News Articles

Exec recounts Hobby Lobby’s ministry

SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP)–Steve Green’s father, David, started his retail career in high school through the DECA program. Never the model student, but with an affinity for math, David Green embraced the opportunity provided by the work program, starting the art-supplies store Hobby Lobby in a 300-square-foot space in 1972.

Thirty-six years later, the retail chain now operates 407 stores, reaching sales of about $1.8 billion dollars in 2007. The company operates in a 33-state area, with headquarters in Oklahoma City.

The family built the company not only on sound financial and business plans, but also on a legacy of faith that guides company-wide decisions. Hobby Lobby President Steve Green was invited to speak of how the company’s success yields opportunities for eternal significance by Oklahoma Baptist University’s Students In Free Enterprise group.

Green shared about a woman named Marie, a “preacher’s kid” and a preacher’s wife who had six children of her own — three boys and three girls. Finances were tight for Marie and her husband Walter. Living in a one-bedroom house, the family’s daughters slept in the bedroom, sons bunked in the kitchen, and Marie and Walter slept in the living room.

At times, Marie’s children had to go to school without shoes, and teachers would provide that staple need. If the girls invited friends over to play, they would put empty containers in the refrigerator so their friends wouldn’t see the bare shelves and realize the depth of their poverty.

Yet, despite the family’s struggles, Marie had a deep faith, trusting in God to provide and praying for her family. She also had a heart for missions, crocheting doilies to raise money for ministries. Her children caught hold of her faith; five of the six either became licensed ministers or married ministers.

But Marie was most concerned about the one child who didn’t choose a ministry career, the one who enrolled in a DECA program in high school and began a retail business he called Hobby Lobby.

Green recapped the growth path of Hobby Lobby, now known as Hobby Lobby Creative Centers: In 1974, the young company’s sales were $150,000; in 1975, sales jumped to $750,000 and the company added a second store.

“We’ve always been in a growth pattern,” Green said. “We’ve always grown as quickly and as well as we could.”

Yet in 1985, David Green, who continues in the company’s CEO role, called a family meeting and said he did not see how the business could survive. The oil boom had busted, directly affecting the Oklahoma economy. The company decided to simplify its merchandise, abandoning high-end products such as gallery art prints, luggage and ceiling fans.

David Green also felt God telling him, “This isn’t your company.” He chose to rely on God’s guidance. And in 1986, the company tallied record profits.

Steve Green calls those first 24 years of the company’s history “economic sustainability” — building a company that could survive the present and make a profit to survive the future. He said the success was built one day at a time.

“That is what Hobby Lobby was doing, struggling, decision by decision, action by action, making Hobby Lobby the success it is today,” Green said. “It was that endurance, that determination, that brought success.”

Green referred to the past 12 years of the company’s history as years of ministry. But he noted that ministry opportunities were a direct outgrowth of the company’s financial foundation and continued success in retail business. Today, anchored in the sound business plans of their retail chain, and with Marie’s legacy of faith to guide them, the family supports missions and ministries around the world, Green said.

“I don’t want you to think ministry became the focus — it didn’t, because we’re retailers,” he said. “But success allowed us to begin a season of ministry.”

In 1996, while looking at newspaper advertisements, David Green felt convicted that too many ads touted “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays,” with too few stating the truth of the seasonal celebration, a “Merry Christmas.” Starting with a quarter-page ad, then a half-page ad, and finally full-page ads, Hobby Lobby became known for sharing a Gospel message through newspaper ads during Christmas, Easter and other holidays.

Today, the ads run in 290 newspapers with an estimated readership of 44 million people, with Green describing the public’s response to the ads as overwhelmingly positive.

In 1997, the company chose to contribute to the ministry of “Book of Hope,” a booklet that harmonizes the four Gospels of the Bible into one message, addressing life issues from a scriptural standpoint. Children and students in more than 100 countries receive the booklets, with Hobby Lobby having funded production of 380 million Book of Hope copies.

In 1998, the company made the radical choice to close their stores on Sundays, their busiest day of the week, joining the practice set by Christian-owned Chick-fil-A.

“It helps our employees by allowing them to spend time with their families and worship,” Green said. “That would be our desire.”

Also in 1998, the company bought its first retail property to donate to ministry: a veterans’ hospital in Little Rock, Ark. So far, Hobby Lobby has purchased 43 properties valued at $200 million, donating them to churches, para-church ministries and other charitable causes. That same year, they funded the movie project, “End of the Spear,” about the martyrdom of five American missionaries in Ecuador by Woadani tribesmen in the 1950s. They also funded the related documentary, “Through Gates of Splendor.”

As the company continued to grow, and ministry opportunities began to arise, the Greens set a criteria for giving: They chose to give significantly to a few causes rather than give a little to many causes.

“We have to say, ‘no,’ a whole lot more than we say, ‘yes,’ which goes back to the policy to support a few ministries well,” Green said. “That means we have to be very good at saying, ‘no.'”

In the past decade, Hobby Lobby has added a full-time chaplain to meet employees’ needs. They engaged in “Every Home for Christ,” an effort to take the Gospel into every home in the world, with a goal of funding the message into 400 million homes; they’ve funded nearly 200 million already.

Green spoke of his personal faith; he and his wife Jackie and their six children are members of Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Okla. He encouraged OBU students to personally consider their faith, noting how important it is for each student to have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Marie died before she saw what her son David achieved: the successful retail art-supply chain; the affiliated companies such as Mardel and Hemispheres; the missions and ministries support worldwide; and even her own grandson sharing his faith and journey with students in nearby Shawnee.

Without a doubt, Marie could be proud.
Julie McGowan is news and media relations director at Oklahoma Baptist University.

    About the Author

  • Julie McGowan