Farm Life: Hardware Stores

Guys really do like to shop.  Just give him a hardware store.  All those tools, paint, garden supplies, and nuts and bolts.  Nothing like a 3′ lag bolt to raise the testosterone levels.  Hardware stores, these days, range from a few of the mom-and-pop franchises to the big-box stores painted orange or blue.  The former are usually an Ace, TruValue, or Do It Best brand.  Tractor Supply is setting up in a lot of rural communities, providing hardware and livestock supplies.  I need not name the big-box stores.  So what happens when you leave the pitch fork that you just purchased in the parking lot?

The big-box stores’ business models are mostly based on volume.  They are cavernous warehouses, covering a lot of options at low prices.  In addition to keeping wages low by hiring “associates” from the pool of college students, under-employed constructions workers, and retirees who are looking for a little extra cash, they buy hammers, paint, and nuts and bolts in massive quantities, thereby being able to contract low wholesale prices.  A couple of friends in the building trades have lamented that the manufacturers of the power tools and nails also offer those low wholesale prices by cutting a few corners, such as reducing the number of copper windings on motors, using lower quality metals, etc.  I have broken a couple of saws with “normal” use, and pitched multiple nails and screws that were missing points or heads.  Yes, I can cut my costs 10% at the big-box store, but probably get greater than 10% loss in the deal.

The franchise, locally owned hardware stores focus more on a service and recognition model of business.  They want to build customer bases and keep you coming to them.  Their wholesale buying power may not get them the same discounts, and their stores do not allow stocking huge quantities of stuff, but I can usually find just enough of what I want.  I usually find that the staff are more easily found and more willing to walk me to the aisle for the product that I am looking for.  The cashiers are more consistent and get to know you over time.  Of course, this can lead the reverse situation, when you are in a hurry, and they are chatting up the person in front of you about the price of steers at the stocksale last week.

The other day, about 5 p.m. after work, I stopped by one of our local hardware stores, the Rocking R in Harrisonburg, VA.  I filled up a cart with lime, diatomaceous earth, fruit tree fertilizer, etc.  At the last moment, I remembered that I wanted to purchase a pitch fork too.  Of course, wielding a cart with 150 lbs of garden stuff in one hand a pitch fork in the other is a pit cumbersome.  When I got to the car, I leaned the pitch fork against the passengers side, while I loaded the garden supplies into the back.  Being a dutiful customer, I walked the cart back to the store front, returned to my car, got into the driver’s seat and drove off.  I was annoyed at the clunk I heard as I moved, thinking that the load had shifted in back.  I had purchased one light bulb and was concerned that it might have ended up under 150 lbs of garden supplies.

About an hour later, I wondered what I had done with the pitch fork.  I could see that I had not put down the back seat which I would have needed to do in order to fit it into the back.  Damn. That’s what that clunk in the parking lot was.  My pitch forks was laying on the pavement and hour away.

The next morning, we left for work early, planning to stop by the hardware store, hoping that someone had noticed the pitch fork and not tossed it into their truck, or hung it back up on the wall with the other pitch forks for sale.  Linda wanted to pick up some bulb food too.  She went about her shopping and I went to the front desk.

“I was here yesterday about 5 p.m. and left something in the parking lot…”

“Yes, your pitch fork is right there by the register”.

Not only had the found it and brought it in. They wrote my name on it, waiting for me to come in (granted, they could scan the bar code to trace it to my sale).  Now, there’s local service for you.  I shall have to check on those 3′ lag bolts next time I’m shopping!

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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8 Responses to Farm Life: Hardware Stores

  1. Barneysday says:

    I like this story. I shop at the local Blue Box because I’ve finally figured out where most things I want are located, and they give me a discount because of my military past. I don’t like the orange store because they are not helpful and charge a 15% restocking fee.

    We do have a local Ace store that really is helpful, and I will often shop there for convenience. In fact, we just finished a new front walkway/deck, and I bought all of the “trex like material there. Almost $3,000, but after figuring transportation costs, it ended up being cheaper. Being in the mountains, I tend to buy more than I think I need to overcome the inconvenience of going back down the hill to get more, and this store is really good about taking stuff back. Plus, I like keeping the money in the community whenever I can.

    Thanks for a great post, we need to continue supporting the local community.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      To be honest, we have had good experiences in the big box stores too, but I think that the farther management gets from the store, the more that you potentially lose in the sense of community. There is an economic as well s social benefit to “shop local”. Thanks for writing.

  2. rommel says:

    … “I left something in the parking lot.” 😆 You’d be so suprised, people are generally good and I always believe in that. I don’t care if that is a stupid, gullible belief. Love your analogy of local vs. corporate.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I think a sense of ownership has a lot to do with it. There are good people employed in the corporate owned warehouse stores. But, the corporations attempt to force ownership by running out customer satisfaction training seminars and surveys, renaming their employees “associates”, etc. All this gives an impression of interest, but it is all top-down. Hey, how about you do some informal observation along your travels!

  3. The Vicar says:

    Great stories of your experiences at the hardware store! Being lest than handy when it comes to home fix it projects, I tend to consider speed of mission as the most valuable metric. Since I rarely can visualize the breadth of any project, I’m assured of numerous trips to the hardware store. That being the case, ease of finding items and a simple return procedure is a must. When I stand in front of any section I’m astounded by the number of choices that exist, and more often than not I purchase either an item that doesn’t fit, or multiple items hoping that one will work. Therefore it behoves me to go to a smaller store with less isles, and people that don’t mind me asking questions since they probably know more than I do about my projects. If I purchase anything in bulk (nails, screws, sprinklers) I can rarely find them when I start my next project, so I go righ back to the hardware store.

    It’s encouraging to hear that your hardware store valued getting your pitch fork back to you as soon as possible.

  4. Laurie says:

    I tried clicking the “button” but nothing happened. Anyhow, I enjoyed your story.

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