Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Neighborliness as an Equalizer Family Store Takes on the Hardware Giants with First-Name Service

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Neighborliness as an Equalizer Family Store Takes on the Hardware Giants with First-Name Service

Article excerpt

When Jacqueline Allen goes to the hardware store, she's often looking for solutions, not merchandise. That's why she likes Harvey's Hardware in Needham, Mass., where the minute you step inside the door somebody asks how they can help.

"They won't sell you something you don't need," she says, recalling a recent case of being advised not to buy a brass-handled storm door.

Many consumers are migrating to the hardware superstores, but Mrs. Allen and her husband enjoy doing business where the clerks recognize them, a phone number (not a credit card) is all that's required for billing, and a newly purchased ladder is delivered to their home "not like a week later, but a half hour later." Customer service and old-fashioned neighborliness are the flotation devices that allow Harvey's and other mom-and-pop hardware stores to swim against the tide of competition from hardware giants like Lowe's and Home Depot. (See story at right.) "In a small town like this, you treat people right, give them the right product and the right advice, and people will come back because they're comfortable with you," says Gary Katz, president of Harvey's. The business was started by his dad as a tiny paint-and-wallpaper store in 1953. Harvey Katz continues to work in the suburban Boston store. "Supposedly I'm retired, but I got very bored hanging around the house," he says. "I like being around people and it's great working with my two boys {Gary and Jeff}. I feel very, very proud all the time." It's not easy battling the big-box stores, the Katzes acknowledge during an interview after 6 p.m. closing time (the store opens at 7 a.m. except Sunday, when it opens at 9). If you go by the book, Harvey's Hardware appears to be "doing everything wrong," says Chris Jensen of Do-It-Yourself Retailing magazine. It carries too much stock, hires too many people, and has no off-street parking of its own. Still, the store's bottom-line performance is way above average, Mr. Jensen says. Again, it's service with a smile. that spells success, says Harvey, whose father and grandfather were in the hardware business. Although the store's customer base extends to neighboring towns, including one that had a branch store for a time, the Katzes say it's important to live in Needham. …

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