Survival of the fittest

BY Ken Clark

The comment board on the Toledo Blade newspaper’s website takes a simple story of a closing hardware store — Fleeger’s PRO Hardware — and turns it into a tragedy and a mystery.

Tragic because of the loss of another business in downtown Toledo. Fewer jobs for fewer Americans. A way of life eroded. Mysterious because — well, who was to blame, really?

A poster named CindyS has little doubt and little sympathy, in her comment titled “survival of the fittest” — “If these local mom-and-pop operations can’t hack it in the business world, they NEED to go out of business!” she wrote.

Her post ends thus: “Good riddance!”


While CindyS came to bury Fleeger’s, others came to praise it. Case in point was a posting from “gjones,” self-described as an employee for the last five years. Owner Laura Fleeger-Koenig, he said, was a master motivator and sympathetic manager.

“Customer satisfaction was priority No. 1, no question. It was ingrained in her by her father and uncle who started the business.”

The store bought locally and even promoted other businesses for free, in its store newsletter, gjones said.

A long list of others praised the service, the people, the help and the memories. “Viracocha,” still has the cactus plant bought at Fleeger’s store in 1977.

Then again, the lengthy list of comments included a few grudges. One was from a former customer, still upset after all these years that the store didn’t accept his out-of-state check.

And there’s a former employee chiming in that he didn’t get a fair shake from the owners.

In their totality, the variety of viewpoints on the demise of an independent hardware store is more valuable from a business perspective than the typical case study found in the Harvard Business Review. (Read it all here.) 

But more than that, the postings read like a novel. And an important theme shaping all of the action is the impact of the large national home centers. 

As the final chapter of Fleeger’s comes to a close, the biggest story in home channel retailing continues to play out. The story is simple: It’s the intense competition and uneasy coexistence between the national home centers and the independent hardware stores.

There are many independent retailers under many banners that can claim exceptional growth — even during our downturn in housing, and even in the face of national competition.

On the following pages, Home Channel News editors offer examples of some high-performing Ace stores that are winning the battles in their markets.

Let us state our position clearly. Home Channel News encourages, supports and lends its voice to the spirit of retailing diversity. The more outlets, the more options, the more companies, the better for us all.

We pause to remember Fleeger’s PRO Hardware’s contributions, and the contributions of stores like it that have passed into memory.

And we move on.

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

Readers Respond


More on Bernie Marcus

“As a proud associate of The Home Depot, I take great exception to Eric Ziedrich’s comments (in the Readers Response area) regarding Bernie Marcus. (Marcus contribution, alternative view, Feb. 10)

“No one believes that Bernie is God, but he is, and was, a true visionary. He understood what the people wanted and needed, and provided it for them.

“The Home Depot might have contributed to ‘the demise of scores of mom-and-pop shops,’ but I wonder how the general consumer feels (and felt) about one-stop shopping at reduced prices?

“And, I also wonder how the 1000s of associates and believers (in Bernie’s vision) feel about becoming significantly more wealthy because of Bernie and Arthur and Pat and Ken and Ron, etc.

“And, as for Bernie being praised for his generosity — there is no irony here. Bernie has always preached ‘Giving back,’ always preached ‘Take care of each other,’ and always preached ‘Respect for all.’ But Bernie didn’t just preach it — he lived it and (obviously) he still does.”
— Bill Henn
Home Depot associate
Union, N.J.

The $25 billion question
(Letters responding to an article titled “Banks agree to a $25 billion settlement.”)

“Let’s see: The government demands that banks make questionable loans to people who did not have to prove cash flow or even a job. The customer can’t pay it back, surprise, so our benevolent government comes to the rescue. So they have created a bad guy, banks, a good guy, government, and another dependent class, homeowner.”
— Paul Gabbard

“Is any of this money available to people who have already lost their homes and savings? How about helping them?!”
— Cal Brewer

Menards and “Made in the USA”

“I was very glad to see that you took the time to produce a feature focused on products made in the USA, but failed to give any recognition to a company that is the definition of what America is all about. Menards has always been privately owned and is based on solid family values and sound financial planning.

“[Menards] also focuses on products made in the USA more so that just about any other company. Every home improvement store or hardware store has imported items whether they admit it or not. Many focus four to six promotions every year specifically devoted to the promotion and sales of products ‘Made in the USA.’ Menards does with its regular ‘Made in the USA’ sales promotions!

It has always been a bit of a disappointment when I read my HCN every month that the No. 3 in sales home center in the USA — where you can get just about anything you need, and the only one that has gone through the past economic downturn without closing a single store, with increasing sales in the process — gets very little recognition. There is a reason why in the Chicago market Lowe’s and HD have put up hand-painted signs in front of their store specifically targeting Menards. They do it better and they are afraid of what they are doing to them.

“It might be time to recognize those companies that are using sound values to help make America strong again, instead of those who have put people out of work due to their poor planning and lack of business sense.”
— Anonymous 

Domestic manufacturing continues

“Our company, DMT Diamond Machining Technology, is manufactured here in Massachusetts, and we export to more than 28 countries around the world. We have been in business since 1976. We are very proud of still being a made-in-the-USA company and truly meaning it. 

“We, too, have noticed an uptick in the interest of USA-made [products]. We have seen [that] when people ask at trade shows around the country and also on inquiries here at the plant.”
— Stacey Brandon
DMT, Marlborough, Mass.

“Thank you very much for your article, ‘Made in the USA.’ It is articles such as this and ‘The All American Home’ built in Montana that inspired us to start This site is a hub for people to find American-made products and to be able to do their part to support this economy.”
  Dudley Powell
Build the U.S.


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Big boxes, big numbers


Take Home Depot’s fourth-quarter comps — positive 5.7% — add it to Lowe’s fourth-quarter comps — positive 3.4% — and you have the highest combined comp sum in six years. You’d have to go back to the fourth quarter of 2005 for a higher figure (positive 13.3%).

Sales were also a positive story with a 5.9% fourth-quarter increase emanating from Atlanta, and an 11% increase at Lowe’s.

Here is how the sales stacked up across the past two years for the two industry giants:



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