I’ve just gotten back from my third trip this week to the hardware store. I’m fixing an office chair I found in the alley.
First, I needed two new wheels. When I set out, I didn’t know anything about wheels, but now I know everything I need to know. Starting with the fact that they’re not wheels, they’re casters.
My second trip was to exchange the first pair I got for a slightly different pair, with a different shank.
The last trip was to replace the turn-knob that adjusts the back. They didn’t have any turn-knobs, but after I explained what I was doing, we jimmied something together that works perfectly.
I’m writing now in my comfortable new office chair, rolling easily from PC to printer to fax machine. Experiences like this one, that I’ve had more times than I can count, are what make hardware stores such special places. Where else can you get such personal service and expert advice for the price of two casters and a turn-knob?
Of course, not all hardware stores are this helpful. So it pays to do some research when seeking the hardware store that’s just right for you. You also have to factor in your skill level, novice or expert, and the kinds of projects you work on. Different hardware stores cater to different people and projects.
For me, the most important criteria in choosing a hardware store is service.
“Originally, the employee actually got every piece of product out of the back room,” says Ralph Lemoi Dupuis, great grandson of the founder of Lemoi Ace Hardware in Evanston. Today, you do your own shopping and use the staff for advice. But even so, experienced professionals make a big difference in how well your questions are answered and what you end up buying.
Dupuis has been at Lemoi’s helm since 1981, when his father died and he stepped in to help out “temporarily.” One of his children is already showing an interest–his 9-year-old daughter voluntarily straightens things out on the shelves. He and his employees are hardware experts, and someone’s always available to answer questions.
“When you go to a local hardware store, you’re going to have people who know what they’re talking about and give you a lot of attention,” says Ben Jacobson, of Conifer Research in Evanston.
Jacobson is a cultural anthropologist as well as an enthusiastic hardware-store patron. His company does observational research, basically observing what people do.
“There’s very often a stable set of employees, and you can see the same guy each time,” he says.
Next on my list of criteria is convenience, since I usually have to make more than one trip per project. Convenience for me means the store shouldn’t be too far away, it should be laid out clearly, parking should be close by, and I shouldn’t have to make a lot of other stops. Delivery is a plus.
“We stress the ability to get in and out of the store quickly,” says Steve Sherman, owner of Highwood Paint and Hardware in Highwood. His 7,000-square-foot store is manageable in terms of scale, layout and flow. After service and convenience, I look at selection.