Hardware Retailers Will Get Through This Challenging Period

By Chris Jensen

I learned a lot about hardware and LBM retailers after researching and writing our two-part Century Club series last year—The Innovators and Survivors Who Helped Build America—which highlighted the 567 hardware and LBM retailers still in business after at least 100 years. I learned that they are resilient and adaptable, unwilling to flinch in the face of adversity, able to persevere through fires, floods, recessions, the Great Depression, wars and competitive challenges. These Century Club retailers survived the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which lasted three full years and infected one-fourth of the world’s population, killing 675,000 Americans and at least 50 million people worldwide.

As Andy Gathy, owner of 109-year-old Heights Hardware in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, explained to a local TV reporter, “This is not our first pandemic.”

Those same traits of calm confidence and quiet resolve are evident in today’s hardware retailers, whether they have been in business 10 years or 120 years. Just as hardware and LBM retailers have been needed to help build America over the past 200-plus years, they are needed now to bring comfort to Americans who worry about loved ones and wonder when life will return to normal. It will be a new definition of normal when we return to our places of work, commerce, worship and entertainment.

Not even the medical experts can tell us when life will return to normal—it could be a month or two or perhaps this could last in some measure until a vaccine is available sometime next year. However, it’s safe to say that things won’t ever be the same, as we are all experiencing a transformational event that will define our generation and unite us through our common fear. I dare say most people will have gained a new appreciation for family, their neighbors, local businesses, the elderly and those heroes on the front lines—doctors, nurses and healthcare workers.

My wife Tiffany is a nurse who works in a hospital here in Indianapolis, so I know what it’s like for those who still have to show up for work during a stay-at-home order. It puts the work I do in perspective, as my life is never on the line while I sit in my home office and write articles. I’m aware that my most important role is to stay at home and maintain social distance, so that I don’t unwittingly introduce the virus into our home and take my wife out of the fight. We cannot afford for our doctors and nurses to get sick, as they will be needed even more in the days and weeks ahead.

If your store gets a delivery of masks, I would urge you to contact your local hospital first and see if they could use more. In many areas of the country, masks, gloves and face shields are desperately needed to keep our doctors and nurses and healthcare workers safe as they take care of our neighbors and loved ones. They are literally putting their lives on the line every day during this pandemic, so let’s make sure we are helping provide them with the critical protection they need. It’s another important way hardware retailers can serve their communities.

It is not surprising that hardware stores have been designated as essential businesses by states that issue stay-at-home orders. After all, hardware stores offer more than the products needed to repair and maintain our homes—they are the lifeblood of a community. Yes, they sell gloves, masks and cleaning products, but they specialize in having everything their community needs, delivered with personalized service. For one hardware store in Indiana, that means opening a community food bank inside the store.

People not only trust hardware retailers to help them maintain their biggest investment—their homes—they trust them to operate during a pandemic in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the health of their loved ones. Part I of our Special Report details the many ways retailers are stepping up to this challenge. It’s a fast-moving situation, and retailers who were interviewed 7-10 days ago were talking about a different reality before their state issued a stay-at-home order.

As many hardware retailers have discovered, the time to have a crisis plan is before the crisis hits. While it may be impossible to predict a pandemic or how that will impact your business, going through this current crisis will definitely better prepare retailers for the next calamity.

While the coronavirus might be a contagious disease, what else is contagious is generosity, caring, compassion and can-do spirit. Your employees and customers quickly discover how much you care about them, because your words and actions speak volumes in a time of crisis. The hardware industry will get through this pandemic the same way it has survived every past crisis—by working together and looking out for our neighbor who is in more need than us. Along the way, many of us will discover an inner resilience we didn’t know we had.

Part I of our Special Report on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in this newsletter contains in-depth information on how retailers are adjusting to this challenge, how business is, details the $2 trillion stimulus package and loan programs now available to help small businesses, outlines how retailers are dealing with sick leave and product shortages, keeping stores sanitized, offering curbside service and using social media to stay connected with their communities. It also details how wholesalers and key vendors are stepping up and notes industry events that have been canceled or postponed.

Look for Part II of our Special Report on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the regular April issue of The Hardware Connection, which comes out April 15. We will continue to devote considerable editorial attention to this pandemic for the foreseeable future. Please share how your business is coping by emailing me at chris@thehardwareconnection.com. From all of us at The Hardware Connection, we hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy!

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