SALT LAKE CITY — Gary Stillman was working at a gas station in Seattle when he got the piece of advice that set up his life.
He was sitting in a Rolls Royce that belonged to Stan Bekins, owner of Bekins Moving and Storage, the country’s largest moving company. Gary was a 19-year-old mechanic at a Shell station on Magnolia Bluff and was taking Mr. Bekins home so he could drive the Rolls back to the garage for service.
“I want to tell you something: You will never be happy working for someone else,” said Bekins, who over the months had struck up a friendly relationship with Gary. “There’s just something in some people where they’ve got to do it themselves. I was your age when I knew that, I can see the same thing in you, and I wanted to give you some sage advice.”
That conversation took place in 1969. Forty-seven years later, Gary can still recall it word for word because he’s spent the past 43 years as owner of Stanfield Shutter Company, proving Mr. Bekins absolutely right.
Not long after their talk, Gary, who grew up a Mormon boy in Kalispell, Montana, moved to Salt Lake City, where he, predictably, found his wife, Jeanine, and less predictably, found a business he could call his own.
He and Jeanine had barely settled into married life in the summer of 1973 when he saw a classified ad in the Deseret News with the heading: Working partner wanted.
Gary sent a reply to the post office box designated in the ad — which is how the world worked before texts and emails — and was soon contacted by Paul Stanfield, owner of Stanfield Shutter Company of South Salt Lake.
For a quarter of a century, Paul had run what amounted to a one-man show, fabricating and selling louvered window shutters to homebuilders, home remodelers and developers. Now he was approaching retirement age and had recently suffered a heart attack. He needed a right-hand man.
Gary started work in January and by June Paul was gone to Florida. After that, in February 1974, Gary bought the business outright, agreeing to a 20-year plan to pay it off.
At 26, Gary Stillman was his own boss.
He remembers the thrill that first day he got to work and unlocked the front door — a feeling that has been recurring every morning since.
“It’s an excitement that never goes away,” says Gary, who at 68 is still the first person at the office every day, and, after recovering from a stroke he suffered six years ago, shows no signs of retiring.
Neither he nor the business has ever stood still. Early on, Gary decided he’d rather build his own shutters rather than purchase the shells from someone else. He became the only shutter supplier in the West that “brings lumber in the back door and sends shutters out the front.” On top of that, Stanfield Shutter does the installation.
All nine of his children have worked for him at one time or another. Three sons and a son-in-law still do. Gary Jr. is the company’s technical chief, Wesley is production foreman, David is office manager and Chancey McNeil, who married Gary and Jeanine’s daughter Mary, is sales manager.
Every month, some 23 people receive paychecks courtesy of Stanfield Shutter Company.
Ask Gary for advice about how to pull something like this off, and he says this: “Well, I guess I’d say keep the debt manageable, keep good books, know your product, marry a good woman who knows you inside and out, don’t run away with the money and hire good people — like Grant Petersen, who’s been my draftsman and designer for 41 years.”
Stanfield Shutters turns 70 in 2017 and Gary sees an even brighter future, owing to the rogue president about to move into the White House.
“I sense more energy now than in a long time,” he says. “I hadn’t seen a Christmas rush for eight years, but this year at Christmastime I was sold out to the end of January. I believe in freedom and the American way. I think that’s been muddied up a bit, but I’m seeing a resurgence. I think people are excited.
“The free market works,” he proclaims proudly, and then looks over at his boss, who agrees with him absolutely, 100 percent.