Leo P. Schuckman Jr. was 18 in 1969 when he started working as a delivery man for Crawley’s Office Furniture.
“Now, looking back, it was delivery boy,” Schuckman says, laughing.
He’d just graduated from high school with no clue what he wanted to do – other than not work on his family’s farm outside of Schulte. He says Crawley’s was a fantastic alternative.
“Forty hours a week, and they give me this much money? It was easy.”
He gradually started doing other things at the business and eventually bought it in 1992.
Now the 64-year-old has sold his 12,000-square-foot building at 624 W. Douglas in Delano along with a 22,000-square-foot warehouse in the back and is preparing to close Crawley’s later this year.
“I’m going to have some people crying,” Schuckman says. “And others who are going to say … ‘Why were they still in business?’ ”
It’s a realistic question since the times have changed.
“Now you can go to Dillons and buy an office chair,” Schuckman says.
“We’re still breaking even or making a little money,” he says. However, Schuckman says, “The last five or six years hasn’t been near as much fun. It’s like treading water.”
He used to have six people working the front of the store, two warehouse workers and four full-time delivery people with two trucks.
“And they were running all the time.”
Now the employees are Schuckman and his wife, Janice, who works part time; one salesperson; two part-time delivery workers; and one truck that runs four days a week.
Medium-sized to small businesses are Crawley’s main customers. The store used to also sell to a lot of customers with home offices, but those sales dwindled as competition from new stores grew.
Schuckman says he’d keep his business a few more years if he thought it might rebound, but he doesn’t think it will.
“I’m tired,” he says.
“We’re tired,” his wife adds.
Though Schuckman says he’ll miss the social aspect of the business, he won’t miss everyone.
“Ninety percent of the people are great, but 10 percent can sure ruin your day.”
He says any retailer could tell the same story.
“Whether they say it out loud or not, they know it.”
Charles Crawley and Ralph Graham opened Crawley’s in the early ’60s as All Makes Office Furniture of Wichita, which they named after an Omaha company that’s still in business under its original name.
Crawley’s was briefly on Waco before moving to Delano, where it has been at two different addresses.
Schuckman says the store started with “one semi load of used office furniture.”
“They just kept growing.”
Graham died a few years after the store opened, and Crawley changed the name of the business. His successor, John Alexander, then sold the business to Schuckman.
Schuckman credits Alexander with teaching him “the KISS principle.”
“Keep it simple, stupid,” Schuckman says. “Which we always did.”
He says he’s survived “by just being very careful,” such as not borrowing money.
The Schuckmans sold their buildings to a partnership called Oak Street Partners, which is managed by InSite Real Estate Group.
“It’s contiguous to property we already own,” says InSite’s Dan Unruh.
“We just see this as an opportunity to secure kind of a long-term investment opportunity in the Delano market,” Unruh says. “We consider Delano to be a solid market for our business, and we consider Delano to be one of the best-located markets for commercial and office properties in the Wichita area.”
He says that at the closing at Kansas Secured Title, he said, “ ‘Well, I recognize these chairs, and I recognize this table.’ I thought, ‘This is great.’ ”
Schuckman says he can “walk into probably 50 percent of the offices in Wichita, and they have bought something from us. Not necessarily the whole office, but they have an item or two.”
The Schuckmans have signed a six-month lease with an option for month-to-month leasing through the end of the year.
Leo Schuckman says he’ll close somewhere between six months from now and Nov. 20.
“I’m locking the door Nov. 20, even if it’s not all gone.”
He says he’ll have 90 percent of his used and close-out items marked down starting this week.
“I’m making it cheap.”
The new lines of items won’t be marked down till closer to the time Crawley’s closes.
From the time Crawley’s moved into its current space in the early ’80s, Schuckman says, he’s seen some “pretty cruddy” buildings transformed by owners who have “spruced ’em up.”
“It’s really raised the value of the property, thank God.”
Schuckman credits road improvements in Delano and the addition of a clock tower and roundabout.
“That seemed to be the major turning point,” he says. “It’s drawn a lot of investment, like the partner group that bought mine.”
He says the Crawley’s building has seen a lot since it was built in the early 1920s. It once was home to a bowling alley, Civic Bowl, which was on the second floor.
Schuckman says there are still tin tiles under a newer ceiling that was put in at the building, and there’s a lot of brick under its walls, which people enjoy exposing these days.
The Schuckmans considered keeping the building even after closing the business. Leo Schuckman says, though, he may know retail, but he probably doesn’t know what he needs to about owning property as an investment.
“I’m a farm boy who happens to be a businessman.”