gmhTODAY 08 gmhToday May June 2016 - Page 43

O ne of the perks of being the boss, jokes Mike Johnson, owner of Johnson Lumber Ace Hardware and the adjacent Johnson Garden Center in Morgan Hill, “is I get to wear shorts to work on a regular basis,” he says. The self-proclaimed former “surfer guy” who grew up in Santa Cruz may opt for business casual attire, but he takes the running of his family business very seriously. Mike is the second Johnson to run the business after his father, Keith, started the first location in Morgan Hill in 1980, which sold only lumber for its first twelve years. His oldest son Brett currently works with his dad, as well, in charge of lumber inventory and purchasing, and may be the next Johnson to carry the family torch when Mike retires, though he welcomes all three of his children to participate in the business. When Johnson Lumber first moved from Railroad Avenue to its current, prime location off Tennant Avenue in 1992, the business expanded to meet a growing demand for hardware. The Hollister store followed in 1997, the Salinas store in 2001, and the Morgan Hill garden center in 2006. Johnson Lumber had very little competition until 2004, when, just as they finished a massive store expansion to more than triple their square footage, the first corporate “big box” hardware retailer opened in Morgan Hill. While some businesses might have quaked in terror, Mike didn’t feel threatened. “We had no competition for so long, we knew it was coming,” he said. “Ultimately good competition either kills you or makes you better. Big isn’t necessarily better.” Certainly there’s a strong ethic of shopping small and local, and plenty of local efforts to attract shoppers in Morgan Hill, which may play a role in Johnson’s continued success. Johnson credits his success to having an enjoyable place to work, where you have fun while doing it. “If you have a good place to work where everyone is upbeat, it tends to lift people up and you create an environment that people want to come to.” He said his company has worked on that culture of cheer from the beginning. “My business card just says ‘customer service.’ You can buy anything we have from somebody else that, so we’re selling service every day and we have to live up to that.” Johnson Lumber employs approximately 150 people across its four locations, and Mike is especially proud of the longevity among employees. “My staff have been helping me run this business a long time. In retail you don’t see people staying on for ten to twenty years, but we have lots of fifteen to twenty year folks, and that’s the number one thing I like most about my business: we are super fortunate to have great folks in a lot of different areas. We’re all spokes in a wheel; if we all do our job, the wheel rolls really well.” Indeed, that culture of enthusiasm and hard work seems to be paying off: drive by Johnson’s lumber or garden center on nearly any day and you’ll find it bustling with DIY handymen and busy gardeners. “We’ve been supported so well by the Morgan Hill community,” he says. Morgan Hill’s support is something that Mike feels enthusiastic about repaying. “You want to support those who are supporting you, and because it’s the right thing to do when you have more than you need,” he says. Mike is known for generous donations to a variety of causes in town ranging from the Rotary Club to the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser, which has a personal element. “Everyone has lost someone to cancer,” he says. “My mother-in-law died of cancer, so that was easy to get behind.” He and his wife of 25 years, Suzie, are parents to three children, Brett, 26, Adam, 24 and Kaylie, 22, which makes them especially enthusiastic about supporting youth causes like the El Toro Youth Center and the Eagle Scouts. Though don’t expect to find him up on stage receiving any awards for his generosity; that’s not the reason he GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN does it. “I don’t attend many fundraising events because I don’t want to be the main focus,” he says. “I want to support Morgan Hill and we’re in a position to do it. That started with my Dad.” Uniquely, each store location limits its donations to within its community, so donations to Morgan Hill causes come only from the Morgan Hill store, as do the Hollister and Salinas locations in their respective communities. “I think if you enjoy where you live, you’re going to try to make it enjoyable for others, too.” Even after traveling away, he says, “As much as we love to travel, I love coming back to Morgan Hill. We’re in California, so we have beautiful weather, and we’re not jammed with traffic.” With recent improvements to downtown underway, there’s a feeling of expansion in Morgan Hill, which some hope will attract more people, and potentially more businesses to town, and some fear will eradicate that small town feeling. Johnson is a fan of “smart growth” and balance, and appreciates the small town feeling of Morgan Hill and it’s “cool stuff ” like the Community and Cultural Center, and other assets. “It’s two edges of the sword: the smaller you are, you don’t draw the big names in retail, but if you want to have more assets, you’re going to have more people. Right now, slower growth keeps the flavor where it is here in town, but if you need something you can make a twenty- minute drive to San Jose, or less to Gilroy. Morgan Hill is pretty relaxing.” He tries not to get heavily involved in expressing an opinion about the future of the town, however. “My job in business is to adapt and overcome. I go with the flow.” Mike Johnson and Dana Ditmore with Debbie and Mike Bond at the 2015 Leadership Morgan Hill Leadership Dinner honoring Dana Ditmore. Mike is a past recipient of the award. MAY/JUNE 2016 gmhtoday.com 43