Quiet as it’s kept, a few years back Linda Rutkowski was wondering why her brother Arek was spending so much time in front of the computer at the family’s New Britain business.
For more than 70 years, the Rutkowski’s have run a paint and hardware store that bears its name, Rutkowski Paint & Hardware. It was primarily a face-to-face, word-of-mouth enterprise that relied on referrals and return customers. Seeing her brother so preoccupied with the computer simply wasn’t computing to Linda, the company’s CEO.
Unbeknownst to the family, Arek was learning about the economic power of the internet — and eBay.
He was able to unload store merchandise (that wasn’t selling) to online buyers around the world. Sometimes those items, like a package of dinner plates, sold for more online than the price in the store.
Today, 75 percent of Rutkowski’s business comes from online traffic. The other 25 percent is from retail and plumbing. Linda Rutkowski knows now that Arek was on to something.
“If Arek didn’t have that vision about going online, I don’t think we’d still be here,” she said. “Now, the business is more computer-based. We sell a lot online. It’s not just local customers coming in.”
Online sale items include such things as batteries, lawn tractors, power tools, mouse traps and lawn and garden equipment. “These days you can buy and sell anything online,” said Arek. “And I mean anything. “E-commerce is the future. It has increased our customer base. I even ship worldwide.”
The Rutkowski’s are able to leverage 12 warehouses and some 67,000 hardware-related items through its strategic partnership with the Do it Best cooperative.
Kenya, Europe, Ireland and Poland are some of Rutkowski’s international clients. The family is proud of its Polish heritage and that their business spans four generations.
Joseph and Valeria Rutkowski came from Poland to the United States in the 1940s and opened the first store on Broad Street. Alexander and Pauline took over the business from them. Alexander, Joseph’s son, also ran a chicken farm during World War II, operated a laundromat and sold furniture, appliances and kerosene.
Andrew Rutkowski’s son, Ron, became boss in 1972. Ron expanded the company’s plumbing and heating business. Ron’s daughter, Linda, 38, started as CEO in 2014.