Tom Seagraves is a man used to procedures and business plans. He’s a man who has worked in both management strategies and the soft logic of human relationships. A few years ago he took his decades of experience and began building a MAC Tools franchise here in Columbia, MO. He is now among the most productive toolmen in the company, ranking at the top in Missouri and in the top 120 nationally. His success is gaining recognition; recently Tom had an editor for Professional Distributor (a trade magazine) ride out with him on his rounds. He’ll be featured in an upcoming edition of the publication.
While drawing him for my Becoming the Student project, I took the opportunity to learn about his perspective on work and community.
Tom Seagraves, Graphite on Stonehenge, 21 by 22 inches. 2014.
On Building His Small Business:
“It’s satisfying to know that I built it from scratch. There was no one before me who handed it off. My customers are my customers. I didn’t acquire them from someone else. That’s been very satisfying.”
On Small Business and the Relationships it Creates:
“Operating a small business is hard. It is very hard. It feels like you get penalized – the better you do, the more taxes are tacked on. That’s the part that’s hard. But relationships make it all worth it. The relationships are the part that I love about it. I’m on a route, so I see the same guys every week. I’ve got those guys I love to see and we’ve got such great relationships. That’s really the fun part of what I get to do. And to have that trust develop; to have those guys to trust me. You know, if I suggest something to them: ‘Hey, this is a new thing, it costs this much, but you really need to have it and here’s why.’ All those guys just say, ‘If that’s what you think, I better have it.’ That trust and connection is huge to me.”
On Competition and Making a Difference:
“Competition is good for everybody. It’s good for the customers and it keeps us on our toes as business owners. I think the big lesson is that you can always learn something and you can always grow. But the other thing is that I’ve had opportunities to be used – I think by God – in other peoples’ lives. In the position I’m in – the relationships I have with a lot of people in this town – I think there have been days I’ve been able to be an encouragement. You get those days where you look at the clock and think, ‘I’ve got to hurry, I’m running late.’ But then there are those days where for some reason I’m ahead of schedule and I don’t know why. It seems like every time, that day, there’s someone who needs me. And then I’m able to have a conversation with someone about something they’re dealing with on a really deep level. It’s not every day, but those times happen. When I’m done with that I’m able say, wow, the Lord really worked that out. I’m so thankful to be used in those situations. Just with one word or in five minutes… that could be important for a guy. It’s easy to look at yourself and think you’re not making a difference in anyone’s life; you’re just making a living, just paying your bills. You get tied up in the mundane and then something happens. God cares about what happens, cares about the people I see.”
Tom and I also talked about the nature of art and portraiture. During our discussion I was able to break down a little bit of what the Becoming the Student project is about:
“It’s more than about making a nice picture for Grandma’s fridge. I mean, for the rest of our lives, when we see this drawing we’re going to think about this time. The drawing gets funded – it’s an investment. It’s an investment in relationship. It’s an investment in friendship and brotherhood. It’s an investment in intellectual history and proximity. It’s an investment in all of those things and, of course, that’s what it’s for. Drawings and paintings – artworks in general – have never merely been for accoutrement. They were always a way to mark time. They were a way to say, ‘We were here; we did this.’ So in that sense, this piece will not mean much to anyone else. But when we look at it, it’ll matter more. It’ll be different. Just in general I think it’s a very basic human urge to say, ‘This has happened and I know it. I have seen this thing, or I have read this passage or I’ve heard this song. It happened.’ I mean, the background of so many great songs is remembering. When you hear the song… you remember. It’s very similar for the makers and subjects of artworks. Learning from the people who sit for me will catalyze meaning in the artworks that result. I want to spend some time parked on that idea.”
I guess that’s a nice segue into the fact that some of the first Becoming the Student works will be on display at PS Gallery here in Columbia, MO! If you’d like to see the works in person, be sure to stop in (click the image below for more info)!