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Builders Store thrives on principle

BY Bill Addison

When Builders Store owner R.W. Wolfram joined Hardware Wholesalers Inc. in 1945, as member No. 50, he moved his heating and electrical supply business from Walkerton, Ind., to South Bend.

He later moved the store again to its present South Bend location in 1953. At the same time, his son Paul took over the family business after serving with the Army in Germany as a commissary officer.

After that, the store began to offer hardware and appliances in addition to its heating and electrical supplies.

Builders Store got out of the appliance business more than 30 years ago, and slowly grew out of the heating and electrical supply business. Now, the hardware store is all that’s left.

“Early on…we tried to be in houswares fairly deep as well as hardware. Eventually, hardware and plumbing supplies became our main focus, and it’s been that way now for about 30 years,” said Paul Wolfram, now 80.

The store has also found success with the lawn mower and snow blower industries. He said they currently specialize in Toro brand equipment.

Wolfram admitted that the store’s business name doesn’t exactly match what’s inside. “Our store name is misleading, as we’re not into lumber but just neighborhood hardware, lawn supplies and paints,” he said.

In his 57 years in hardware retailing, Wolfram said he’s always maintained a conservative outlook on the business.

“We’ve not been real aggressive in our advertising. We’ve been at a fairly moderate pace of advertising. I’m just a little more low-key,” he said.

This strategy has served him well, despite being sandwiched between two Lowe’s, two Menards and a Home Depot—much different from when he joined the business.

“Over the years, it’s been a big change. In the olden days you had fair trade and you could make money on lawn products and things. Now that you have to compete with the big boys, you have to cut your margins quite drastically. You either stay competitive or you’re going to be in trouble,” he said.

His conservative attitude plays a big part in sticking with the co-op his father signed with 65 years ago. “It’s been important that Do it Best has stayed a little bit conservative, and has stayed solid and solvent, which in turn helps us to stay solvent.”

In fact, Wolfram said there have been years his company’s very fate was decided by the end-of-year rebates the co-op doles out.

“By and large, it’s been a very important relationship to us being in business,” he said. “[At the end of the year], we call it a rebate. If it weren’t for that, we would have been out of business a long time ago. We don’t go for all of their programs, but a lot of them are key to keeping us going.”

Today, Wolfram is semi-retired. His son Mark handles the day-to-day business, but Paul still shows up for a good portion of the workweek.

“I take a few afternoons off, but still get in more hours than my wife thinks is necessary,” he said.

And Wolfram is still keen on passing along his conservative business method to his son. He touched on the basic principles he’s tried to pass on over the years.

“You have to take care of the customer. He’s been better than I on taking care of special orders and getting back to them on that. And my biggest concern is to remain a little bit conservative. As far as advertising or trying a new this or that, you have to be a little bit cautious.”

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Pending home sales rise modestly in July

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator, rose 5.2% to 79.4 based on contracts signed in July from a downwardly revised 75.5 in June, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

The index, released Thursday, is 19.1% below June 2009 when it was 98.1. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months, according to the NAR.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, cautioned that there would be a long recovery process. “Home sales will remain soft in the months ahead, but improved affordability conditions should help with a recovery,” he said. “But the recovery looks to be a long process. Home buyers over the past year got a great deal, and buyers for the balance of this year have an edge over sellers. For those who bought at or near the peak several years ago, particularly in markets experiencing big bubbles, it may take over a decade to fully recover lost equity.”

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Suspects stalled by flat tires

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Two men suspected of stealing power tools from a Southern California Home Depot were arrested on Aug. 20 after their getaway vehicle developed two flat tires.

Deputies from the Victorville Police Station, summoned by store personnel, arrived at the Home Depot on Bear Valley Road shortly before noon to find a black SUV leaving the scene. One suspect attempted to drive the car, which had two flat tires, along an adjoining road but soon fled the vehicle on foot. He was arrested by sheriff deputies.

Asecond suspect was detained in the parking lot of the store.

Inside the SUV, law enforcement officers found electric drills valued at more than $2,000 that had been allegedly stolen earlier that day at another Home Depot store in Victorville.

Arrested for commercial burglary were Jose Munoz, 34, and Rolando Martinez, 39, both from Los Angeles. The suspects are known gang members, according to authorities.

Karen Hunt, a spokeswoman for the Victorville Sheriff’s Department, told Home Channel News that the commercial burglary charges stem from the suspects’ “intent to steal,” as opposed to “spur of the moment” shoplifting. As for the flat tires, “They tried to drive over an embankment in order to get away the deputies and loss prevention [personnel],” Hunt said.

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