Before the big box stores took over, where did North Texans go for the necessities to make their business run? Many went to L.O. Nelson Office Supplies, a downtown Wichita Falls business staple for almost 60 years. Even after the store closed in 1994, a member of the Nelson family was still in the business of helping other businesses run. L.O. Nelson III has spent the last 16 years at the Midwestern State University Small Business Development Center, and will retire at the end of September.
Like others in the SBDC, Nelson III grew up in the family business. By the time he was 12, he was sweeping floors and stocking shelves – learning the nuts and bolts of business that still apply today. He worked at the store all through his teenage years, through vacations, and summers home from college. “I learned that business top to bottom, one end to the other,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s grandfather was a traveling paper salesman from Louisiana, with Wichita Falls on his sales route. He liked the area so much that in 1938 he moved his wife Alline, sister, and son L.O. Jr. here. L.O. Sr. opened L.O. Nelson Office Supplies in 1939 at 812 10th St. After his sudden death in 1953, Alline and L.O. Jr. took over the store, making Alline one of Wichita Falls’ earliest female business owners. The store moved to 917 Scott St. in 1963, the same year that Alline retired.
All while working at the store, Nelson was watching his father and learning from what he saw. “He taught me everything I knew,” Nelson said. “I’ve had a tremendous amount of experience and that has been a big asset to me.”
After college and graduate school, Nelson worked in the Department of Biochemistry at Purdue University in Indiana for 16 years. Then he started his own business, a private environmental and computer consulting business, which he ran until his return to Wichita Falls in the early 1990s. By then, his father’s health was declining so Nelson managed the store he grew up in until it closed in 1994. L.O. Nelson Jr. died in 1992.
Nelson joined the Small Business Development Center as a business analyst in 1996, becoming assistant director in 1999. During the last 35 years, he has trained others and worked in the areas of environmental chemistry, computer applications, and small business issues, so he has seen and worked through the same situations that come up for new businesses and existing businesses with growing pains. “Boy, can I ever relate to the problems that come up,” he said. “All of us in this office have had those experiences and can relate. Hopefully we can assist small business owners to overcome those problems.” With the help of a database, Nelson estimates he has spent more than 11,000 hours counseling approximately 1,500 clients.
Nelson is an avid racquetball player, advancing to the state senior racquetball championships three times, and winning his division twice. He is married to Sue Nelson and they have three grown children and four grandchildren. Sue retired in January 2011 after 17 years as Associate Director of Financial Aid at MSU. Retirement plans include spending more time with the grandchildren.
Nelson is well known for teaching workshops on using social networking and technology in today’s business environment and acknowledges the changes those tools have brought to the way businesses can operate and promote their services. Nelson’s grandfather made handwritten entries into a ledger book. Now, pen and paper may not even be used in record keeping. But Nelson said that some fundamentals remain the same. “However it’s done, you still need bookkeeping and marketing. You still need to get the word out about your service, and you still need to know how to deal with employees.” He will continue to help the SBDC with training workshops.
About his years at the SBDC, Nelson said that it had been rewarding to work with clients who themselves are working hard to make a difference in the business world. “I know that many are successful today, and if I had just a small part in helping them succeed, then I’m happy.”
A reception to honor Nelson will be held from 8-10:30 a.m. Friday, September 28, in the Dillard College of Business Administration’s east atrium near Starbuck’s.