Matt Guthrie, owner of the Ace Hardware Store in Nolensville, grew up in the hardware business. He’s a third generation Ace Hardware store owner.
“I was born into this business,” he said, “and I thoroughly enjoy it.” Indeed, his store, located on Nolensville Road, stocks 30,000 separate items and employs, 14 people, eight of them full time.
Hardware stores have been around since 1782, when the Elwood Adams Hardware of Worchester, Mass., opened for business. Times change. Technology advances and the way we live, even the materials we use when it comes to building, electrical and plumbing parts, evolve. But the hardware store industry is still going strong.
One of Guthrie's biggest challenges in running the business is hiring and retaining employees.
“I need outgoing people, good communicators who want to get up every day and help customers,” he said. “Retail is hard. Our employees have to be ready to help customers no matter what mood the customer may be in. I need people who are willing to work, put the hours in and learn the products. The truth is we need every customer that walks into our store. If they just come in here for filters, that’s fine. Everything counts.”
I asked Guthrie if being handy -good with repairs and knowledgeable about the products Ace sells is important for someone who would like to work there.
After all, a stroll through the store’s aisles can be a daunting experience for a guy with ten thumbs when it comes to do it yourself projects. There are so many items and options within each category. But Guthrie’s take is interesting.
“It’s not critical to have a background in hardware if you’re willing to learn,” he said. “You will have a passion for something. For example, if you love grilling, you can help us take that category to the next level. And my employees are great about teaching each other. We cross train all the time.”
Still, hardware is a very competitive business. From chains like Ace to big box retail, there are many options to choose from.
“People can go to Target, for example and buy oranges, socks and a drill,” Guthrie said. “It’s convenient and we have to effectively compete with that. Our customer service has to be top notch. We may be a bit more expensive in some areas, but we know a lot about our products and which product is most likely to be the right choice for the customer.”
He paused for a moment before adding, “We make a difference in another way too. If you need to replace your grill burner, for example, we’ll help you do that.”
Guthrie worries about competition from Amazon and other online merchandisers. “I’m always asking myself how do I get people to want to come to my store? It’s hard because advertising can be costly and getting it right is a challenge. Do people know we sell solo stoves? If they do, maybe they’ll buy one of ours.”
Hardware stores tend to carry products that cover all seasons. Snow shovels and stoves for the winter, lawn and garden for spring, and grills, coolers in the summer. In the fall customers buy paint, as well as more lawn and garden items. For Guthrie, spring is usually their busiest season. “When springtime arrives, people are getting out and doing things. They are working on their yards and doing other projects,” he said. “I also see a trend where parents are buying grills and tools for their kids. You’d be shocked by how often I get calls, even from parents who don’t live here. They say, ‘my son or daughter just moved to Nolensville. If I buy a grill, will you put it together and deliver it?’” Guthrie is happy to help.
Has locating his business in Nolensville been a success? Guthrie thinks so.
“I’m very excited with the growth we’ve seen here and the growth that is coming," Guthrie says. "People here seem to enjoy do it yourself projects. And they care about the upkeep on their homes. Our sales numbers demonstrate that.”
Guthrie and his wife Missy live in Nolensville with their two children, who are active in sports. He is also active in supporting charitable causes such as, the Nolensville Food Panty’s Hoggin’ No Joggin’ program.