The State by State of American Hardware

Back in August 2006, this “From the Editor” page was dedicated in part to an examination of Star and Bullock Hardware, the fictitious, gold-rush era building supply store from the HBO Series “Deadwood.” 

At the time, some suggested that I was watching too much television.

But now look at page 30 of this magazine. There’s an actual, real-life Deadwood, S.D., hardware store on our Fifty Hardware All Stars list: Twin City Hardware.

[Note to accounting: This should further bolster my argument that my cable bill really is a justifiable business expense.]

Twin City Hardware co-owner Les Bellet said the “Deadwood” television show was good for the town and good for business; but he made it clear that the swearing and rabble-rousing from the series is not representative of the Black Hill Town’s current occupants. 

Twin City is one of 50 stores selected for inclusion in our first-ever Hardware All Star project, in which editors selected one operator in each of the 50 states to represent all that is noble, successful and innovative in hardware retailing today. 

The exercise offered some valuable discoveries.

When contacted to tell us what makes their business tick, the far and away No. 1 answer: service. Obviously, location is an important ingredient of high-performance retailing. Obviously, branding, signage, merchandising, management — all are crucial to the success of any venture. But it was service that got top billing in every interview behind the list. 

“Our goal is to provide the best personal service you can have,” said Judy Hechler, of Hechler Hardware, which has been operating in the same Troy, Mo., building since 1896.

“We’re known for going above and beyond what most retailers would do,” said Rick C de Baca, of Big Jo True Value in Santa Fe, N.M.

One of the 50 is also our cover story: our 2011 Retailer of the Year Westlake Ace Hardware. Here’s what CEO George Smith said about the 88-store chain’s commitment to service: 

“We took every single associate out of our stores into groups across the organization,” he said. “And we showed them videos of what bad service looks like, what good service looks like, and what our expectations of great service looks like. It was really an epiphany for a lot of our associates.”

After its major internal review (described on page 34), Westlake introduced a G.R.E.A.T. service checklist for its staff to memorize:

• Greet the customer;

• Remember the magic question: “What can we help you find today?” (Importantly, this question can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Rather, it initiates a conversation.);

• Engage the customer;

• Advise and assist; and

• Thank them for coming into the store. 

Not every retailer has the same specific rules. Home Depot, for instance, has been charging hard with a similar script it calls F.I.R.S.T. Whatever the letters, all the high-performing retailers are examining their service levels in detail.

As our 2006 editorial wrote, Star and Bullock Hardware was an 1876 operator that “serves as the town’s bastion of fair play, frontier justice and honest work.” Those qualities live on in Twin City Hardware and the 49 others on our state-by-state list.

And many more. 

— Ken Clark

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