Copyright © 2005, Daily Press
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
KEEPING UP SINCE 1895
Section: Money & Work
Column: Small Business Spotlight | Patrick’s Hardware
Illustration: Staff photos (b&w) by KENNETH SILVER
Caption: Cary Patrick Jr., left, owner of Patrick’s Hardware, helps customer Melvin Carter by getting filters from a top shelf.
Simon Toliver waters plants for sale in front of Patrick’s Hardware in Hampton. This Hampton institution handles giant competitors by carving out small niches.
Cary Patrick started out as a business major in the 1970s but ended up earning a history degree. It was a fitting start to a career in the family hardware business, started by his grandfather in 1895. Patrick’s Hardware still thrives in downtown Hampton by giving customers what they can’t get from larger competitors, plus many of the things they can get elsewhere. The old brick store with three additions and scuffed up hardwood floors has a Web site where customers can shop 24-hours a day.
Pig rings — mostly used for household applications these days, not for actual swine: Got ’em.
Bronze screens for windows and porches — expensive but durable: Right here.
Antique-style locks and hinges for your older home? No problem. It’s nestled among the lawn mowers, tools and gardening supplies.
“Twenty-five percent of what we carry, the big-boxes don’t stock,” Patrick said.The business outlasted four others that it once co-existed with when downtown Hampton was the city’s only business district. It has seen other big chains, such as Home Quarters and Builders Square, come and go. By carving out niches in the glass business and contractor services, the little store is holding its own against the likes of Lowe’s and Home Depot. To compete, Patrick says he has exploited the fact that his company can change course as quickly as a dinghy while his larger competitors turn as slowly as aircraft carriers.
“We’ve made dramatic changes in the last 15 years,” Patrick said. “We can stop on a dime, and we don’t have to have a bunch of people making decisions.”Two key decisions have helped the business thrive, he said. One was carving out a niche in the glass business, opening Patrick’s Glass in 1995. That store specializes in commercial and residential glass, construction and repair. “It’s another source of income,” he said. “Glass and hardware naturally go together.” The other important move was choosing Memphis, Tenn.-based Orgill as a supplier in the late 1990s. “Home Depot was coming to town, and I wanted outpricing to be competitive to begin with,” he said.
The privately held company operates five distribution centers across the country. Unlike co-ops that other small hardware stores use for leveraging buying power, Orgill imposes no membership or buy-in fees on the stores it works with. Cary buys products as he needs them and can have special orders shipped. Mostly, the store works with contractors, with two-thirds of its business coming from the construction trade. Orgill performs an annual market study to make sure its prices match others in the marketplace, and it provides a salesman to work in the store one day a week.
Will there be other Patricks to take over when the time comes for Cary Patrick to pass the baton? It’s too soon to say. One son just graduated from college and will start his accounting career with KPMG in Washington. His other son is 14 and occasionally pitches in at the store alongside workers who have been employed there for decades. Patrick himself wasn’t allowed to work there until he was 18 because the effort his father and cousin required would have taken away from his studies. He has relaxed things a bit around there, he said. “When I came to work in 1976,” he said, “my cousin Woody and my father, Cary Sr., told me vacation meant you’re sick — retirement meant you’re dead.”
ABOUT THE COMPANY
TYPE OF BUSINESS
Hardware store specializing in supplying contractors; a spin-off business specializing in glass.
395 W. Queen St.
Opened as a general store in 1895 by W.T. Patrick. Two sons took over the business, and they passed it down to their sons.
Always treat the customer the way you would want to be treated; be willing to change with the times.
Keywords: Company Profile