Last year, the original 50 Home Channel News Hardware Store All-Star honorees established a high bar and a hard act to follow. But the 2012 crop rises to the challenge. This year’s Hardware Store All-Stars, one from each of the 50 U.S. states, have at least one thing in common: Ask them what makes them special and you can bet they’ll include “excellent customer service” in the answer. From there, every path to stardom is unique. Listed alphabetically by state, here are our star retailers, along with a description of what makes them burn so bright.
Hopper Building Supply
“We have a little bit of everything,” said owner Mike Hopper, whose family started the business more than 50 years ago. By “everything,” he means building supplies, gasoline, deli meats, bakery goods and even a Laundromat. “We’re known as a one-stop shop for everyone.” The Hopper family owns several other businesses in town, including Mike’s dad, who operates a Foodland supermarket next door to the building supply company.
Andy’s Ace Hardware
How many hardware stores make their own fudge? The 10-ft. gourmet candy counter at this Anchorage store features a changing roster of 15 flavors. Customers also come in to avoid the long lines at the U.S. post office or to sign up for a cell phone plan at its RadioShack franchise.
Prescott True Value
There aren’t many contingencies between new brides and senior citizens, but Prescott True Value, located in a retirement community, registers an average of 16 bridal couples each spring and summer. The fine china and kitchenware department brings them in, but everybody loves the 12 linear ft. of gourmet foods and the large selections of unusual kitchen gadgets.
Yeager Ace Hardware
Fort Smith, Ark.
Free popcorn and lollipops are among the customer perks at Yeager Ace Hardware, a third-generation business, which now has four locations. “My dad (Ernest) always thought it would be neat to have a hardware store,” said son Ed Yeager, who bought the business in 1982. The original store was just 3,600 sq. ft. “We didn’t have an intercom, so if we needed something from the back, we just yelled,” said Deborah Clark, Ed’s daughter, who oversees two of the stores.
Crown Ace Hardware
Huntington Beach, Calif
Jeff and Mark Schulein aren’t afraid to walk away from an acquisition or new lease if it doesn’t seem exactly right. Yet the father-son team now operates 17 stores, mostly in Southern California. San Diego is their newest territory, and the family — which has a “No shop talk on weekends” rule — sees plenty of opportunities to expand there.
Ace Alameda Station
Owner Andy Carlson holds a “Grill Your Ace Off” barbecue contest each year where 25 teams with names like “This Flame is Not Yet Rated” vie for Ace gift cards of $500 and $250. All grilling is done on Big Green Eggs although the June 9 competition will introduce Webers. All proceeds benefit the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Washington Supply Co.
Washington Depot, Conn.
Visitors to Washington Supply Co. can monitor the operation’s energy generation and consumption in real time using a 32-in. touchscreen display in the front of the store. Or they can watch the building’s solar photovoltaic system do its thing by clicking a link on the retailer’s website. The $50,000 investment, now 2 years old, generates about one-third of the home center’s energy needs. But the PV system has also drawn visiting dignitaries, eco-tourists and customers interested in buying installed solar panels. It’s positioned Washington Supply as the place to go for green products and building materials in western Connecticut.
Best Ace Hardware
Best Ace hardware has grown from its general store roots to a chain of five Delaware hardware stores with strong niches in lawn and garden and wild bird. So strong, in fact, that the stores offer their own custom-mixed bird seed, Tom Best’s Choice. An emergency roof repair project in 2010 forced the company to rethink its design. “The silver lining was we tried some new things, and we’ve enjoyed success,” said Andrew Best, great-grandson of the founder.
When owner Bill Pastermack first brought fishing equipment into his store on Florida’s space coast, the idea was to take advantage of wholesale pricing for his own excursions. His passion for fishing has helped create a destination niche for sportsmen as far away as Orlando. Fishing for niches such as pet, paint and even sunglasses is a passion for Ace Hardware of Titusville. The latest: a standalone surf shop called Go Native.
Reeves Building Supply
Located in the North Georgia mountains and surrounded by lakes, Reeves offers upscale furnishings and accessories for the casual lifestyle. Four standalone businesses — the Ace Hardware store, Reeves Building Supply, Reeves Homes Furnishings and Reeves Lawn Mower Shop — dominate Main Street. “Being from a small town, we have a lot of things others don’t have,” said co-owner Lewis Reeves Jr., naming sporting goods as the top seller. “We have a lot of vacationers around here."
Hardware Hawaii’s Facebook page looks like a family photo album. There are pictures of employees dressed up for Halloween, bowling at a tournament and a video of their trip to the Orgill market in Boston. But the three-store chain also uses Facebook to communicate its frequent sales, which customers — judging from their responses — look forward to.
L.L. Green’s is nearly devoid of advertising or other interior signage, a setting reminiscent of a time when customers shopped their local hardware store with their dads or granddads. Store manager Mark Green said the old-time feel works here. “We get lots of plumbers, electricians handymen … 50 or 60 a day, the same faces, and they’re not afraid to ask for something we don’t have. If we don’t have it, we’ll order it.”
Fuller’s Home & Hardware
An historic two-story building — think brick walls, wooden floors and slate roofs — on the main street of Hinsdale presents a classic Ace hardware offering on the main floor, and a self-described “hardware store for cooks & more” in the store’s upscale, bordering on museum-quality housewares store called “The Second Floor.” At Fuller’s, cookware is in. But any cookie-cutter approach is out.
Owner Randall Jones has ridden an idea that turned his small town hardware store into a big-time supplier. Aggressively courting commercial customers with a cost-plus pricing plan. Customers range from a Wal-Mart distribution center, the local DePauw University and homeowners. Jones says none is more important than the other. In a town of 10,000, Headley ranked second among all Do it Best members in sales of Valspar paint products in 2011.
Akin Building Center
From its roots as a lumberyard, the rural, four-location hardware and LBM supplier has been going through significant renovations in the past four years — three remodel projects plus the conversion of an empty Kmart into a hardware store. “We’re working on a female-friendly type shopping environment,” said Scott Akin, third-generation owner of the Do it Best dealer. “We’re always upgrading our stores.” Among the keys to success: “Bright stores, colorful walls.”
Williams Ace Hardware
“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it,” co-owner Nick Dondlinger is fond of saying. Customers come here seeking unusual hardware items or very small quantities. “What we lack in quantity we make up for in variety,” he said. By the store’s estimates, it has given away hundreds of pounds of nails over the years to customers who need a handful for small projects, but don’t need an entire box.
Chevy Chase Hardware
A quarter-century as the trusted local hardware store almost went poof for Bill and Carol Edwards when Home Depot and Lowe’s opened home centers four traffic lights down the road in a manner of months. “We could have handled one, but not both,” Bill Edwards said. “So we moved.” Twelve years later, Chevy Chase is flourishing in its new digs. One customer blogged: “No finer neighborhood hardware store can — nor will ever — be found than Chevy Chase Hardware.”
With six sons to help run the business, the Stine Lumber Co. never worried about succession issues. But the 12-unit chain of home centers still had to face warehouse competition in many of its markets. Its solution: build big. Its average store is 60,000 sq. ft., and the newest location is 80,000 sq. ft., with an attached 40,000-sq.-ft. lumberyard and 20,000-sq.-ft. garden center.
Customer service? Check. Big city inventory packed into a small town store? Check. But where Gosline’s enters All-Star territory is its community involvement. To his credit, owner Tom Bolster seems to have a hard time saying no to worthwhile local groups — youth sports teams, school functions, local churches, public safety organizations, several charities and many others (one count puts the total at 60) have gained the store’s support in one form or another.
A few cool hardware stores
Gina Schaefer has built her empire by opening hardware stores in gentrifying neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The former biotech executive — who knew very little about hardware retailing or home repair when she started in 2003 — has opened a store almost every year. She and her husband, Marc Friedman, now operate seven hardware stores. Schaefer joined the Ace board of directors at age 37, and is now serving her second term.
The 2012 Golden Hammer Retailer of the Year earned its award by combining family values that go back more than a 100 years and a corporate structure that manages 121 northeast stores. Twenty family members are in the business that extends four generations. CEO Marcus Moran Jr., the founder’s grandson, credits long-tenured employees, and a no-two-stores-are-the-same approach. “We just fit into our communities,” he said.
Dickinson True Value
When a local high school athlete died of a heart attack after scoring a winning basket in a game last year, an organization was formed to raise money for the purchase of Automatic Electronic Defibrillators (AEDs) for all youth athletic events. During the month of March, Dickinson True Value sold paper “hearts” for $1 apiece — and then hung them in its front windows — to benefit the Wes Leonard Heart Foundation.
The get-back-up-on-the-horse award goes to Wagner Hardware, which in 2011 suffered a collapsed roof as heavy snow accumulated in a storm. While closed for construction, the team at Wagner pushed resources into e-commerce, using a service garage that was spared damage. The new larger store opened in December. “It was a blessing in disguise,” said Matt Wagner. “We ended up with a bigger, better building. And the community support has been very strong.”
Hyde Brothers True Value
First established as a construction business in 1947, Hyde Brothers was known for decades as a hard-core, hardware store. But three years ago, the company transformed into a Destination True Value format, adding 12,500 sq. ft. of retail space. “We changed everything — lighting, fixtures, flooring; we added new products geared to women,” said owner Ginger Johnson. The award-winning store has seen a spike in sales (28% increase) and in female shoppers (up 15%).
Small enough to know its customers by name, yet big enough to handle the needs of industrial accounts is Overland’s mantra. Special orders are its specialty. Seven times a year, it publishes an eight-page circular featuring more than 90 items at the ‘Right Price.’ Overland focuses on having what the customer needs and teaching them how to use it, no matter how long it takes.
Power Townsend Do it Best
This Helena, Mont., retailer knows how to compete against Home Depot and Lowe’s — both have locations across the street. They offer kitchen, bath and flooring (with free design services), and their appliance section features brands you won’t find in the big boxes, such as Speed Queen and Crosley.
Glenn’s True Value
When owner Steve Glenn turned several thousand sq. ft. of his Glenn’s True Value hardware store into a dollar store, he did not know how successful it would be. “We slapped up a sign, and the next day we had 100 people show up and we weren’t even ready.” Traffic has remained strong. Glenn said the businesses are complementary. “The dollar store is a destination, whereas the hardware store is a convenience business,” he said.
Although it primarily serves the industrial/commercial sector, don’t tell the people of southern Las Vegas this isn’t their neighborhood hardware store. A full assortment of electrical, plumbing, tools and paint comes from Orgill and Do it Best. A special sign department carries 60 SKUs in stock and can order any custom sign. Caution! Men at work.
Benson’s Lumber & Hardware
Whether you need a few simple hardware supplies or estimates from a complicated blueprint, Benson’s said it can help. The hardware store has been serving the Londonderry community for 100 years, and most of its staff is longtime employees considered experts in their fields. “Our nursery is huge,” owner Brad Benson said. “You name it, we got it.”
Home Hardware & Supply
At 5,300 sq. ft., Home Hardware & Supply is a giant at selling gas grills. The two-time Bergen County hardware store of the year nestled among affluent neighborhoods is the state’s top Weber dealer. How? “We fire up the grills and give away free hot dogs for four hours every Saturday,” said owner Rick Kadien. “That’s a great sales tool. Plus, assembly and delivery are always built into the price."
Sun Valley Do it Best Hardware
One person can make a difference, as Brennen Jeffers proved in advancing from part-timer to general manager of Sun Valley Do it Best Hardware in a few years. Put in charge of an underperforming store, Jeffers changed the reputation of the store, replacing underperformers with workers ready to learn and succeed. He remodeled the interior and expanded the space. The result: 20% increases in 2010 and 2011, with increased gross margins.
Young’s General PRO Hardware
It gets pretty cold in the Catskills in February, so what better time to hold an indoor Hawaiian luau for your customers and staff? Retailer Brian Young trucked in 1,500 lbs. of sand, grass skirts, leis and miniature ponies. For St. Patrick’s Day, all green-colored products in the store were discounted. His themed events tend to draw a fun crowd, Young said, adding: “Happy people buy things.”
Town & Country Hardware
Chapel Hill, N.C.
A lot of companies talk about trust. Town & Country Hardware defines it. “Our mission is to be the most trusted hardware store, and that means to provide credible answers to their questions,” said president Craig Ward. That’s why all employees follow a training matrix that is continually monitored. The eight-store retailer relies heavily on paint and outdoor living. It’s also one of the recent and prized additions to the Central Network Retail Group.
Manager Glenn Metzger said Mac’s dares to be a little different. While it carries a full line of hardware and supplies, it specializes in heavy-duty items for industrial-sized projects, such as pallet racking and skid steer loader attachments. A bargain barn section features an ever-changing assortment of unique and surplus items — from airline seats and exercise equipment, to Humvee tops and road signs.
Owners Howard and Wayne Miller wanted to build a place known as the “destination” for all household needs, remodeling and home building — to become a “must-see place” in northeast Ohio and beyond. At 285,000 sq. ft., the new Hartville Hardware encompasses 18 acres and features a 37,000-sq.-ft. drive-through lumberyard. Full-scale model homes inside the facility sets this store apart. “We wanted to make a statement,” said marketing manager Christa Domer, a fourth-generation Miller.
Rock Hollow Stone, Garden & Hardware
What started as a sizable rock and stone retail business has evolved into a Do it Best hardware store that also sells giant boulders and a wide selection of landscaping materials. Owner Bob Huddlestone has added kitchen and bath for his female customers, but many of them come just to see the stone waterfall inside the store.
Myrtle Point, Ore.
Housed in a historical landmark (circa 1890), Hometown Hardware retains the original hardwood floors and hand-pressed tin ceiling. Product categories touch on legacy items (i.e., Landmark 30-year architectural shingles) to new (i.e., the latest kitchen cabinets and bath vanities). Lumber is a big seller here. Owner J.R. Morgan protects the lumber from the elements to preserve the superior quality for customers.
New Milford Hardware
New Milford, Pa.
In the last two years, gas drilling in northeast Pennsylvania has surged. The result has been a jobs boom that has fueled business for New Milford Hardware. What began as a small mom-and-pop store has tripled in size, albeit one that still maintains its old-fashioned country charm, co-owner Gary Stone said.
Jerry’s Paint & Hardware Co.
“He’s a people person.” That’s how Robert Ferraro Sr. describes Robert Jr., the third-generation manager of Jerry’s Paint & Hardware. Robert Jr., 33, also impressed the NRHA enough to be recognized as one of five Young Retailers of the Year. Last year was the best year for Jerry’s Paint & Hardware sales. And the store recently expanded from 6,000 sq. ft. to 9,000 sq. ft. Robert Jr.’s All-Star advice: “Do what others aren’t doing.”
Central True Value
Moncks Corner, S.C.
At Central True Value Hardware, customers can learn the intricacies of many trade specialties, including gardening. At the store’s “Ask a Master Gardener” event, for example, customers bring in their weeds/plants for identification, have their soil sent off for testing and learn about worm composting. Central’s personal attention encompasses small home projects for DIYers to larger commercial projects for contractors.
Hogans Hardware Hank
A wide mix of customers shop at Hogans Hardware Hank located in South Dakota’s capitol city of Pierre — including former governor Bill Janklow. “Other than being a complete hardware store, we offer a lot of specialty kitchen products,” said store owner Cash Hogan. The 5,500th store opened in 1983 and prides itself on its willingness to mix up its products. A recent success: dish towels. “They were fancy and color-coordinated. And they were huge,” Hogan said.
Ace Tom Glenn
Ace Tom Glenn has 17 hardware locations in Tennessee and north Georgia, but no two are exactly alike, said marketing manager John Rutter. “Each store has its own character, its own culture.” The flagship store in Chattanooga includes niche items only found here, as well as a Live Goods area with a vast selection of annuals and perennials indigenous to the area. “Whatever we do, we focus on doing it really well,” Rutter said.
Hooten’s Hardware loves to expand, despite the fact that it’s located in Emory, Texas, population 1511. Visits to Orgill’s markets often result in new lines of merchandise. The 40,000-sq.-ft. store and other buildings on 15 acres sell major appliances, farm and ranch supplies, building materials, every SKU made by Midwest fastener, housewares, lawn and garden, and a full assortment of electrical and plumbing. A machine repair shop and eight-bay welding operation draws farmers from neighboring states.
Kohl’s Hardware & Lumber
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2012, Kohl’s Hardware & Lumber serves its rural community (about 100 miles from Salt Lake City) with a one-stop shop approach to retailing. In fact, “One stop shopping” was the store’s motto back when it sold groceries. Today, the 10,000-sq.-ft. store continues its tradition of well-rounded service with hardware, auto products, a lumberyard and flower shop.
Woodstock Home & Hardware
Owner Larry Perry is a firm believer in multiple suppliers: He buys from Ace, Orgill and Standard Hardware. Maybe that’s why Woodstock had ice melt and roof rakes when everyone else was out last winter. Perry’s eclectic blend of merchandise defies description. His ever-changing store marque features advice, special promotions, jokes and the occasional political jab.
A sign outside the front door at this venerable Richmond location reads: “Corn Hole Boards Sold Here.” For the uninitiated, those are the beanbag boards popular at carnivals and fundraisers. It’s that kind of off-the-wall item that distinguishes what one customer calls “an old-fashioned hardware store on steroids.” Now with five Virginia locations, Pleasants Hardware sells more than 50,000 products, from odd “whatchamacallits” to brand-name power tools.
McDaniel’s Do It Center
The 2012 Golden Hammer “Tools of the Trade” Award winner, McDaniel’s Do It Center epitomizes the hardware retailer that champions innovation and best practices across its operation to generate results and connect with customers. Successfully creating an upscale paint business for its DIY base and for continuous reinvestment in its business, the store is a worthy honoree. It has been recognized by Do it Best as an “extreme retailer” and also a several-time purchase-award winner.
Hardman Supply Co.
All-Star patriotism is on display at this six-unit Do it Best dealer. When callers are on hold, owner Tom Hardman introduces himself with a taped message that promotes a retail crusade in support of U.S.-manufactured products. “At Hardman’s, we want to help put America back to work,” he says. “Not all the products we stock are made in the USA, but there are a lot that are.” Made-in-USA signage and stickers helps customers find them.
Prairie Side True Value
After 25 years as a manufacturing engineer, Gary Dickes “retired” to Kenosha, Wis., in 2009 and opened a hardware store not far from Menards. “We have ways to compete,” he said, cryptically. Being located next to a busy Walgreens helps. And the entire storefront is glass. “At night, with the lights on, you can see all the way through the store,” Dickes said.
Ace Hardware Buffalo
Owner Bob Zimmerschied said Ace Hardware Buffalo is just as interested in locating the correct “20-cent screw” for a customer as it is in making the big-ticket sale. “We concentrate on our core competencies, of matching the right product to the right application,” he said. “We’re the link between manufacturer, distributor and customer. We seek ‘absolute-zero connectivity,’ meaning no resistance from the customer.”