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11/23/2021

That 'family feel' propels Petersburg Hardware

Great employees are…. great. Finding new hires – and keeping them – that’s tricky.
a group of people posing for a photo
It's a family affair at bowling night with Petersburg Hardware. Each employee, along with a guest, gets invited for a night of bowling and pizza.

“I have been managing employees since our expansion in 2016,” said Eric Smith, co-owner of Petersburg Hardware located in Petersburg, Ind. “Prior to 2020, when we would have a job opening, there would be many applications come in that fit our needs. Now, we are lucky to find one that meets some of our needs.”

On employee longevity, he remarked, “We focus on a family environment and support our employees as much as possible. Currently, we employ five full time and six part time employees. Two employees have been with us more than 25 years, one more than 15 years, and one almost 10 years. Our work environment encourages employees to stay with us.”

Five years ago, Petersburg Hardware co-owners Dennis and Sherry Bishop along with their daughter Robin Smith and her husband Eric Smith, expanded a 5,500-sq.-ft., tri-level convenience style store into a 28,000-sq.-ft. shopping destination.

“Yes, we are a large store, but we still keep the small-town values and hospitality,” related Robin Smith.

HIRING JOURNEY

A Do it Best home improvement cooperative dealer, the business sits in the small town of Petersburg, Ind., located in Pike County, in the Southeast corner of the state.

Family owned and operated since 1995, ownership was transferred to Eric and Robin Smith early in 2021. Their county is quite small, they noted, being only 13,000 residents and one school system.

“We not only serve our county but those surrounding. We are in rural Indiana, so people are accustomed to driving 20-30 miles to find what they need.”

The owners pointed out, “The hardware store offers a variety of categories above the typical hardware store. Because we are the largest retailer in the county, we offer categories from farm and ranch to women’s apparel to zero turn mowers. Our daily focus is to be what our customers need.”

a group of people posing for a photo
From left: Prior owners Dennis and Sherry Bishop; and their daughter Robin Smith and her husband Eric Smith, who took over earlier this year.

About the evolution of hiring, Eric Smith said: “Our hiring practices have changed over the past two years. In the past, we relied on word of mouth heavily, so we had an idea going into an interview if the person was the right fit for our ‘family.’”

Primarily today, they are finding applicants through social media. This method allows the owners to see the individual’s personal page and gauge their personality. Since there are only a few candidates for a job posting, the Smiths are interviewing almost all applicants that show a possible match on their application.

“Additionally,” he noted, “we are pulling the trigger on a candidate faster than before. There are many job openings right now, and if we want to snag the right person, we have to move quicker than others.”

Regarding these choices, Robin Smith related, “Due to the abundance of job openings, I feel potential employees are able to pick and choose more of what they want verses employers finding what they need.”

For their business specifically, she added, “I believe our candidates are applying to us because we are a stable pillar in our community.

“Our current employees enjoy coming to work every day, and it shows to our customers.”

a man standing in front of a cake
Employee Wendell Wilson celebrating his 80th birthday. He started with Petersburg Hardware in 2004.
HARDWARE STRONG

Pandemic challenges the world has faced has emphasized for many hardware store owners the positives in their team members.

“Over the past two years, we have found that our employees are a stronger family than we realized,” said Robin Smith.

During the beginning of the pandemic Petersburg Hardware owners split their staff into two teams. The goal was to keep them separate and not risk quarantining their entire staff and having to close. Customers needed them to remain open so their homes would remain functioning.

“When our team came back together, they realized how much they missed each other and how we lift each other up to be our best for our customers,” she said. “They still to this day appreciate each other more and more every day.”

The owners pointed out they have been very lucky in the hiring area since, “our employees stay with us for so long, and our primary hiring is for new positions.

“One of the biggest challenges we have faced is in the soft skills like showing up for work on time and not taking personal calls around customers. Our hiring process has evolved to include these types of expectations during onboarding and training.”

a person standing in front of a store
This employee celebrated his high school graduation in the store. His official ceremony was canceled due to the pandemic. Owners invited his family and surprised him with a "Petersburg Hardware School of Life" diploma and cake.

Hardware store owners looking to add employees can apply the following tips.

“Our biggest success for employees is being a family. We care about what each person is going through in and out of the store.

“We focus on the environment that our customers see. If we are supporting our employees, it leads to positive energy on the floor with customers,” said the Smiths. “Our employees want to talk to customers and put our best foot forward.”

One example that is big in their store is celebrating birthdays.

Every employee gets a cake, gets sung to, and receives a fun gift, they noted. “We then post their photo to our social media pages and tell everyone to wish them a happy birthday. It is an easy way to show someone they are appreciated.”

“We also plan employee outings like bowling or dinners,” they added. “These are opportunities for team building while having fun and showing your support as the owner.”

Eric Smith concluded, “My biggest advice is to make sure you’re going further than the paycheck for your employees. Become their work family and support them for helping your customers.”