Bill Child

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Bill Child was the owner of the R.C. Willey furnishings chain. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Warren Buffett, one of America's richest men, purchased the R.C. Willey chain of stores from Child in 1995.

Bill Child grew up on a small family farm. He didn’t have business aspirations; instead, he wanted to teach. He earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate from the University of Utah in 1954 and planned on taking a teaching job in his hometown. His father-in-law, Rufus Call (R.C.) Willey, unexpectedly died leaving the key to his business to Child and asking him to look after it. Looking after it, for his father-in-law, involved overcoming the store’s debt, the IRS audit that was underway, and finding a way to work with the local bank that wanted to recall the store’s loan. Child's brother Sheldon assisted him in the company.

R.C. Willey furniture stores began as a small operation in Syracuse, Utah, with $250,000 in annual sales. Their earliest television commercials ended with a jingle telling viewers when and where shoppers could come, but "Never on Sunday." Buffett was expected to keep this tradition when he took over the chain, and Child turned down more lucrative offers for the company in order to control this and other aspects of the business. Child had already decided to take the company outside of Utah, especially since R.C. Willey already claimed over 50% of Utah's market share.

Child wanted the first store outside of Utah to be opened in Las Vegas, NV, but Buffett felt the Sunday closing would cause the business to fail. Statistics showed that 23% of home furnishing sales were transacted on Sunday, and analysts figured that would increase to about 35% in Las Vegas. Child suggested Boise, Idaho, as an alternative, but Buffet refused, thinking Utah was the only state where a furniture store closed on Sundays could succeed, and knowing there were already entrenched businesses in Boise that were open on Sunday. Child decided he would rather not expand his business, if it meant compromising his principles. Pursuing a new idea, Child offerred to purchase the land and erect the building personally (a $9 million investment), and then watch the business for six months to see if it was successful. Buffett agreed, but with the caveat that the business had to do $30 million the first year to be considered successful. Child agreed, and offerred to sell the store back to Buffett at cost, if it were successful. Sales exceeded $4 million the first month in Boise, and $50 million the first year. Buffett was so impressed, that he featured the success story in the Annual Chairman's Letter, issued to Berkshire Hathaway's shareholders, spotlighting Child's unshakable religious convictions.

Child said, "Closing on Sunday allows everyone in our business to refresh and do their church work. If you miss church a few times, soon it becomes a habit. We have been able to attract better people to work for us because of this rule. They have worked at other stores, but change to work for us just because of this reason. Closing on Sunday pushes you to be better than your competition. It is an incentive to do a better job, have better pricing, better products, and better service. We have to be innovative. We have to be creative in our advertising, offer more and better" (as quoted in Meridian Magazine). [1]

R.C. Willey now has stores in Utah, California, Nevada, and Idaho. In every location they outpace their competition. The store locator page on the R.C. Willey website states the following: "Regular Store hours 10:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday."

Child continues in the company as Chairman of the Board. BYU-TV broadcasted a documentary about his rags-to-riches story in 2011.[2] He also contributed to the Mormon Channel “Why I Believe” series.[3]

He was inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame and serves on many advisory boards, including The David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and the President’s Leadership Council at Brigham Young University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of business degree in 2012 from Utah Valley University. University president Matthew S. Holland said, “Bill Child is the exemplary businessman. His vision, work ethic and integrity helped build R.C. Willey into a regional retail giant. Equally impressive are his philanthropic accomplishments. He has used his money to support many worthwhile causes and organizations.”[4] He has received several other honorary doctorate degrees: Humanities from Weber State University in 1983, business from Westminster College in 1998, humanitarian letters from Salt Lake Community College in 2002, and business from the University of Utah in 2003.

He and his wife, the former Darline Willey, had four children. After her death in 1965 at age 31, he married Patricia Wright and they are the parents of four children.

Read more in How to Build a Business Warren Buffett Would Buy: The R.C. Willey Story, by Jeff Benedict, with a forward by Warren Buffett.