Service of Hardware that Computes In or Out of the Closet

August 22nd, 2016

Categories: Hardware, Retail, Small Business, Training

Midtown Outside turned

I visited a big box hardware store on Third Avenue near Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan looking for shelf brackets and flat shelves to fit two styles of tracks already installed in a closet. The perfectly pleasant associates I flagged down did their best to help but not one, on three visits, knew anything about the options. I bit the bullet, bought heavy shelves and brackets, dragged them home and was 50 percent correct in my bracket choices. Now I have brackets to return.

Hardware Brackets turnedI next visited a small hardware store a block from my office—Midtown Hardware, part of the True Value cooperative. I showed the cashier my photo, he sent me to the last aisle where there was only one bracket left that matched the snapshot. An associate jumped on a ladder and pulled down a box and found more. The cashier said, “Don’t be disappointed if these don’t work—there’s a chance you know. But at $1.30 each, you’re not risking much.” They were a perfect fit. My time in the store? Less than five minutes.

The brackets cost a fraction of those at the big box.

I didn’t mention that on one of my forays to the giant emporium an associate, poised to direct customers, sent me to the very back of the store for wall clips that hold mop handles. I couldn’t find them and an associate in the department said they weren’t there, but she knew where they were so I followed her the equivalent of a city block, back where I’d come from in the first place. We roamed a few aisles, never finding the clips and as I had to leave, I thanked her and told her I really didn’t need them.

Back at Midtown Hardware, I asked Pedro the manager how he seemed to have everything a person would need in space smaller than a single department at the big box. I’d been to this neighborhood store over the years but couldn’t imagine that they’d have something as space-hogging as shelves or I’d have gone there in the first place. They had shelves too. [They were priced quite a bit more than the big box’s but the time and anxiety saved would have been more than worth it.]

Hardware inside turnedPedro’s secret? “If enough customers ask for something, we try to get it—especially if they are repeat customers,” he said. “We hire people who know how to do the work. They fix things around their own homes.” At almost any time of day, you’ll see an associate explaining a procedure to a shopper. In addition to retail customers, superintendants from miles around buy there.

And wall mounted clasps to hold mop handles? “They’re over there,” pointed Pedro.

An aside: the home improvement chain hasn’t suffered a whit. Its second quarter sales jumped 4.7 percent and profits are up 9.3 percent, so what impact did my experience have? Clearly none.

Do you buy the things you need from small gems like Midtown Hardware even though some of their prices may be higher than the big boxes or are these stores all gone where you live and work? Do you think the big boxes are better suited to customers who know what they are doing, not weekend do-it-yourselfers–people like me–who don’t have much of a clue?

Hardware another turned

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14 Responses to “Service of Hardware that Computes In or Out of the Closet”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Very tough question this week. Both venues have their pluses. Love the instant and personal connection in our local mom and pops Larry the locksmith store.

    However selection wise, The big box home depot’s of the world, have huge volumes of inventory, and to be fair, once you get someone to help you they are somewhat knowledgeable… Great question, Because we all need to fix and improve things from time to time.

    Have to mention how terrible I feel about the nice folks in Louisiana, losing everything everything everything… will take ages to replace and rebuild. If they decide to stay!!!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    With all the choices of brackets with nobody to point out what was important to look for [that I had finally figured out on my THIRD try….]the excessive options at the big box store did me zero good. And the small store had what I wanted! PLUS: I couldn’t get anyone to find me what I needed at the big box–so again, what’s the point?

    As for Louisiana–and those who have lost homes in the California fires, too–I keep thinking of all these people and tell myself to stop complaining about little things as I have just done.

  3. CG Said:

    I routinely visit the two small hardware stores in my town. One has been here for 99 years, the other for 101 years. The staffs are knowledgeable about the inventory, provide fix-it guidance, and will cheerfully order stuff that’s not currently in stock. I’m in and out in less than five minutes. What’s not to like? I don’t care if they charge a bit more than Home Depot and Lowe’s. I detest the big-box stores because shopping there always has seemed like an ordeal.

  4. Kathleen Fredrick Said:

    I agree with Hank. You can find great help at both big box and small stores. The key is finding knowledgeable people. Here in lower Westchester, we always head to Cornell’s, a True Value small hardware store because of their great staff and selection. On those rare occasions when we first head to Home Depot, we are always sorry we didn’t go to Cornell’s first because invariably, Home Depot didn’t have what we wanted and Cornell’s did. I guess the moral is once you find a reliable source, don’t bother shopping around. Head right for your trusty never-fail store.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Hardware stores are wonderful places, distantly related to museums, but I don’t need to shop often enough to bother with price and/or staff comparisons. There are several places in my area where everyone appears pleasant and knowledgeable, and that usually all that’s needed to make me happy.

    If someone wants to pay me (very well) to be a secret shopper, I might find something to analyze, but then again, perhaps not. The key to a good experience is to establish compatibility with the staff. It usually works well, and may even motivate the bad apples!

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am hopelessly ignorant and not at all coordinated so unfit to do any kind of fixing-up. Just approaching a big box store makes me weak in the knees and depressed. I even fear that I will be mowed down by a machine transporting pallets of goods or knocked down by someone carrying an enormous length of wood.

    For those reasons alone I always opt for the local wonderfully knowledgeable, well-stocked hardware store nearby. They are patient and not patronizing. Even if they should not have the particular item I need or think I need they give me instructions and guidance. They often have higher quality versions of whatever gadget I need. In my experience that compensates for any difference in price.

    Lastly, I think it is very important to support this kind of business for convenience, for urban living and to keep the small business sector of our economy which can fit a variety of needs going. Not everyone is a cardboard cutout nor are all needs as generic as a box.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Ordeal is what I was feeling my third time in the big box most recently.

    Upstate there was a man who helped me out but he hasn’t been there the last few years. Having someone who knows what they are doing and if you are lucky, who recognizes you is a big help. This may be too much to ask of a big box.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My mistake was in thinking because it was the size of a large living room, the hardware store down the block would never in a million years have the shelves and brackets I needed. Next time I’ll know to go there first.

    In the NYC 59th Street branch of the big box store I visited lately there was nobody who knew anything about the products I needed–nor did they know where to find things. I’m not rushing back. Maybe the branch on 23rd street is better, even if far less convenient for me.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There wasn’t a bad apple at the big box store–only willing people who didn’t know the products and didn’t know where to find things. I blame headquarters management that is unwilling to spend money to train staff. Why should they? Profits are up and the stock is doing well so who cares?

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m with you–paying a bit more and getting what you need the first time is worth every extra penny.

  11. hb Said:

    I think the answer to your question lies in the inventory account. The big box is designed to make money on volume, the quicker the turnover of inventory, the more money they make. Hence the price to stimulate volume at a lower per item price.

    On the other hand, the “Ma and Pa” store makes money by rendering service. It prices higher per item as a consequence of having a lower per item sales volume. The key to its success is its ability to serve the community in which it is located. Whereas, the key to the big boxes’ success is to attract enough high volume buyers, like contractors who know what they are doing, to insure them the rapid turnover necessary to achieve this goal.

  12. Ramona Flood Said:

    Ramona wrote on Facebook: It’s always better to get the service, even if the price is a little higher!

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree. What a time and anxiety-saver!

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your analysis makes sense. I have plenty of handy friends who can also take advantage of big boxes [although even they might have trouble finding things if directed incorrectly]. I’m fine when it comes to buying light bulbs and batteries or tape and Windex and other familiar items and having keys copied. Otherwise, I’ve learned my lesson.

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