Greg’s Saw Center
If there’d been hyphenated Americans in the twenties, Greg Bobeen would have been born a Bohemian-American, but as it was, he was simply born American, 1925 in Troy, Missouri, long before the rhapsody made famous by the rock band Queen hit charts celebrating Bohemian heritage.
Greg was born into a family of farmers and would have grown up to be a farmer had it not been for the great depression, which cost his family the farm. Having learned all he felt he needed to accomplish his life goals, or possibly to provide for his struggling family, after completing the ninth grade he began delivering ice for a local ice company. Since Missouri’s electric cooperative, founded in 1937 had only begun to reach small towns and had yet to provide service to rural areas, most homes were equipped with an ice box which depended on a large block of ice to keep perishables cool. Greg enjoyed his time as an ice delivery truck driver and met many who would later become customers.
By 1943, electric service was more widely available, ice boxes were gradually being replaced by refrigerators, ice delivery business was waning, and America was at War—Greg enlisted in the Navy. He served America as a Navy Corpsman, primarily in Saipan, until war’s end.
Following an honorable discharge from the Navy, Greg rceturned to Troy and found work managing a local two bay Texaco Service Station. The owner made it clear to Greg that he planned to eventually hand the filling station over to his son who would soon be graduating from high school. Drafted soon after high school graduation, the owner’s son headed for Korea. Greg was to manage the station until the owner’s son returned. The war experience rendered the owner’s son unable to properly manage the station. Once again, with the bad comes the good. Rather than turn the station over to the son, the owner chose to sell the business to Greg.
And then there’s the case of how Greg met Mary Ann. He was on a double date with his girlfriend (not Mary Ann), her brother and his date (Mary Ann). The details are no longer known but Greg saw Mary Ann home and his date and her brother found themselves single again. As it turned out, Mary Ann and Greg had attended the same grade school, but since she was a few years younger, they’d never met. She too had Bohemian ancestry. They were meant to be.
Married, and then the owner of a filling station, Greg took the initiative to supplement the service station’s revenue. Since there was an abundance of logging operations nearby, Greg began selling McCulloch chainsaws. After selling only twenty chainsaws the first year and providing unparalleled customer service to the professional loggers, the word got out and Greg sold nearly two hundred saws the second year. McCulloch proved to be a popular brand of saw for several years and established Greg as the chainsaw dealer preferred by professionals throughout northeastern Missouri.
Revenue generated by small engines eventually exceeded that generated by traditional filling station services. Greg took on additional lines of chainsaws and for a short time offered other power tools as well, including mowers, tillers, and go-carts.
In 1967 one of their loyal logging customers began asking about Stihl. Greg, having already proven that he wasn’t opposed to trying a new brand, contacted Don Crader, the local Stihl distributor. Greg placed the minimum order to become a dealer, three saws, sold one to Prater Brothers of Moscow Mills, and once other loggers saw what the Praters were using, the other two saws sold soon thereafter.
By 1971 the power equipment business, originally intended as a supplement, had far eclipsed revenue generated by traditional filling station services. With the intention of slowing down and reducing his work load, Greg moved to a small but more suitable location on the outskirts of town, named the business Greg’s Chainsaw Center, and began selling only chainsaws—Stihl, Homelite, and McCulloch.
In spite of Greg’s intentions to semi-retire and slow down, the business continued to grow. Rather than slowly reduce the volume of business in his small one-man shop, his focus on chainsaws resulted in Greg’s Saw Center becoming one of the leading shops for chainsaw sales in the northeastern quarter of Missouri. By 1976 Greg decided that the only way out was to sell, but just as with his plans to settle slowly into retirement fifteen years earlier, the business wouldn’t be sold.
Paul, the third of four children, then attending Truman State University, had spent too many days at the shop during his formative years to see it go. He temporarily left Truman to help out a few days and never returned. Like his father before him, he’d learned enough to be successful.
Instead of coming home from college with a degree, Paul returned with a wife, Paula, who he’d met during his years at Truman. Paula began a noble career as a teacher, while Paul began his with the greatest mentor a man could ask, his father. Greg passed away in 2007 leaving behind an enduring legacy.
Forty years after moving to the pre-retirement location where Greg planned to dial things back, Greg’s Chain Saw Center sells Stihl and Stihl accessories exclusively. Paul’s nephew, Lance, also having spent many Saturday’s at the shop sweeping and cleaning, in exchange for two Kennedy half dollars, all of which he still has, joined Paul in the business, doubling the size of the staff. Paul and Lance, a two man show, sell nearly a thousand units a year and continue to service units sold decade’s earlier.
During my visit at Greg’s while gathering information for this story, a long-time customer appeared with a saw purchased new in 1971 and needed the chain sharpened. Lance sharpened the chain while the customer bragged about Stihl and making sure that Paul and Lance realized that the forty five year old saw was used only on stumps. Ironically, the model of saw, Homelite EZ, matched the saw featured on one of the legacy outdoor signs, likely the same age as the saw.
In the era of big box chain stores and Amazon.com, small independent shops struggle to compete. For every rule there is an exception—Greg’s Saw Center is an exceptional exception. There’s every reason to believe the two-man shop will be successful well into the third generation, selling Stihl, exclusively.