Hardware Retailing

MAY 2018

Hardware Retailing magazine is the pre-eminent how-to management magazine for small business owners and managers in the home improvement retailing industry.

Issue link: https://hardwareretailing.epubxp.com/i/971427

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Page 118 of 248

HARDWARE RETAILING | May 2018 106 Hardware Retailing (HR): Can you give us a little background on your company and how you got involved in the business? Jamie Gentner (JG): Center Hardware has been operating in San Francisco since 1880, so it's been reinvented several times to change with the city. It began as a hardware and glass shop, and then eventually lost the glass to concentrate more on hardware. When my father bought the business and merged it with the San Francisco neighborhood store (opened by his great uncle after the 1906 earthquake), he shifted Center Hardware's focus to commercial and industrial hardware supplies. He concentrated on municipalities, facility engineers, contractors and trade professionals while maintaining a healthy inventory for walk-ins. Those customers include makers, DIYers, artists, students, homeowners and renters, local businesses, restaurants and designers. HR: When did you decide this is what you wanted to do? JG: I started working at the store when I was about 11, but during high school I chose to work at clothing retailer the Gap, and then during college I worked at Kelly-Moore. I eventually ended up with a degree in copy editing and print journalism. I moved back to San Francisco and asked to work at the store while I was job hunting. During that time, I realized I've always been proud of my father's work, and I loved the store, its customers and being in it. So I decided to stay on full time; I was 23. HR: What challenges does your business face in an urban environment? JG: Crime is always a challenge. Recently, we had our propane cage broken into and 16 tanks were stolen. San Francisco's unemployment rate is 2.6 percent right now with unprecedented housing costs, so recruiting new people to our team is also a real challenge here. It can be difficult to compete with the endless perks that some of the tech companies provide. We aren't a direct competitor for a software engineer, obviously, but when there's gossip about work perks, people listen, and they want those things, too. We have high rent, high wages, higher costs of doing business, but we still have to offer competitive prices. We can't charge $100 for a hammer that sells across the country for $20. We work tirelessly to make it up in volume. HR: What training initiatives have you invested in? JG: We traditionally have people on staff who have experience in the trades. Not always, but at least a few of them. They can help supplement knowledge on our salesfloor for people who haven't worked with the material. We try to have a staff with experience actually using our products, and we'll look for that when we're recruiting. For other training, we use videos that Ace provides and videos from NRHA. Everyone needs to leverage any opportunity to strengthen their store, and if you aren't already, you should take the time to dig into the well of resources that wholesalers and NRHA provide. We'll also bring in vendors to do daylong training. The vendors can show our associates how the products work and detail their benefits. Sometimes, we're able to host all-day plumbing and electrical training through the Ace Dealer network, which is hands-on training. The trainees who participate in those events actually run a complete circuit in between studs and get a lightbulb working. The man who led a recent class was from a local community college, but it's difficult to find people who are willing or know how to do that. As the trades diminish, those people who have that knowledge and those skills don't have as much time to come in and do demos. Experience and knowledge is something we look for, but it's not always the first thing. If we find someone who is totally jazzed and excited about retail, we would go for that, because that's hard to find now. Center Hardware & Supply • San Francisco Jamie Gentner

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