Meagan McCoy Jones recognized family behind an ad that ran in a 1980s Tyler newspaper.

“We are a major Texas building materials retailer whose aggressive expansion program creates a need for hard-working, ambitious individuals to grow with us,” Jones said, reading the ad Tuesday at a meeting of the East Texas Builders Association in Longview.

Jones is president and chief operating officer of San Marcos-based McCoy Building Supply.

The ad, which was seeking management trainees, said applicants must be willing to relocate.

“If you are this type of person, please request an application,” the ad concluded.

Jones laughed, saying, “I think my dad (company CEO Brian McCoy) wrote that copy. That reads like every McCoy child’s invitation to work in this business. Are you this kind of person? Then come have a job.”

It’s tradition for McCoy children to begin working in the stores even before they can drive, with Jones showing a photo to the builders of her and her older brother. He was 16 at the time, and she was in middle school. He worked in the yard, she said, and she worked inside in the store.

She went on her first store visit with her father when she was 7 or 8 to a store in Brownwood. It was one of the few stores in the company at the time managed by a woman. Jones said she suspects her father knew that if she was going to be interested in working in the family business, she should start seeing people who look like her.

Jones shared her passion for family businesses when she spoke to the builders at Tuesday’s gathering in Longview, encouraging them to think about how they define success.

“When family business is good, there’s just nothing better. It is so good,” she said. “And when it is hard, it is really, really hard. We have lived and continue to live kind of the extremes of that experience.”

McCoy’s began in Houston first as a roofing company started by her great-grandfather Frank McCoy. He moved the business to Galveston in 1927. Then, in the 1940s, Frank’s son, Emmett, moved the business into a new venture — selling building supplies to the public. McCoy’s Supply Co. was born.

The Longview McCoy’s Building Supply opened in 1983 on Alpine Road, Jones said, showing pictures of the original buildings and another picture showing how much the store has expanded.

The store originally sat on 3 acres and was constructed for a little under a half-million dollars.

“There’s no way we could be doing that now,” she said.

At that time, McCoy’s had 38 stores, with 15 employees in Longview. The business grew to a height of 110 stores but later contracted to a low of 83.

“We’ve had highs and lows just like any business,” she said.

In particular, she remembered the years when Lowe’s and Home Depot were expanding, about the time she was working in the store in middle school.

McCoy’s had been an all-cash business. It didn’t offer credit, and delivery services were limited at that time. The stores usually had the least expensive merchandise in town, she said, and was one of the first in the state to bring in treated lumber.

“We had some things really going for us, but when Home Depot and Lowe’s moved into markets across the states — first really big markets and then mush smaller markets — we didn’t have a plan that could compete with that,” she said. “That’s the McCoy’s era I grew up in. It was the reason for having to totally adjust the business plan.”

Now, McCoy’s delivers more than half of everything it sells with its own fleet of trucks and drivers. A “huge” distribution center northwest of Austin accommodates 16 rail cars and delivers to about 50 McCoy’s stores.

“I don’t know anything about running distribution. I’ve never unloaded a rail car myself,” she said, although she has unloaded “plenty of trucks” delivering to a store.

“One of the things I’m learning in this whole process … there are parts of the business as you grow that are just beyond your own expertise, but figuring out who in your team can be a part of that expertise is how you can become more relevant to your customer.”

The most important question her family has wrestled with is “what counts as success,” Jones said.

“That question, when we are unified on the answer, allows us to do a ton of really cool things, but when we are not unified on that answer is when it’s a disaster,” she said.

If success is about profit, she said, the business is too hard not to just sell it and do something else.

“Thankfully, that’s not the only thing that counts as success,” she said. “We need to be profitable enough to reinvest and to stay open and to serve people well. Profit’s not everything.”

She told a story about her academic adviser in college who changed his life after seeing an Eddie Bauer ad that said, “never confuse having a career with having a life.” Her adviser later later gifted the ad to her.

It led her to questions she said are worth wrestling about in family businesses: what do you enjoy; what are you good at and can you make money at it; what are you willing to let go of and what are you afraid of?

“I’m fourth generation, so I’m deeply afraid of failing. I have really great history and legacy. To screw this up would be really sad. I’m working not to do that,” Jones said. “If I’m not real honest I’ll start making decisions that are about preserving myself instead of doing what’s right for the business. I wasn’t sure we should be buying that distribution center. I definitely wasn’t sure we should have put all the money into that we did.

“One reason why we had building products in Longview, Texas, this year is because we did that,” she said. “I have to be careful that my own fear doesn’t get in the way of what is right for the business and the team and the customers.”

For her family, success has been led by staying together. She recounted her parents’ struggle to stay together after 15 years of marriage. They stayed together with the help of a marriage counselor, prayer and “a lot of God’s grace,” she said.

“What is amazing is my parents just didn’t quit on their relationship and even more than that learned to deal with their conflict, to keep investing in each other,” she said.

That was just before Home Depot and Lowe’s “started smacking McCoy’s,” she said, adding that at that time, McCoy’s would see sales drop 50% within two years of those stores entering a market.

“By maybe grace and providence, their journey as a couple got them to a better place right before that happened, and we were working our way out of it,” Jones said. “There’s no doubt in my mind my Dad could not have led the company without my Mom by his side.”

It did wonders for her family to decide what counts as success, and she recommended it to other family businesses.

“We have always been a profitable company, but in our leanest years those were single-digit profits…,” she said. “It was narrow, so what counted as success was the ability to keep moving the company forward and hold the family together.”

That perspective changes how people approach business decisions, she said, adding that she thinks of this in relation to her own two children.

“I want them to inherit unity more than I want them to inherit the business,” she said.

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