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Roger Matson and Action Rentals and Sales

Part 1 of 3

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[July 12, 2010]  "You don't realize what your kids are seeing in you until they do something like this." Roger Matson spoke with just a hint of pride in his voice.

HardwareHe was referring to a piece his daughter had written as a part of her college admittance requirement.

In the piece, she summed up what Matson stands for in life as a father and a local businessman, when she said, "He always thinks of others before himself."

Matson, who is the vice president and manager of Action Rentals and Sales on Lincoln's downtown square, will tell you that thinking of others first is something that he learned by example and is a part of what has made him a successful businessman in Lincoln for the past 25 years.

There are many people who help to shape a life, from parents and friends to pastors and co-workers, but for Matson the ones who stand out the most are those who assisted him through the education process.

"My teachers believed in me and gave me opportunities to grow," he said.

Matson recalls that even at a very young age in school, he had teachers who supported him and gave countless hours of their time to helping him become a successful student.

He noted that as a youngster he had difficulty with reading comprehension and that it was his teacher Catherine Abbott who worked with him for hours on end until he finally overcame that problem.

In high school, he had already developed an interest in retail business, and he noted that his teachers were very supportive and helpful. He named among others Larry Nelson and Wanda Lee Rohlfs, who took an interest in him and helped him achieve his goals.

During those early years he also developed much of his outgoing personality by being involved in clubs and organizations as well as his church.

He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout, played on the Lion's Club baseball team, sang in his church choir as well as at school, belonged to the art club, served as president of the high school business club for two consecutive years, and was a member of the Lincoln Aires Chorus.

In high school he participated in the diversified occupation program, working first for Key Pharmacy, then for the Stetson Fostoria Outlet.

He credits Connie McCullough, who was then the manager of the Stetson Outlet, as being a person who was very influential in his life.

"She took me under her wing," he said, "and really taught me how to deal with people."

After high school, Matson worked for a while for PPG Industries in Lincoln and Eaton, which was then Cutler-Hammer, and then went to work in retail for Decker Shoes, working in both the Lincoln and Chillicothe stores.


It was while he was at Decker's that he happened into a meeting with Henry Baird and Chuck Terry, the owners of a new business in town, Whippoorwill Rentals, and thus he began his career with that business.

Matson recalls the day: "I was working at Decker Shoes, and I got a call from Father McCarthy. He said, 'There is a new kind of business in town, and I really think you should go check it out.'"

By that time, Matson was married to wife, Julie, and he said he didn't even tell her that he was going to go visit with Baird and Terry. He just took off during his lunch hour at Decker's and went to see them. After nearly two hours with the men, he walked away as the manager of their new business.

The Whippoorwill store offered rent-to-own on furnishings and appliances and also a VCR and video rental program. It began with only Matson and one other person, but as they grew, more staff was added. 

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Early on, the business outgrew the Woodlawn location and moved into the downtown vicinity to a location on Broadway Street. There, they underwent a name change.

Going from Whippoorwill to Action, Matson said, had a lot to do with the phone book.

"Whippoorwill was at the back of the book, and I wanted a name that would put us up front," he explained. "We did a search for business names and found that there were no 'Action' businesses, so we took that name."

Matson explained that in the early years of the business, a large majority of his customer base were people who were on public aid. As such, they had needs, but very limited income, and sometimes very little understanding of their own finances.

When they came to Action, they were looking for multiple items that they needed. He said the first priority was to determine what they really did need versus what they wanted and then to help them understand what they could afford.

"You take on a responsibility when you have a business like this," Matson said. "You have to be more 'person-to-person.' There are ups and downs in everybody's lives, and you have to work with them on their level and on their basis."

In addition to just furnishing a home, there were times when the real needs of his client extended beyond what his business actually offered, but that didn't mean Action Rentals and Sales couldn't help.


Matson said that when it was warranted he's even gone so far as to buy cars for customers so he could set them up on the Action pay plans and help them out.

"At that time, there were a lot of rent-to-own businesses, but they were owned by larger corporations who wrote the rules," Matson explained. "But we weren't. I had the power to make the decisions and to work with people according to their needs, and that is what I did."

In the end Matson said that he gained the trust of those customers as an honest person who was interested in helping them to have a better life. That trust is part of what has kept those same customers coming back through the years, and now even into the second generation, their children also choose to do business with Action.

Today, the business is still owned by Henry Baird, who is a successful business owner in the Springfield area. Matson has moved up from being just the manager of the company to its vice president and said that he and Baird have always had a good working relationship as well as a friendship.

Baird has given Matson a free hand in how he runs the business and has supported all of his efforts to grow the business in the Lincoln area.

For Matson, Action Rentals and Sales has been a perfect fit for the last 25 years partially because it is a business where Matson feels that not only can he support his family, but he can support his community and help others along the way.

In the second installment of this Business Spotlight, Matson will talk about being a part of the community and supporting his fellow businessmen and women in their efforts to make Lincoln a great place to live and shop.



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