in business, it was time to re-evaluate the Pixley strategy. Instead of giving up to the “big boys,” it was time for the Pixleys to go back to their roots. Today, the majority of the customers are contractors and professional builders, who are rewarded for their loyalty. (Don’t get me wrong, retail customers are still more than welcome. The friendly employees will be happy to help you! As Paul said to me, “You can ask to see Mr. Pixley. You can’t ask to see Mr. Lowe.”) Large-scale project bids are often headed by Pixley Lumber, such as the new RSU dormitory, Safenet Services, and new Claremore motels La Quinta and Hampton Inn.
It’s easy to see that Paul W. Pixley has dedicated every day to improve the legacy left by his father. Many family members work in the business, and all of them are devoted to the company. There is a reason they just celebrated their 50th anniversary last fall.
Pixley Lumber carries all of the necessary items to build a home, from lumber, plumbing, electrical and appliances. The retail customer can easily pick up paint, nails or appliances. To see all of the products that are in-stock or can be ordered, visit PixleyLumber.com.
Pixley Lumber is open Monday – Friday from 7a – 5p, and Saturday from 8a – 1p. Closed Sunday. To reach any of the long-term outstanding employees, or any of the other wonderful staff, customers are welcome to call 918-341-4223.
Keep it local, Claremore.