Outlook 2013: Smaller hardware stores use service to compete
How do small, locally owned hardware stores in the Capital Region stay in business despite the onslaught of big box stores?
Park Building Supplies Inc. on Kings Road in Schenectady does it by offering customers faster, better service, especially when it comes to doors.
Bob Venezio, who owns the landmark store with his brother Jim, said the business stocks an extensive inventory of doors and windows and offers custom installation.
“If you order out of state, it takes time to replace [the door or window]. It can take three weeks to make a correction,” Bob Venezio said. “We can remedy the problem the same day.”
The hardware store has its own in-house door and milling shop that provides custom work when required.
“We are heavy with service and value for our customer,” Venezio said.
Park Building Supplies was started in 1947 by Bob and Jim’s parents, William and Mary Venezio. The 30,000-square-foot hardware store has been in business 66 years.
“Products change, customers’ tastes change,” Bob Venezio said.
In recent years, the Venezios have been concentrating on kitchens, baths, countertops and flooring, lots of flooring.
“Twenty-five percent of our showroom is flooring,” Bob Venezio said.
Park Building Supplies recommends local experts who install kitchen cabinets and flooring.
“They have been doing business with us for 25 years,” Venezio said.
The business also provides doors and flooring products for area builders.
The business has had a long-standing relationship, for example, with Camelot Associates, a home-building company headquartered in Colonie. Bob Venezio said Park Building Supplies has been providing doors and flooring products for many years.
For the customer who wants to do the job themselves, the staff of 15 at Park Building Supplies provides a lot of support.
“We are very hands on. We really guide him through the process,” Venezio said. “Most of our customers we know personally; they have been coming back to us for 30, 40 years.”
Venezio said business slowed down in early 2009 but has picked up considerably since.
Allerdice Building Supply, with headquarters at 41 Walworth St. in Saratoga Springs, was started 30 years ago by Wally Allerdice. When the big box hardware and home-building stores popped up 15 years ago, Allerdice found out what things they didn’t do.
“We tried to get into something they don’t offer,” Allerdice said.
One of these areas was glass and mirror installation. Allerdice opened Allerdice Glass and Mirror at 120 Excelsior Ave. in Saratoga Springs 12 years ago, with great success.
Another example is providing crane service for contractors doing high work. Allerdice Crane Service is located at 150 Excelsior Ave.. This, again, was something the big, national chains did not offer, he said.
‘We pay attention, we take care of people,” Allerdice said.
When he bought an old lumberyard on Walworth Street in 1982, he started with five employees. Allerdice now has 95 employees at Allerdice Hardware stores on Walworth Street in Saratoga Springs, on Route 9 in Malta (opened in 2011) and on Triebel Avenue in Milton (opened in 2005).
“I like to diversify,” Allerdice said.
He said GlobalFoundries, the huge computer chip manufacturer in Malta, has become a customer of Allerdice for certain products. This isn’t a huge piece of business, but Allerdice likes the idea that GlobalFoundries came to his business rather than another.
Allerdice said he is able to keep his prices competitive with the larger stores through his relationship with Ace Hardware. His three stores all offer Ace products.
He said it is specially helpful for his business that Ace has one of its large regional distribution warehouses off Northern Pines Road in the nearby town of Wilton.
“If we don’t have it, we can go get it [at the Ace distribution center],” Allerdice said.
Allerdice said the biggest thing his hardware stores have to offer is expert service. He has people who know plumbing, electrical work and lawn and garden equipment and products.
“We put our customer service ahead of everything,” Allerdice said. “We try to have something people need. If we don’t have it, we will get it for you.”
Jeff and Deane Pfeil opened Pfeil Hardware and Paint at the corner of Third and State streets in Troy in September 2009. An old department store building had been vacant for many years until the Pfeils renovated the upstairs into luxury apartments and located a hardware store on the first floor.
“We are basically servicing the immediate [Troy] area. Not everyone wants to drive to a big box,” Jeff Pfeil said.
The full-service hardware store also serves commercial customers, including RPI, Russell Sage College and the Emma Willard School. Commercial customers are both contractors and institutions.
“We can get to them quicker, get them what they need right away,” Pfeil said.
The store asks commercial customers what they need and will stock these products for them so the institution or contractor doesn’t have to keep a large, in-house inventory.
Pfeil, who has developed properties in Saratoga Springs and other locations, has experience in building management, as well as contracting and building.
“I knew what the building managers needed,” Pfeil said.
Pfeil Hardware also is a cooperative supplier of hardware items called Do It Best.
The Fort Wayne, Ind.-based hardware cooperative has a large distribution center near Newburgh. This relationship allows Pfeil Hardware and Paint to keep prices competitive with prices at the big box stores.
Pfeil said he hired managers with lots of experience, including store manager Steve Lesnewski.
“We hired for the long term, where we want to be in five years,” Pfeil said about his staff of 10. “Business gets better every year.”
“Our thing is customer service, people can get help in the store,” Pfeil said. “We have a lot of things you can’t find in a big box.”
Pfeil said he and his wife, who does the business marketing and some of the purchasing, expect business to grow by 10 to 13 percent this year.
To read all the stories from the 2013 Outlook special report, click here.