Family Owned Businesses: The Swenson Family
● By Hood Magazine
If you’ve ever done any remodeling in your home and it involved a bathroom, chances are
you may have stopped at Handy Man Home Remodeling Center in Sioux Falls. What you might not know is the evolution of this family businesses that started back in 1946.
Joe Swenson is the grandson of S.G. Swenson, a farmer who long ago sold off all his farm equipment to open a hardware store.
“He was known as an honest guy in the community,” said Swenson. “My grandpa had the capital and my dad was available to work.”
The family learned that owning a business was not easy and the lessons passed on through the generations then and now is that it takes hard work and determination.
“They weren’t making money,” said Swenson. “In fact they didn’t even take a salary.”
Back then, rural electrification was taking hold. With electricity, comes in-door plumbing, flushing toilets, water heaters, wells and pumps. This is when they found their niche. They also found a family bond that would continue for years to come.
“They started selling pumps,” said Swenson. “My grandpa could go out and get the money ahead of time. They would get the pump and install it. That’s how we became a plumbing company.”
And the rest is history, but not without a few more bumps along the way. They tried a store in Brookings and Madison, but they closed due to no revenue.
In 1970, everything changed.
“Before then you couldn’t buy a toilet in Sioux Falls. You’d have to talk to a plumber and order it,” said Swenson, “It was kind of a new thing to be selling plumbing products direct to consumers and we started to do it.”
In 1970, the first Handy Man store opened. Swenson was in 7th grade. He was young, but
learned the value of team work and coming together as a family to work hard, even on the little things.
“I worked all summer painting boards and putting things together,” said Swenson. “Then I dug ditches for the plumbing and even made deliveries. “
Swenson graduated from college and landed back at the family business.
“I had no plans on working here.” said Swenson. “But something needed to be done so dad said, ‘Hey, why don’t you work on this.’ I accidentally got into it. From growing up here, I had the right experience.”
The same goes for his three brothers, Ted, Steve and Matt, who are also still involved in the family business. Swenson’s daughter Stacia is also involved, doing marketing and advertising for Handy Man. Stacia is Swenson’s oldest of four kids who also have experience working in the store when they were younger.
“You learn a lot, putting shelves together, painting some wall,” said Swenson. “My kids all learned a lot of life skills working here.”
While the life skills are great, Swenson says his store is about something bigger.
“It’s all about the customer,” said Swenson. “It doesn’t matter about the president of the company, all that matters is the person that comes in the front door who wants to do something. If we can’t help them because we’re doing something else, that is an epic fail.”