The Local Factor
Locally Owned and Operated Stores Offer Expertise and Quality
By Ian Nadeau
Atlantic News, Thursday, February 21, 2002
[Atlantic News Photos by Nadeau, McGee, Hirtle.]
SEACOAST — As more big chain hardware stores sprout all over the place, it is sometimes easy to forget about the small, local stores that have always populated smaller communities like the Seacoast area. Although these stores have satisfied their customers with quality service, expert knowledge and a friendly smile for years, they are the first to feel the pinch of a big chain arrival.
The do-it-yourself handyman can be attracted to the hardware wholesaler for obvious reasons. Initially, it appears as though these warehouses are the answer to all of their home improvement needs, prompting them to abandon their old retailers.
But swarming to the nearest major chain could be like opening Pandora’s box in your hometown.
When discussing the impending arrival of a big chain hardware store in North Hampton, Eno Building Supply owner Paul Eno recalls similar situations that have occurred in the Midwest. He says these chains typically come in and effectively eliminate all the competition. Then, after they raise their prices, the consumers are left with nowhere else to turn. Eno says the presence of the “big boxes” can be detrimental to a community.
“In the long term it hurts the consumer because their products aren’t as good,” he says.
One of the main focuses at Eno’s is quality products. The building supply outlet boasts an extensive inventory of upscale flooring and home improvement products. While his store stocks middle-to high-end items, he says, the chains typically provide middle-to low-end ones.
“We don’t sell on price; we sell on service, quality and longevity,” says Eno.
This commitment to quality is one reason why Eno’s has been around for 85 years.
“We like to think that because we are a smaller company, we are more involved with our customers and customer base and our customer service is far superior,” says Eno.
The experienced staff at Eno’s. is always looking to improve customer relations. However, Eno believes that the quality of service at the chains is another matter altogether.
“They’ll come in and initially. they’ll bring in people who are knowledgeable to get the department started, then they will bring in all new people,” he says.
The crew at Eno’s concentrates only on what they do best.
“I like to think that we specialize five or six areas of flooring and, home improvement and we’re pretty good at it,”he says. “I don’t see how you can be as big as they are and give people the quality that they’re going to need.”.
Aubuchon Hardware’s Mark Newman believes that an increase in competition will be good for the community.
“When you don’t have competition, you relax a little; but when you have competition, it brings out the best in everyone, he says.
Newman, who manages the North Hampton outlet of the small chain, also believes that it is important to concentrate on your strengths in situations like these. Aubuchon Hardware’s strength has always lied in their customer service.
Aubuchon employees are always eager to greet their customers and help them find whatever it is they’re looking for. “Whenever anyone leaves the store, you hope they’re feeling good about their experience,” he says.
Newman believes the intimate, friendly atmosphere will continue to draw in the customers. Many residents, especially Seniors, will find the Aubuchon experience much more pleasant and less intimidating than those of the big chain stores.
Their employees will always to go the extra mile for their customers, too. Aubuchon offers free in-town delivery and will put product together for their customers at no extra charge.
“We get to know customers on a one-to-one basis,” says Aubuchon’s Bob Anderson. “We know what they need.”
“They’ll find out that the prices here all pretty close too,” adds Newman.
Aubuchon prides itself on their superior product knowledge. The company holds product knowledge seminars twice a year to ensure that their employees are providing expert, reliable knowledge in every aspect of the job.
Everyone here knows every section of the store instead of just one aisle,” Newman says. “Everyone here knows everything.”
Product knowledge is also a major factor in the success of another Route 1 business — Wicked Awesome Wallpaper and Paint.
“Absolutely the strength of our business is the people we have working here,” explains owner Jack Boland. He notes that many of the employees have been with Wicked Awesome since they opened at this location in 1990.
“You can’t walk into one of the big chains with a swatch of wallpaper and ask, ‘What book is this from?”’ he says. But with 20 years of experience to her credit, WA Paint’s Judy Barrett could tell you.
“You can’t walk into one of the big chains and ask, ‘What color did I paint my dining room three years ago?”’ says Boland, “where Chris Smith at Wicked Awesome might know right off the top of his head.”
Boland explains that as a specialty store, places like Wicked Awesome may only specialize in a few areas but their knowledge of those areas is great.
“It is exciting to go into these stores and see the amount of inventory they have,” he says. “You may be looking for a front door and they have 300 of them. But when you’re looking for a front door, you definitely need a specialist, not someone who also works in the electrical department or the plumbing department.”
There is a sign on the wall at WA Paint that reminds their customers to be patient and remember that when it is their turn, they will be given just as much time as the person ahead of them. It is there because the WA staff will take their customers all the way through a job. They will show you what you need, where it is located and how to use it.
WA Paint is not trying to match prices. They are trying to help their customers finish the job right the first time.
“In the overall job, the price of a can of paint is not the most important thing,” Boland says. “It’s how quickly, efficiently and well you get the job done.”
The product quality at Wicked Awesome is also much higher. It is the combination of all of these factors that has been key to their success.
“I do believe that what we do is better and we’ll just have to let the customers be the judge of that.”
While the impending arrival of a big chain in North Hampton will certainly alter the landscape of the home improvement industry market in this area, all three of these locals remain confident in the strength of their stores.
Boland says he has seen commotion like this before with the Caldors and the Lechmeres in years past. “They’ve all come and gone and my family’s still in the paint business,” he says. “We’re just going to have to become sharper and better.”
“You just can’t be afraid of them,” says Newman. He says Aubuchon will simply continue to do whatever it takes to satisfy their customers. “We’re here to try to help them.”
Eno believes the addition will probably affect local businesses for about a year. In his opinion, the businesses that survive the initial shock will thrive off of the increased traffic after that.
“They typically screw up on enough occasions that we’ll be busy picking up their unhappy customers or fixing their mess up.”