Shelly Wagler grew up in the hardware business and now, the business, A&R Supply in Washington, Ind., has grown up along with her.
Wagler’s dad, Abe Gingerich, started a heating, plumbing and electrical business with a partner in 1969 operating out of a yellow school bus. Abe and Ron—hence the A&R name— traveled around southern Indiana with that bus. The two partners split after a year with Gingerich continuing on as owner.
In 1978 Gingerich moved to Washington and established a heating and cooling business on Main Street. “He was always sending guys to stores to buy toilet flappers at retail, so he opened a hardware store in 1986 to supply himself with goods,” explains Wagler. “He figured, if nothing else I’ll be my own best customer.”
Business started growing right away, so he added a lumberyard to supply 2x4s with a focus on DIY business and small orders to contractors. Growth really hasn’t slowed since then.
Wagler was one of three sisters in the family, but she was the self-professed tomboy.
“I grew up on a farm but was always more focused on the hardware business. My dad was a licensed plumber and electrician and I would go on calls with him,” she recalls.
It was a natural that she would follow him into the hardware business after attending college, picking up his wisdom on how to run the business and interact with customers.
Then her dad got sick and she only had six months of talks with him before he passed away. It left Wagler with big shoes to fill and a lot of responsibility on her shoulders.
“I knew I was in the business for the long haul and the business never missed a beat once I took over. But without faith in God and a good team I never would’ve made it,” she says.
She eventually bought out her two sisters and now owns A&R Supply with her husband Leon, who focuses on the heating and cooling supply side. The transition from helper to owner, at first, was difficult for her.
“When my dad died I had problems with the bank,” explains Wagler, who was a finance and banking major in college. “The banker had no faith in me because I was a woman. The numbers looked good, but you never really know. I was going out on a limb,” she explains.
The next crisis was unexpected. “Dad didn’t have a drug-testing program, but I enacted one. It was a big hurdle to overcome,” she says, recounting the fact that she lost nine employees in the first drug screen. “I believe in three strikes and you’re out, but no one wanted to risk a second strike and they all quit,” she adds.