The Hobby Lobby Way to Success

Growing up poor as he did, David Green learned to get the most out of everything. The company he founded still helps people do that.

By David Green, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

As appeared in

Have you been to Hobby Lobby?

A lot of people come to our stores, especially around the holidays, for arts and crafts supplies, home accents and more.

Our shelves are filled with picture frames, fabric, glue, beads, glitter, clay, ribbon, baskets, candle rings, table runners, wreaths...everything you might need to decorate your house and make gifts for Christmas.

We have more than 430 stores in 35 states, and I’m often asked how the company got started. The quick answer? With a six-hundred-dollar loan and a 300-square-foot retail space.

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For the real story, though, I’ve got to go back to the five-and-dime in Altus, Oklahoma, where I found a job–and something more–my junior year of high school.

Altus was a small town when my family moved there in my early teens. There was an Air Force base, a hospital, a post office, a dusty courthouse square with a few stores and churches–including the one my dad pastored.

We lived in a tiny two-bedroom house. My parents got one bedroom, my three sisters got the other and my brothers and I slept on rollaway beds in the kitchen.

To get to the bathroom, we had to walk through Mom and Dad’s room, and it was pretty common to see them kneeling by the bed praying–for an ailing church elder, for a neighbor family struggling to make ends meet. Maybe for our own family, because we were struggling too.

The congregation, all 35 members, did their best to help. They held “poundings,” bringing five-pound bags of flour or sugar or potatoes to worship, anything they could spare to feed our family. Still, there were plenty of times our cupboards were bare.

If company was coming, we would stock the fridge with “leftovers”–we’d put tinfoil over empty cans or plates on top of empty bowls, as if they were full. Folks had enough worries. No need to make them worry about the preacher’s family.

“We’re not poor,” Mom declared. “You’re never poor when you have something to give.” She crocheted doilies and made fried pies and sold them to raise money for missions.

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We kids were expected to work too. In the summers we picked cotton. As soon as the girls were old enough, they waited tables or worked in the donut shop.

“Someday I’ll get a job and bring something home for you,” I promised Mom. A new dining room set, I thought, or a sofa that didn’t have stuffing coming out of it.

“Just look for what you can do for the Lord,” she said. The problem was, I didn’t know if there was anything I could do for the Lord.

I couldn’t be a preacher or a missionary or a teacher. Unlike my brother, who was a gifted speaker, I could barely say a word in front of people. I got tongue-tied just giving a book report in English class.

My siblings all got excellent grades and were destined for Bible college. Me, I tried hard, but I wasn’t much of a student. I had to repeat seventh grade. Things didn’t get any easier in high school.

By junior year, I was just looking to sign up for classes where I wouldn’t have to speak. Math was a safe choice; I was pretty good with numbers. Then I noticed something called Distributive Education. “What’s that?” I asked a teacher.

“D.E. is a program that allows students to work for one of the businesses in town. You earn class credit and get paid too.”

Our family could use the extra money. “What kind of job would I get?” I asked.

“Sweeping up or putting away boxes,” he said.