Mom-and-pop hardware stores see resurgence

Posted: April 09, 2013

It's still a work in progress, with contractors' vehicles very much in evidence and access only by a circuitous route through a dusty, unpaved parking area.

Yet Mark and Joseph Jaconski's efforts to rebuild Stanley's True Value Hardware on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough hasn't kept customers away. At lunchtime Thursday, the makeshift parking lot where the old store sat until June was filled to capacity, though traffic in and out never let up.

The new building, with 10,000 square feet of retail space, is more than three times bigger than the old one, which Mark, 53, said was never designed to do what his grandfather and father (Stanleys both) required for the 55 years the hardware store has been there.

"For all those years, we kept one-third of our inventory on the first floor and two-thirds on the second," Mark Jaconski said. "The customer never had any idea what we had."

Now, the dream he said he's had since he was 17 - a big place with wide aisles, everything in view on the shelves, space for a tool and party-rental operation and flowers and shrubs, and a storage area for lumber, like their big-box competitors - is nearing reality.

But wait! Don't the experts say the days of the mom-and-pop hardware store are near an end, if not there already?

"Heck, no," Mark Jaconski said as Joe nodded in agreement. "We are at the other end of the spectrum. We're the third generation in this store, and what we're doing is getting it ready for the next one."

It's true that memories are all that are left of many a neighborhood hardware store. And some store owners still in business say they are merely surviving.

But others, like Stanley's, are thriving and expanding, powered by a six-figure investment.

The most recent market research on the industry, done by IBISWorld in February, emphasized that big-box home-improvement centers inhibited the growth of independent hardware stores, especially during the real estate downturn that began in 2006-07.

Nationally, hardware-store revenue declined at an annualized rate of 0.4 percent, to $21.9 billion, from 2008 to 2013. In addition, "hardware stores have had to weather lower consumer spending and increased competition" from home centers, IBISWorld reported.

But the Jaconski brothers are doing in Roxborough something IBISWorld analyst Sean Windle said he's seeing all over: "To adapt to these changes, companies have renovated their businesses to attract more customers by diversifying their product lines and changing their floor plans."

What should inspire even struggling hardware stores to hang in there a bit longer is this: IBISWorld forecasts that this year industry revenue will grow 2 percent, with growth continuing through 2018.

"The recovering housing market and increased spending on home-improvement projects will help boost revenue," though competition from home centers will limit the gains, Windle said.

What the Jaconskis are doing also reflects the new reality of the marketplace: There is a heavy mix of contractors, institutional accounts, and homeowners who are buying the older housing that predominates in Roxborough and adjacent neighborhoods.

"We are drawing more women customers - it's now 50-50 - and increasing our retail space reflects the kind of shopping environment they tell us they want," Mark Jaconski said.

Service separates the traditional hardware store from the big-box stores, owners of the smaller businesses said.

"More than anything, we know what we are talking about," said Steve Roberts, who with his brother, Brian, owns Mr. Roberts Lumber Centers and Volney G. Bennett Lumber Co. in Barrington.

When the Robertses started out, the big-box stores hired electricians and plumbers who knew those aspects of the business "and were paid well, but that has gone by the wayside," said Steve Roberts, who focuses more on high-end lumber than hardware.

"Customers want to talk to people who are familiar with products," he said.

Their Barrington digs are even roomier than what the Jaconskis are building. But some stores cannot expand physically, and to compete, they offer services tailored to their markets.

For example, Collingswood Hardware serves a borough awash in century-old fixer-uppers.

Buyers are a "younger crowd," owner Joe DiBartolemeo said, and that has led him to focus his business on "personal service," doing home repairs, restoring and repairing old windows, and "changing lots of locks as new owners take over."

On social media, however, online reviewers (often anonymous) frequently mention high up that product prices are higher at neighborhood hardware stores than they are at home centers.

Though Ace and True Value are cooperatives that let participating hardware stores "compete with the big boys," as Mark Jaconski put it, store owners say the difference in price is more than balanced by the quality of service and convenience.

"We have 150 years of experience spread over a full-time staff of eight," Jaconski said. "How many businesses can say that?"


Mark and Joseph Jaconski talk about how Stanley's, their family's hardware store, has changed through the generations. Go to www.philly.com/stanley


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow @alheavens at Twitter.

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