Local is Still Cherished When it Comes to Hardware
By Stacy Milbouer and Tom Long
Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
You hear it all the time. Online commerce and big-box stores are killing the little guy. But there’s one retail sector in which that’s not the case – independent home improvement stores including the neighborhood hardware shop. Why? It’s all about customer service for the terrified novice as well as the seasoned contractor or avid do-it-yourselfer.
According to the North American Retail Hardware Association, there are about 32,000 independent hardware stores and home centers in the country. And New Hampshire has its fair share – dozens, in fact.
The stores serve many functions and carry a diverse selection of goods; some you’d expect, others perhaps not. Nails and nuts, paint and pipes, toilet seats and generators, hand-held American flags, canning supplies, Whiffle balls and bats, pet treats, flying saucer sleds and fireplace bellows. Such is the case at True Value Hardware Store in Hudson, which has been around for more than 40 years.
On a recent weekday, an employee was heard telling a customer about a less expensive, more appropriate solution to his home improvement project that could be provided at the grocery store across the street.
“That’s what it’s all about, customer service. The most important thing is helping the customer in a way that doesn’t make them feel unknowledgeable, even if it means we don’t make a sale right away,” said store manager Serge Fortier, who has worked at the store since he graduated from high school 27 years ago. “In the long run, that’s what creates loyal customers who keep coming back.”
That tradition was started by the store’s original owner, Julie Pitarys, 92, who passed the business on to her daughter and grandson, Cynthia and Greg Rioux. She still stops into the store.
Pitarys was a human YouTube channel decades before there was even an internet.
“If you had a question about anything, she could answer it,” Fortier said, noting that knowledge has helped the store’s longevity, even in the era of big boxes and Amazon.
The other part of the equation, he said, is “keeping up with the times.” And that includes knowing some of the customers are viewing do-it-yourself videos online.
“Sometimes we’ll have customers who come in five times in one day as they’re working through their YouTube project,” Fortier said. “We’re happy to help them along the way and warn them if we think that what they’re doing might not be such a good idea. You know, like ‘maybe you shouldn’t take shortcuts with electricity. Maybe you should call in a professional.’”
Then there’s the expediency factor. If a toilet is overflowing, you don’t want to wait two days for an online store to deliver the fix. Not only can you buy what you need ASAP at the corner hardware store, but employees there can tell you exactly the best item for a particular plunge into emergency plumbing.
Fortier believes independent hardware stores will survive decades more, despite the big-box competition. In fact, the competition sometimes gives them an unexpected boost.
“Hey, they help us,” he said. “They’ll make an announcement over the loudspeaker at the local Home Depot to head over to Hudson True Value if they’ve run out of something they know we have.”
And the loyalty these independent stores experience isn’t limited to shoppers. Many of them find dedicated employees who stay on for years and establish long-term relationships with their customers.