Brad Johnson grew up helping his father, Stan Johnson, around the family business. While other children were outside playing in the grass together, Brad Johnson was surrounded by screws, planks of wood and automotive parts.
“On Saturdays, instead of playing with friends I was helping dad at the store,” he said. “I spent my weekends cutting pipe.”
One of Brad Johnson’s earliest memories was pushing his dad around the store on a large dolly while his dad counted inventory after Stan Johnson had knee surgery.
All the hard work paid off, now that Brad Johnson is the president of the Johnson Home and Garden store in Maple Valley.
Brad Johnson works closely with his uncle J. Johnson, vice president, at the family store. This year the family is celebrating a large milestone, 50 years of being in business together.
“Working with family has its own challenges,” Brad Johnson said. “But it’s been great. We have dedicated customers.”
The store is a staple in the Maple Valley community. It started in 1969 with Stan Johnson, who was looking for a full-time job.
“It was Christmas Eve (1968) and my dad and brother were talking,” J. Johnson said. “And my brother was complaining about his current job. And my dad, who was selling real estate here in Maple Valley, said ‘Well Maple Valley doesn’t have a hardware store. Why don’t you open a hardware store in Maple Valley?’ And the next business day my brother contacted a representative and found a site at Wilderness Village. And by April (1969) he opened a hardware store. Brad, your dad didn’t waste any time.”
The store was first called Wilderness Hardware Inc., named after its location. In 1979, a new building with more space was built at the Four Corners site, according to the company’s website, and Wilderness Hardware became Four Corners Hardware.
“The naysayers said leaving a shopping center and opening a freestanding store would result in bankruptcy in six months. Instead, the sales doubled in the first year of business,” the website states. “An 8,500 square foot addition was added in 1989. In 1991, the 20-year affiliation with Coast to Coast Hardware ended, and the new Do-It-Center Hardware name was adopted to tie with our new co-op, Do-it-Best. Do-it-Best, a $2.4 billion company, allows us to have the buying power needed to compete with larger box stores.”
During this time, Brad Johnson decided to step away from the family business and carve his own path.
“Originally, I didn’t want to run the business,” Brad Johnson said. “I went to college at (Western Washington University) and got a degree. I got my ‘real job’ that I worked at for 10 to 15 years doing different things.”
But the hardware and gardening business had become a family passion. J. Johnson married his wife Karen Johnson at a hardware convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1997.
“We figured we had 2,000 of our closest friends at our wedding,” J. Johnson said.
In 1997, Brad Johnson became interested in the business after Stan Johnson told his son his uncle, J. Johnson, was thinking of selling, Brad Johnson said.
“I thought it needed to stay in the family somehow,” Brad Johnson said. “So, I talked to J. and he decided to give me a chance to work the store and see if it was something I wanted to do. And 22 years later…here we are.”
J. Johnson said his nephew really reconnected with the business at his wedding.
“He came and remembered the fond times he had,” J. Johnson said.
Between then and the early 2000s, the Johnson family opened multiple retail stores.
In 2013 the family moved their multitude of businesses to the 35,000 square foot building at 26625 Maple Valley Black Diamond Rd SE. The last 22 years provided its own challenges, but the family business has flourished despite the changing economy and the rise of the internet.
“It’s because we are close to the community,” Brad Johnson said. “They are important to us and we are important to them. We support them through donations and sponsorships to things like Little League and the Eagle Scouts.”
To celebrate 50 years of family history and business, the Johnson family is hosting a two-day party, which will include games, contests, a hardware-style ribbon cutting and more.
Brad and J. Johnson both said the 50-year mark kind of snuck up on them.
“I got 46 of my W-2s from this store,” J. Johnson said.
Besides the support of the community and family, Brad Johnson said one of the main reasons the store has been a success is the employees.
“I have 50 employees and they are the 50 best reasons to keep this store open,” Brad Johnson said.
Some employees have been dedicated to the Johnson family since the 1970s. Others are locals who grew up going to the store and decided to work there as a first job while in high school.
For the family, another 50 years is in the cards. Serving the community they love by solving customers’ problems is a passion.
“People come in with an issue and we fix it,” J. Johnson said. “It’s the best part.”