Shop Talk

Family at root of Raleigh’s Logan Trading Company

John B. Robertson pots pansies at Logan's. The company’s owners are retiring later this year.
John B. Robertson pots pansies at Logan's. The company’s owners are retiring later this year.

When Robert Logan Sr. was diagnosed with cancer in 1983, his son had long since made up his mind to take on the responsibility of running his family’s business.

Robert Logan Jr. said his father intended for him to manage the company “for the benefit of our family, for as long as I wanted.”

So for more than 30 years, the younger Logan and his wife Julie have operated Logan Trading Company, a Raleigh gardening store they’ve navigated through challenges that include changing its focus, moving and preparing a third generation to take over when they retire later this year.

The business celebrates its 50th anniversary this month.

“Having a company last for two generations is a real success,” the younger Logan, 66, said. “Having it go for two or three generations is remarkable.”

In 1965, the elder Logan began selling everything from strawberry jam to plywood out of an underutilized, abandoned building in the old farmers market, which was on Hodges Street, off Capital Boulevard.

He had been a grocer before opening his business, so selling produce was a natural fit for his father, the younger Logan said. But it was railroad salvage that turned out to be truly lucrative.

So the elder Logan secured a contract with a railroad company, allowing the farmers market business to sell damaged goods — things like cans bent out of shape during shipment. The younger Logan estimates the company grossed close to $100,000 in its first year.

Transitioning to plant sales

Business was good until the early 1970s, when the family abruptly lost their contract with the railroad company. The younger Logan said his father had to borrow money to make it through those few years.

“That was a period of time that was a little bit more of a struggle for us,” the younger Logan said. After seriously considering dedicating his life to ministry, he committed to the business full-time in 1973.

It wasn’t long before a new venture presented itself. Growers began approaching the Logans to see if the they would sell their plants. In gardening, the family found a community demand.

“It was really a matter of what was selling,” the younger Logan said. At the time, the economy was on the rise and more people were upgrading their yards, so Logan Trading Company began transitioning to a garden store. They also adopted the retail name “Logan’s One Stop Garden Shop.”

The elder Logan died in 1984, and his son assumed ownership and management of the company. His five sisters, Jackie Logan, Linda O’Keffee, Janet Bowers, Rita Bristow and Debby Rodden, were also involved.

In the late 1980s, the younger Logan started searching for a new location. The farmers market was moving and too far away from downtown for his taste. From the beginning, he had had his eye on what was then a vacant Seaboard Station. After an unsuccessful attempt to buy the lot, the family managed to strike a deal with CSX Railroad Company, owners of the lot, in 1989.

Many people thought the younger Logan “was crazy” for choosing that location, said Leslie Logan Brown, his daughter. He ended up investing more in repairing the place than he spent to buy it. According to Wake County’s real estate data website, the property was purchased in 1990 for $450,000.

To make the space usable, the owners fixed a leaking roof, replaced rotting rafters and paved over the railroad tracks to make way for rows of plants. For almost ten years, Logan Trading Company was basically alone as a retailer in that part of Raleigh.

Seaboard Station and the area surrounding it was abandoned and decrepit, a “ghost town,” Logan Brown’s brother, Joshua Logan, said about how he remembers the now-bustling commercial center in the early 1990s. He remembers the ugly warehouses and the vandalism the family confronted in the business’ first years after relocating.

But as the city grew up, so did Seaboard. Joshua Logan said 75 percent of the structure of the warehouses were demolished and rebuilt, and by 2004, businesses were moving into the new spaces in the center, which is near what’s now William Peace University and about a half of a mile from the State Capitol building.

Soon Logan’s was surrounded by retail that included a hardware store, restaurants and Capital City Grocery, which closed in 2008.

The younger Logan said the company has brought in about $5 million in annual revenue over the past five years. Each year, about 300,000 people visit the store, logging between 60,000 and 80,000 transactions, he said.

Passing down the store

In recent years, responsibilities have shifted from the family’s second generation to its third. Joshua Logan, 33, and his sister, 37, are tasked with continuing the family legacy and adapting the business to an increasingly young urban customer base in downtown Raleigh.

“Logan’s is an inheritance,” Logan Brown said. “It’s a valuable token my family has worked very hard for.”

The siblings split management responsibilities — Logan Brown handles administration and manages employees, while Joshua Logan oversees inventory.

Logan Brown, a mother of three, is an excellent organizer by her brother’s description. Joshua Logan, a newlywed, described himself as more of a visionary. He wonders how garden shops will evolve in the coming decades.

Consumer interest is changing in Raleigh. Many of Logan Trading Company’s customers are new to gardening and more interested in organic food and sustainable living than in years past. Logan Brown said 20 years ago, few people cared about organic foods. In order to expand the business and keep up with customers, she said they’ll need to cater to younger families with interests distinct from their Baby Boomer parents.

“We have had to make a lot of transitions to better relate to our younger employees as well as our younger consumers,” Joshua Logan said.

The foundations created by their grandfather are still dear to Logan Brown and Joshua Logan.

Logan Brown’s two teenagers have expressed interest in making a career out of Logan Trading Company, and the Logan siblings would love to see the company owned by a fourth generation one day. Neither can imagine selling the business.

In the meantime, Logan Brown and Joshua Logan are considering expanding on their North Hills springtime pop-up shops to take advantage of the company’s most lucrative months. They’ve also talked about expanding to a second location.

However, nothing is certain yet.

“We’re exploring our options for the next 50 years,” Logan Brown said.

Wildeman: 919-829-4845

Logan’s 50th anniversary

Logan’s will celebrate its 50th anniversary Saturday.

The free event will include food, live music by funk, soul and rock band CROSSOVERDRIVE and sales from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m..