When Sterling Hudgins and his wife Kathryn Tatterson were planning the design for their third M&M Building Supply store in Mathews, Va., they knew they wanted to pay tribute to the local community. What resulted was a beautiful new store that weaves the culture and character of the region’s roots in commercial fishing, crabbing and oyster harvesting throughout the store.
“We are both natives of the community and wanted it to be about where we’re from. Our town is a peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay that is almost an island with only 87 square miles of land and 214 miles of shoreline. It’s got colonial history,” explains Kathryn.
“There’s a history of farming, fishing and boat building in this area. All these industries are not what they used to be, so we wanted to pay tribute to that history.”
Working with planners from Do it Best Corp., the new store is highlighted by a checkout counter that was built in the shape of a boat stern. Not just any boat stern, but a Chesapeake Bay deadrise workboat, which is the official state boat of Virginia. These wooden-hulled boats were a common sight in the first half of the 20th century working the Chesapeake for oysters, crabs and fish.
They commissioned local boat artist Langley Deagle to paint “Miss Mathews” on the checkout stern, which seemed fitting. “It’s very similar to a workboat that Sterling has a model of at home. It was used for clamming,” says Kathryn.
Adds Sterling, “We searched for a name. It’s traditional for a boat to be named ‘Miss’ and the store is in Mathews, so we named it Miss Mathews. Do it Best was all for this boat idea, and we had such great support from the design team headed by Matt Soper.”
Scattered around the store are large historical photos such as one of the New Point Comfort Lighthouse, which was finished in 1804 and is the third-oldest surviving light on the bay.
They have had a lot of positive comments from customers who appreciate the nod to local history. “One woman came in and started to cry, because her grandfather was in a picture on the wall from the early 1980s while mending fishing nets,” says Kathryn. “One man from that photo still comes into the store. He’s part of the Port Haywood Coffee Club, who are all retired watermen or boat captains.”
Another picture shows Sterling’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather commercial fishing together. “Our first store in Port Haywood has photographs that my father has collected over the years of fishing with family and friends. Also on display is a collection of old carpenter tools,” Sterling says. “That store has old-fashioned appeal.”
Early Business Roots
Sterling and his father Grady were builders who opened a lumberyard in 1997 in a former gas station in Port Haywood. He named it M&M Building Supply after his two daughters: Madeline and Morgan. Madeline is the manager of the Port Haywood store, while Morgan is the bookkeeper and office manager for all three locations and oversees advertising and social media.
M&M’s original location happened to be across the street from a wholesale greenhouse operated by Kathryn’s family, Tatterson Greenhouses. “I finished college early and my parents needed help desperately, so I revamped all the office functions,” Kathryn explains. “I had my niche in the garden center and they focused on the wholesale side. I increased the garden center business by 400 to 500 percent in five years, then in 2003 I took over the business from my parents.”
Sterling and Kathryn married in 2004 and have a son, Ray, who is currently in sixth grade and works occasionally after school as a part-time sales associate in the business. They always talked about doing something together, so in late 2010 they bought their first store together in Hartfield.
“It was already a Do it Best store, but we liquidated all the hardware inventory and started over,” Sterling notes. Adds Kathryn, “We didn’t intend to stay with Do it Best initially, but we really liked doing business with them.”
Life After Grocery
Six years ago, Sterling and Kathryn bought a building in Mathews that housed a grocery store. When the owner later decided to retire from the grocery business, Sterling and Kathryn thought it would be a good idea to take it over.
“We tried the grocery business for two years, but we had bought the grocery business with our heart and not our mind,” Sterling says.
Kathryn points out, “We’ve always gotten a lot of support from Do it Best, but you don’t get the same support from your grocery wholesaler when you’re a small independent.” Kathryn had closed the wholesale garden business after her mom died tragically in late 2016. She moved her garden center and some of the inventory to the grocery store, establishing lawn and garden as a small niche.
“We tried a combo with grocery and hardware, but that wasn’t cutting it. The grocery business was not for us,” Kathryn admits. They shut down the grocery store in August 2018.
They quickly rebounded from that business setback to convert the 11,000-square-foot grocery space into their third home improvement store.
“We knew we had enough space. The Hartfield store is 7,000 square feet, and we’ve always wanted more product there. We wanted to give a good customer experience that was preferable to the big-box store,” says Kathryn. The nearest big box is 20 miles away. She adds, “Do it Best was willing to listen to us and support our ideas and run with it. They totally understood what we wanted to accomplish with the store design.”
They now have more depth to core categories. The store features wider aisles so carts can get up and down. A large door was added to access the 12,000-square-foot garden center, and when customers come back inside they have a clear sightline to The Color Bar™.
“Adopting The Color Bar paint department has really worked out great,” says Sterling. “Overall sales are great so far, and every day we see a new face we haven’t seen before.” Adds Kathryn, “With The Color Bar, interesting end caps make the difference. We have a large area of seasonal gifts, rugs and flower pots—so many women are coming in now.”
The new store is capturing 80 percent of sales from homeowners and 20 percent from pros, which is flipped from what they experience with their other two stores.
Future initiatives include adding more inventory—“You can’t sell it if you don’t have it,” Sterling points out—and then implementing in Hartfield some of the things they did in the new store like The Color Bar.
Future expansion may be on the horizon, according to Kathryn, who says, “Sterling was ready for a fourth store before this new one was finished.”