When the doors opened on a small store across the street from the Tarrant County Courthouse in Fort Worth, Texas in 1918, no one could have predicted that those counters made of boards on barrels and washtub display cases would grow into a business empire that would have such a monumental community-wide impact.
With little more than $600 and a great deal of foresight, Marvin Leonard began business in a 1500 sq. ft. store. He was joined by younger brother, Obie Leonard, one year later.
Significantly, the business they created with the philosophy of “More Merchandise for Less Money” expanded most during periods of economic adversity. During the dark, early days of the Great Depression, they moved their store into its own block-long building, thereby creating new jobs and generating activity in the downtown area.
This kind of growth cannot be entirely attributed to the fact that the Leonard Brothers store, as it was known early on, carried merchandise as varied as stove bolts and fashions, saddles and pastries. More, it was a feeling Marvin and Obie were able to convey in their personal actions, and through their thousands of employees – to treat every customer as you would want to be treated.
This spirit of genuine concern for their customers led to innovations in merchandising. For example, the installation of one of the first escalators south of the Mason-Dixon Line drew 40,000 enthusiastic riders and sightseers during the first day of operation. Perhaps the most spectacular creation was the store’s own subway system. The M&O Subway Express carried passengers from a 14 acre parking lot into the store… for free. This creative approach brought shoppers thronging into the store. The result was that this system brought people into the downtown area to conduct other business, to their jobs and even to other stores. What the Leonard Brothers had done was to create a highly successful, even though small scale, mass transit system that benefited not only their business, but also the entire downtown business community. And the remarkable thing is; it didn’t cost the taxpayer a cent!
When the store sold to the Tandy Corporation on October 30, 1967, the complex covered six blocks, offered over 500,000 square feet of merchandise, and employed 1,800 people. Individually, and together, Mr. Marvin and Mr. Obie Leonard created a retail empire of worldwide fame and an outstanding record of civic contributions. To honor their many civic contributions, the Exchange Club of Fort Worth awarded the Leonard Brothers its title of “Citizens of the Year” in 1961.
Mr. Marvin, who died in 1970, expanded his business holdings to include oil, ranching, banking and real estate developments.
Besides the philanthropic activities which consumed much of his energy, Mr. Marvin had a “hobby” that embraced his recreational activities, his giving nature, and his business acumen: He built country clubs with extraordinary golf courses.
It is thanks to his desire for perfection that Colonial Country Club and Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth have courses recognized as being among the finest in the world.
His major sports contribution, however, focused the attention of the world on Fort Worth, for it was Mr. Marvin’s convincing nature that brought the U.S. Open to Colonial in 1941, and which resulted in the Colonial National Invitational beginning in 1946. His love and admiration for the game of golf culminated with building Shady Oaks Golf Course, the home course of legendary Ben Hogan, whom Mr. Marvin sponsored on the PGA Tour.
The Boy Scouts of America claimed Mr. Obie’s interest for over 40 years. He served as president of the Texas Longhorn Council for 13 years, and continued to serve as a member of the regional board of the Boy Scouts of America. As a leader in scouting, he was presented the highest BSA Council honor, the Silver Beaver. He was also presented the Antelope, the highest BSA Regional award. A ranch he donated to the council was named Camp Leonard in his honor.
Mr. Obie, who died in 1987, also had divergent business interests. He devoted a great deal of energy into ranching, pecan farming, oil and gas, mining, savings and loan associations, insurance, and holdings in commercial and industrial property.
Copper drew Mr. Obie’s attention to the mining business, and in the early 1970’s Zeotech Corporation was created to explore copper deposits for development. When the copper market began to fail in the early 80’s, Zeotech began its’ transformation into a mineral rock mining company.
Vast deposits of a unique mineral rock called zeolite were discovered in South Texas. This area, once covered by shallow seas and lagoons, was also subject to large deposits of volcanic ash from volcanoes erupting around 20 million years ago in modern day West Texas and Northern Mexico. The combination of ash and alkaline water created a unique mineral rock called zeolite.
In 1984, Zeotech built the first plant in the United States to commercially mine, process and package products from natural zeolite. Zeotech Corporation continues to create “Innovative Products from Natural Zeolite” through extensive internal research and development and cooperative research with numerous industrial companies, universities and governmental bodies.
Today, Zeotech Corporation is guided by Mr. Paul Leonard, Jr., Mr. Obie Leonard’s eldest son. In the truest fashion of his father’s concern for treating every customer as you would want to be treated, Mr. Paul is a “chip off the old block”.
Many of the vast business holdings started by Mr. Marvin Leonard and Mr. Obie Leonard continue today. Their indelible spirit remains as subsequent generations of Leonard family members continue to build upon the legacy of the two farm boys from East Texas.