With Arvil Mitchell’s retirement today, it feels like the end of an era at Store 701 in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
“We’re going to miss him. He’s a character,” said store manager Kevin Little.
And talking to Mitchell? Well, that’s like talking to a Lowe’s history book.
Why is that? Because he can rattle off stories about all of the Lowe’s CEOs he’s met and worked with all the way back to Carl Buchan, who founded the company.
How is that possible? Because Mitchell has been an employee for 54 years. That’s right, he’s been part of the Lowe’s family since the Kennedy administration.
It all started in May 1963. Mitchell finished his sophomore year of high school and worked at a soda shop.
“I was making $24 a week and my brother-in-law, who worked for Lowe’s, told me I could make $48. I jumped at the chance.”
He needed a worker’s permit since he was 15 years old. His first job at Lowe’s? Insulating chicken houses. Don’t refresh the page – you read that right. Lowe’s sent him out to insulate chicken houses at poultry farms.“I was making $24 a week and my brother-in-law, who worked for Lowe’s, told me I could make $48. I jumped at the chance.”—Arvil Mitchell, retiring after 54 years at Lowe's
Soon, he moved on to building warehouses. These were the precursor to today’s stores. Mitchell went all over the Southeast nailing shingle roofs on warehouses, which ran much differently than the modern-day store.
“The sales were in front, so someone would make a ticket of everything the customer wanted. Then they would put that ticket in a tube, like at a bank, and send it to the back where I was. I’d put the order together and load it in the person’s car or truck.”
It was this touchpoint that turned Mitchell to where he would spend most of his career – delivering to the homes of customers as a Lowe’s driver.
“It was very important to me because we were the last time a customer saw Lowe’s, and it was our duty to take care of the customer,” Mitchell, 69, said. “They needed to be satisfied because they paid our salary. I loved going the extra mile.”
So how was he able to stay with the same company for so long?
“Because it always felt like family. I really appreciated it,” Mitchell said. “I loved meeting people and I really enjoyed my job.”
The wisdom he would like to impart to current or prospective employees is quite simple.
“Do the best job you can do,” he said. “If they didn’t want you, they wouldn’t have hired you.”
Although stores have changed formats, technology has advanced and Lowe’s has grown from a small-town hardware store in North Wilkesboro to a FORTUNE 50® company, Mitchell said one thing hasn’t changed: being customer-centric. And after today – he’s ready to be a full-time Lowe’s customer.
“I’m looking forward to just taking off with my wife, shopping and piddling around with her,” he said. “Go see our three granddaughters. They’re our pride and joy. Enjoy my vehicles and garden. And hang out with my friends every morning for breakfast where we solve the world’s problems, you know.”
Get some rest, Mr. Mitchell. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.
You’ve earned it.
Looking Back at 1963
Arvil Mitchell was a 15-year-old high school sophomore when he began working for Lowe’s in 1963, the year Beatlemania began:
Lowe’s stores: 25
Sales: $39 million
New stores: Charleston, South Carolina; Kingsport, Tennessee (below, top); Norfolk, Virginia; Princeton, West Virginia (below, bottom)
Popular songs: “It’s My Party,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Blue Velvet,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand”