Business Q & A

A conversation with Leslye Woodard

Leslye Woodard and her husband, Gerald, are well-known fixtures in Maize, predominantly as the longtime owners of Woodard Mercantile and, more recently, as nascent developers with Leslye Woodard's sister LewJene Schneider.

The women, along with their siblings LewAnn and Lloyd, grew up on a farm and cattle ranch in western Kansas.

Today, in addition to owning the store, the Woodards are working with Schneider to develop more than 100 acres in Maize. Their first win was the west-side Wichita State University campus in 2006. They also have the approximately 60-acre Watercress residential development.

Unlike Schneider, who is known for sporting designer duds she discovers at thrift stores, Leslye Woodard usually can be seen in jeans and boots or even tennis shoes while tending to her store.

What was it like growing up on a farm?

"It's a great place for kids to grow up because... they learn work ethic and values that city kids don't understand."

Did you grow up thinking you'd like to own a farm?

"I didn't have a desire to do anything close to farming.... I wanted to go to the big city, I guess."

What did interest you growing up?

"We were constantly talking about cost and what we were selling (things) for. We knew when a cow died we were just out $600 or $1,000 or whatever the price was at the time.

"I just like to sell stuff. I like to make money. "Neither one of us ever intended to be in the retail business."

So you studied economics in college. What did you want to do with that?

"Not a clue. I like numbers, and I like finance, so I thought I wanted to be a stockbroker."

After a couple of years in the business, that didn't work out for you, though?

"I don't like calling people on the phone that much, begging for money. I don't like dialing for dollars.

"Life's too short not to have fun."

Then you bought the grain elevator in Maize, which led to the retail store?

"We were selling some stuff out of the grain elevator.... And then we kind of realized that carrying out small bags of fertilizer was a lot easier than scooping grain."

And that led to a newer, bigger store?

"We just realized about 15 years ago it wasn't a long-term answer to getting any bigger.

"We had to get somewhere where people would see us more.... That's when we decided we wanted to go out on Maize Road. That's where all the traffic was."

What all do you sell?

"Horse and cattle feed.... Feed for ducks and chickens and goats and koi fish. I mean, we have feed for just about every animal.... We do a lot of dog supplies. We also have pretty cool jewelry and purses.... Home decor. Western towels and dishes.... Lawn and garden supplies.... Chimineas. We sell a lot of grills. We sell a lot of boots and jackets."

Are customers surprised at certain items they find there?

"They're like, you have jewelry in there?"

How is business?

"Things are just constantly changing. You've just always got to be looking for that new idea out there.

"We have an extensive R&D department, which is really rip off and duplicate.

"It's just difficult to stay ahead of the curve all the time."

How is it working with your husband?

"You know what? We get along great. Some people can't work with their husbands.

"Rarely ever do our employees have to leave."

How did you become developers?

"The highway keeps telling us they're coming through (with the Northwest Bypass).... We wanted to stay on Maize Road.

"We originally were just looking for a spot for ourselves. (The landowners) told us we had to buy the whole thing.

"We ended up with more acres than, obviously, we needed."

So what did you decide to do with those 100-plus acres?

"We just had to develop it. We became developers by default."

Is that a good thing?

"Um, we hope so.

"It appears that development is moving this direction. The economy obviously has really taken a hit on commercial development and residential for that matter."

Speaking of which, how is Watercress doing?

"I'd say we're holding our own."

How do you think the new Menards at 37th and Maize will affect you?

"You know, we can't do anything to stop them, so our philosophy is we gotta take advantage of them and the traffic that they're going to generate.

"We might get a smaller slice of the pie, but hopefully the pie is a lot bigger.

"More business and more development is good for everybody around here, and it's good for the city of Maize, to be honest."

Anything keep you up at night?

"My husband would tell you I worry about everything, so I guess piddly stuff that doesn't really matter in the whole scheme of life."

What's one thing no one knows about you?

"That I was the 1984 Phillips County pie baking champion, and Gerald's still looking for the trophy. He can't hardly believe it."