History of Madsen's
Late in the winter of 1936, Magnus Madsen headed back to the house with a letter that had just arrived in his mailbox. It was from his friend, Otto. A heavy coat protected Magnus from North Dakota's bone-chilling cold. Times were tough. Like most Americans, the years following the Great Depression were difficult. For Magnus, the frigid North Dakota winter made it seem worse. A letter from a friend was a welcome surprise.
Magnus's family had homesteaded in North Dakota after arriving from Denmark, but now Magnus had a young family of his own. North Dakota's harsh climate, coupled with poor economic conditions, made Magnus uneasy. This wasn't the life he had hoped for.
Several years earlier, Magnus's friend Otto had packed up his family and moved West. He occasionally wrote, and Magnus was anxious for news. As he opened the envelope, to his surprise, Otto had pressed a small crocus between the folds of his letter. Magnus held the flower in disbelief. The thought of a plant budding out West - when North Dakota was frozen solid - was unbelievable.
In the letter was another surprise; a job offer. If Magnus would move to a small town in Washington state, Otto would hire him. Magnus quickly weighed his options. "I'll be out in the spring... And thank you," he wrote. When warmer weather finally arrived in North Dakota, Magnus gathered his belongings. He stored a few tools in his parent's barn, loaded a two-wheeled trailer with the familiy's necessities, and sold the rest. With the trailer hitched to his '31 Buick, he loaded his family and headed West. After nearly a week on the road, they arrived in the small town of Chehalis, Washington. The two friends were happy to see each other. Otto, who had opened a Chevrolet dealership, helped Magnus settle in. He also made good on the promise of a job in his shop.
Right from the start, Magnus and his family liked Western Washington. They liked the temperate climate. The occasional summer rain was refreshing and they liked how green everything stayed. When late summer arrived, they couldn't believe the bounty of fruit that seemed to grow everywhere. They picked apples, pears, and berries. The taste of sweet ripe fruit was a pleasure beyond words.
Madsen's Repair Shop Begins
For the next ten years, Magnus worked steady. He bought a house, saved his money, and held on to the dream of one day owning his own shop. In 1946, World War II had ended, and Magnus felt the time was right. With borrowed money, he built a small wood-framed building in front of his home. It was located next to a busy road in Centralia, Washington. In bold letters, next to the single-bay door, read "Madsen's Repair Shop."
Before the shop was completely finished, work started to come in. Magnus was a talented mechanic and welder. He could fix anything with an engine, rarely turned away work, and had a reputation for being a fair man. Automobiles, trucks, farm equipment, and any engine powered device was welcome at Madsen's. One day, a customer brought in a new motorized tool Magnus had not seen before; a "one-man" chainsaw. Magnus was impressed. He was sure this tool was something his other customers would find useful. So, in 1953, he became a dealer for IEL chainsaws.
At first, sales were slow, but Magnus wasn't discouraged. His repair business kept him plenty busy. By the late fifties, sales of chainsaws had improved, but Magnus's health was failing. Fortunately, his son Ralph had been working with him and was able keep the small shop going. When Magnus retired, Ralph took over the business.
Magnus and Ralph shared many qualities, but differed some, too. One thing that had frustrated Ralph was his father's lack of a book keeping system. Magnus was a talented mechanic, but he believed records were a waste of time. For Magnus, his wallet was both the cash register and a filing cabinet. A few handwritten notes were all he felt was necessary. Ralph's approach was different. He believed for Madsen's to grow, he needed records. So, during the day, he worked at the shop, and at night, he did book work. Ralph's long hours paid off and Madsen's grew.
Madsen's Needs More Space
Along with growth, came the need for more space. In 1959, new walls encircled Magnus's original shop building. This extra space was enough to contain Madsen's for the next decade.
In 1970, a friend Ralph had attended high-school with, ran the regional Stihl distributor. Ralph liked Bill, and believed the brand had potential, so he became a Stihl dealer. By the mid-seventies, both the saw shop and auto shop were viable businesses, and Ralph saw a need to separate them. Again, the building was remodeled and expanded. Each business now had its own office and work area.
In 1980, Ralph's son, Sam, graduated from college. He had grown up working in the business and joined up with his Dad full-time. Ralph encouraged Sam to concentrate on the saw shop. Over the next few years, Sam added many new products. In 1984, one of those was the Husqvarna line. Along with an expanding product line, Madsen's was gaining a regional reputation for good service and low prices. Soon Madsen's had hundreds of customers - many in distant locales. Again, Madsen's needed more space. This time, instead of more construction, the auto and truck repair business was closed. The saw shop expanded into the empty space.
Throughout the eighties Madsen's grew, and in 1988, a warehouse building was built across the street from the existing shop. The new building doubled Madsen's working space, making it possible to handle truck-loads of merchandise. This, in turn, made it easier to buy products directly from manufacturers. Both Ralph and Sam knew aggressive buying was the secret to low prices. Madsen's customers soon felt the benefit of this warehouse and business grew accordingly.
In 1990, Ralph retired and his daughter, Mary, joined the business. Like Sam, his sister had worked at Madsen's while in school, but instead of joining up right after college, she worked outside the business as a CPA. Madsen's needed a first-rate accounting system and Mary's training and experience provided one.
In 1996, Madsen's celebrated fifty years in business. This year also marked the beginning of construction of a new facility. A larger parcel in a better location was acquired and contruction of a new building began. After keeping Madsen's original address for more than fifty years, Madsen's moved to the new facility in 1999. This project had taken over two years to complete and more than tripled Madsen's work space. It allowed for more phones and a streamlined order processing line. It also made room for a larger service area, high capacity pallet racking, and an improved loading dock. Everything from new displays to a larger selection of products improved Madsen's ability to serve pro saw users. Where else could you walk on logs when trying on a pair of calked boots inside the store? What other shop had the sizing and selection of over 2000 pairs of logger's jeans?
Seventy Years in Business
Now, two more decades have passed. Like their grandfather and father before them, Sam and Mary work to perpetuate the legacy of serving professional saw users. Like all organizations that endure the test of time, Madsen's has changed. While Magnus Madsen never imagined the Internet or the possibility that someday a computer would tell him how many parts he had on hand, he wouldn't be surprised two important things haven't changed - the value Madsen's places on professional customers, and their commitment to serving them.
Both Sam and Mary are quick to point out the history of Madsen's includes the contribution of many suppliers, terrific employees, and thousands of loyal customers. "Today we serve the sons, and sometimes grandsons, of early customers," says Sam. He adds, "Sure we sell great products, but people are the life of a business. Madsen's provides the opportunity to make friends and associate with a lot of great people. Our history is really about those relationships."