Sporting gear has kept Dillard family busy for 70 years
Two years after Bill Dillard and Alec Gettys opened a store on West Whitner Street, the survival of Dillard’s Sporting Goods was in doubt.
Dillard was known well as an athletic star at Clemson College and revered as the football coach who brought a state championship to Boys High, but that didn’t generate sales in 1946. By 1948, Gettys, who also coached at Boys High, sold his half of the fledgling business.
Today, it ranks as one of the city’s oldest and most successful family endeavors, thanks in part to principles that Dillard put into place 70 years ago.
Changes have been constant: the store has operated in six Anderson locations, and for many years it sewed school names and numbers on jerseys that were made in the United States.
It also puts its artwork on as many uniforms of women as of men, something Bill Dillard could not have imagined in 1946.
The constant has been the leadership. In those 70 years, the store has been managed by three men all named Bill Dillard.
“It gets confusing, even for the people here,” said William Marvin Dillard Jr., better known in his 74 years as Billy. He’s the son of the founder, who retired in 1977, and the father of current manager Bill Dillard III. And a fourth Bill Dillard, now a pastor at NewSpring Church in Columbia, worked there at one time.
“We hire a lot of college kids at this time of year, and they usually go all summer thinking that I’m Bill senior and my son is Bill Junior,” Billy said.
It’s a little less confusing than a generation ago, when Roy “Buddy” Dillard, son of the founder, also operated a location on East North Street and the store also operated a marine division near Lake Hartwell.
All three Bill Dillards attended Boys High/Hanna, all are graduates of Clemson College/University, all were athletes, and all became entrepreneurs early in life.
The connection to the local schools is especially strong, and remains a key to Dillard’s success. Founder Bill Dillard coached Boys High to its first state football championship in 1942, and son Billy Dillard played on the school’s only other state championship team in the fall of 1958. Two younger generations of Dillards competed in athletics at the school.
When the first Bill Dillard gave up a coaching and teacher career to build the family business, he simply traded the classroom setting to the sales counter. Billy Dillard, 4 years old when the business opened, remembers exposure to marketing at age 7.
“Dad gave me a bunch of balsa wood airplanes and I sold them for 10 cents. I got 1 cent for every one I sold,” he remembers. “If I sold five, that was enough for a Coca Cola.”
By high school, he was involved at the store, which in 1958 moved to 113 Shockley Ferry Road, getting out of school early to help on unusually busy days.
He also often got out of school early on Wednesdays. Anderson merchants typically closed at noon on that day, and Bill Dillard used the time to take his son fishing or hunting.
During those endeavors, Bill Dillard was doing what he did best build relationships.
## ## Longtime educator Dickie Smith saw that as a college student, when he worked at the store during summers and holidays. Smith later turned to Dillard for advice as he considered leaving the coaching profession.
“He asked me, ‘Who will take care of your kids?'” Smith said.
“I knew he didn’t mean no one else was capable of doing it, and he wasn’t talking about the x and o’s part of football,” Smith said. “He knew that I grew up without a daddy, and he knew a lot of other boys were in that situation. The question was about the role of coaches in helping kids.
“He always said those boys needed us more as a person than as a coach,” Smith said. “He knew they needed someone they could come to with their problems.”
Smith served more than 30 years as a teacher and coach, and remains in the education field today. As a business and community liaison for the Anderson District 5 adult education program, he’s deep into relationship building.
“I learned that from Bill Dillard,” Smith said. “He was a caring person. He could be stern and he wanted to win, but you knew he cared.”
Bill Dillard was well known for his athletic endeavors. He was an all state football player at Six Mile High School who played three sports and earned eight letters at Clemson. Dillard led the basketball team in scoring two years, and placed third in the Southern Conference in the shot putt quite a feat for a 5 foot 8, 158 pound thrower.
“He was an athlete,” Billy said of his father, who died in 1999. “He was also a very hard worker.”
Bill Dillard was elected to Clemson’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991.
He worked as an assistant football coach for four years at Clemson, and in the summer of 1939 took the head coaching job at Boys High, where he coached teams that won 88 of 100 games over the next decade.
The most notable victory came in the 1942 state championship game, as Boys High beat Columbia High 19 14 in a battle of unbeaten teams.
Smith isn’t old enough to remember Dillard as a coach, but he learned as a child that he could go to Dillard with a problem. Smith was among a group of North Street youngsters who played softball on warm Saturdays, but lost the ball if it landed in an adjacent yard.
“If it went into that lady’s flower bed, you could forget it,” Smith said. “That’s when we went to Mister Dillard, who always gave us a new ball.”