The State by State of American Hardware

BY Ken Clark

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

[email protected]


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Readers Respond


On Washington, responsibility and the budget

“As the leader of the largest building materials and construction services company in the West, we operate one of the hardest-hit markets, and one that has yet to see the benefits of the ‘economic recovery.’ With the housing market still struggling, our industry has mirrored the larger problems facing the U.S.: threats from global competitors, underinvestment in technology, etc. 

“Along with others in the industry, our company has certainly seen its share of difficult times over the past two years, but our management team has consistently communicated how the company will weather this storm and emerge even stronger from it. But, just as we preach internally to our team, we will control our future, not let the market dictate our course or hope a housing recovery bails out underperformers.

“At BMC, we tell our customers how we have reengineered the company to survive and thrive in this economy. Pro contractors expect value-add distributors to run efficiently and not over-leverage, or lose money year after year. Most effective distributors, when faced with adversity, construct a plan of immediate action when the market softens.

“Washington could use some lessons from our industry. Well-run businesses lead with a plan that targets cost and margin metrics. In the absence of a ‘live within the means’ plan from Congress or the White House, no one knows the targets and no one is held accountable. The result is a disabling deficit reduction course, which robs the current and future generations. There has never been a better time for bold actions, with sacrifices across the board, in order to right our ‘federal ship.’ Inaction or continuance of doing things the same way as the year before is ignorance on all levels.

“So what can both parties of Washington leadership learn from the home channel distribution business? Plenty. Those who lead and those who survive will be those who construct a plan, adhere to fiscal responsibility, and whose customers depend on them to remain healthy and well capitalized. We balance our checkbooks; Washington should as well. BMC is on a path back to prosperity and growth because we took the hard decisions and set achievable targets. In that sense, our core principles and values remain very much red, white and blue.”

— Peter Alexander



Boise, Idaho

“It disgusts me how our national politicians act and spend our money. The $38 billion was nothing to cut — a pathetic effort to correct previous run-away spending. The U.S. economy is like the Titanic. We haven’t hit the iceberg yet, but it’s visible through the fog.”

— Mike Uhl

Fatal Funnel Inc. 

“Partisan political grandstanding with the common good at stake can’t be very positive! It really makes you wonder what is going on inside the Beltway.”

— Richard Freund

The National Association of Home Builders is among the industry groups lining up against a planned 20% down payment rule for qualified residential mortgages. Here’s what we heard from readers.

“I believe a 20% down payment would end up making a much healthier housing industry in the long run.”

— Tim Stine

Stine Lumber

“This will have a negative impact on absorbing the extra houses on the market from foreclosures. It would seem to me that a smaller down payment with better due diligence by the lender in verifying income and real credit history from willing buyers would be a better way to go.”

— Ira Swartz

“I’m certain the NAHB would prefer 0% down payment — but we’ve been through that scenario and we are still trying to crawl out from under it! A 15% to 25% down payment is not unreasonable if you’re the one financing the balance of a mortgage.”

— Paul Siegel

“At this point anything done drastically will have negative effects. Obviously we all need the housing market to heal and be strong. I also feel that first-time home buyers need a way to start, and setting a 20% equity qualification will delay if not eliminate the opportunity for many to buy a home. I think diligent credit checks will do this. Banks for years lent money on a person’s credit and ability to pay; it was only when government placed emphasis on everyone owning a home that things went wrong. Not everyone is meant to own a home; it should be an example of a person’s responsible discipline.”

— Rob Latham

Tri-State Forest Products Inc

“I think that if due diligence had been followed in the past and we hadn’t loaned money to people who didn’t even have jobs, then the housing market wouldn’t have crashed in the first place. By doing what we did, we over-inflated the value of homes by creating a false demand. Just check to ensure borrowers are in fact credit-worthy.”

— Vicki Worley


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Depot’s Blake responds to tornado destruction


Responding to what he described as one of the most destructive spring-weather spells in history, Home Depot CEO Frank Blake said the retailer is helping communities recover.

The Home Depot Foundation is donating $250,000 to the American Red Cross for immediate relief needs in response to last week’s tornadoes and storms that caused serious damage throughout the Southeast. 

"This spring has seen an extraordinary spate of storms and tornadoes that have devastated many parts of the country, and at this early stage of the season, it’s likely to be one of the worst springs in history in terms of storm damage and destruction," Blake said. "We are a part of these communities, and it is our responsibility to help — not only with the needs today, but as these communities start rebuilding." 

The Home Depot Foundation, the philanthropic arm of The Home Depot, also created a $1 million weather impact fund to aid relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts in response to the recent storms — and in expectation of continuing violent storms throughout the spring season.

Throughout the month, the foundation has been responding with donations to nonprofits that are assisting communities affected by recent severe weather in St. Louis, southern Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. Future funding will be deployed to local stores, communities and nonprofits as needed.

In addition to funding, Team Depot, the company’s associate-led volunteer force, has been mobilized locally to help with relief and recovery efforts.

In addition to today’s announcement, The Home Depot is also a member of the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP), and makes an annual $500,000 contribution to the ADGP. Separately, The Homer Fund, a charity for The Home Depot associates in need of emergency financial assistance, has begun helping associates and their families affected by these storms.


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How concerned are you that a trade war could hurt your business?