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Take a trip through America: you will love what you find.

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned road trip across America to make you feel good about this country in general and about the future of hardware/home center retailing in particular.

Having just completed a 4,100-mile motorcycle ride through the back roads of seven Northeastern states and two Canadian Maritime provinces with longtime hardware friend, Jim Gray, we are pleased to report that independent hardware stores and home centers are alive, well and prosperous in the hundreds of towns through which we traveled.

We all spend too much time in airplanes flying from one large city to the next, never seeing what is in between. When we do drive we never venture far from the highway. As a result, people begin wondering how in the world a simple hardware store could survive in today's fast-paced, high-tech world.

Nearly every little town regardless of size had one or more churches and a hardware and/or building supply store. One hamlet we visited had a church, a school, a grocery store, a liquor store and a hardware/building materials store and that was it for businesses. They didn't even have a gas station or restaurant.

The town had less than 200 people and the county had about 2,500. The hardware retailer does $2 million annually with half in hardware and shelf goods and the other half in building materials. How can that be possible? The nearest larger town is a 35-minute drive away, and it isn't very big. It is possible because everybody buys everything from this store.

Vacation homes are being built on lakes in the area, and every consumer, builder and business needs what this retailer sells. In every town in America everybody needs what you sell everyday. Hardware, fasteners, tools, paint, plumbing, electrical and lawn and garden are used to some degree by every household and every business in this country. The idea that hardware stores might disappear is as foolish as the idea that the churches we saw in every hamlet are going to disappear.

We rode through towns having local parades with residents lining the streets in lawn chairs. We rode through local festivals celebrating everything from music to vegetables. We visited a store where a board was filled with pictures of military men and women serving in the Middle East and wearing a store T-shirt.

One of the great treats of my recent past has been to put more than 35,000 miles on the motorcycle in the past four years, traveling 27 states and five Canadian provinces and almost all of it on back roads. America has more than 10,000 county seat communities where people hunt, fish, farm, raise livestock, run businesses and build things. They all use hardware and building materials, and big boxes are few and far between.

There is also a strange notion that these rural hardware retailers are somehow not really profitable. The latest NRHA Cost of Doing Business Study shows that the top 25 percent of hardware stores are clearing a net profit of 8.9 percent pre-tax and interest. That's world-class performance and location doesn't make a difference.

Yes, about the same percentage of rural stores are high profit as urban stores. We certainly understand that the majority of business is done in the major metropolitan areas, but we'll just bet if you get away from downtown and into the neighborhoods that same small-town atmosphere exists.

Hardware stores and their home center cousins are deeply woven into the fabric of our country and have played a vital role over the past 200 years in building this country, and that isn't about to change.

If you doubt that, take a ride through the back roads in your own state. Roll the windows down so you can hear, taste and smell America. You will find that faith, patriotism, community pride, industriousness and yes, the hardware store, are all alive and well.
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Title Annotation:In Perspective
Author:Hammond, John P.
Publication:Hardware Retailing
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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