Thursday, January 8, 2015

Pettit's Hardware

I have a great fondness for small businesses. I have many reasons for that fondness.  Perhaps the biggest reason is that small businesses have personality.  Small business owners are courageous, optimistic and stay close to their customers and their businesses reflect that.

My plan is to write one essay a week about a local small business.  It is not my intention to embarrass anybody.  I will contact them and give them veto power.  I will delete the post if they feel it misrepresents them.

I chose Pettit Hardware in Eaton Rapids, Michigan for my inaugural small business post because they have much eye candy and I figure the pictures will mask any deficiencies in my reporting.

This mechanical cash register is one of the first things a customer will notice if they enter from Main Street.  The plaque on the cash register informs the customer that it was purchased new in 1916.  The hardware store was founded in 1886 so the cash register may have been purchased to mark their thirtieth year of operation.  Like everything in the store it is polished and well cared for.

If they look closely, the second thing they will notice is the depression worn where 98 years of sales have been rung up.  That is a ¾” diameter wooden dowel laid across the depression.  The depression is easily as deep as the dowel is wide.

I asked the owner what she considered Pettit Hardware’s strengths.

She advised me that its all about the people.  Her “guys” will spend 45 minutes with a customer on a seventy-nine cent sale.

The running joke among home handymen is that all projects require at least three trips to the hardware store.  Three trips, that is, unless the clerk makes sure that the customer leaves with the right seventy-nine cent part.  Then it is one-and-done.

One difference between her store and a chain store or a big-box store is that she carries two or three pieces of almost a quarter million separate parts.  In many cases, those parts are loose packed in divided bins (really, that is the only way to pack that many parts in that small a space).  Loose pack invites the customer to touch the parts and to see if they fit.

The small parking lot is an advantage.  Many customers bring broken sump-pumps, lamps and the like.  Can you imagine lugging a grubby, thirty pound part into Lowe’s from the parking lot?  That is all part of getting the right seventy-nine cent part.  Having the broken part in your hand.

Even the names of these parts are intriguing.

Being close to the customers helps small business owners be more nimble.  Businesses stay in business when they help customers solve problems.

One problem (complaint) she heard from her customers was the demise of the general handyman.  He was the guy who could fix your toaster, change a flat on your kid’s bike or rewire the circular saw after you ran the blade into the power wire.  Pettit’s fills that niche.

Pettit’s also does glass and screen work which can be very handy for those of us who are pellet gun and slingshot aficionados. 

Pettit’s no longer has penny candy, but a dime will get you a sucker and civil conversation or a clean joke will get you a handful of peanuts.

I asked the owner if there was anything she would like her customers to hear.  She thought a minute or two and then she said

"I want the folks who live within three miles of Pettit’s to shop here first rather than to shop here as a last resort.  Or, at least, give us a call at 517-663-8422 before you get in your car and drive to Lansing."

The economics of home projects

That led to a discussion regarding the economics of home projects.

Consider a home owner who makes $10/hour and lives 17 miles from the closest big-box hardware store.

Something happens.  It could be the plumbing downstream of the sump pump gives up the ghost after forty years of service.  It could be the hot water heater dying.  It could be a roof leak.

The first trip to the big-box store results in a $70 dollar bill.  He purchases six black iron nipple (two diameters, three different lengths), hose, a cheap, promotional pair of channel locks, a can of WD40, a roll of duct tape and a headlamp flashlight.

The second trip to the BB store results in a $50 bill.  He buys hose clamps, a good pair of channel locks, batteries for the headlamp, bandages, antibiotic an a twelve pack of anesthesia.

The third trip to the BB store resulted in a $10 ding to the wallet.  I bought Teflon pipe tape and ear plugs.

Let's add up the costs.


I never met anybody who earned $10/hour who vigorously argued that they were overpaid.  

In general, their employer is required to pay them $15/hour after a forty hour work week.  Therefore, their time will be valued at $15/hour.

Three trips, one hour driving and a half hour in the store = 4.5hr*$15/hr = $67.50 

It is worth noting that the cost of wages does not include the time actually working on the project.  A little bit of expert guidance reduces the number of false starts and wasted effort.  One-and-done also saves "wages" at the job site but that will not be accounted for in this analysis.


According to the AAA, it cost about 60 cents a mile to drive a vehicle in 2014. 

Three trips at 34 miles per round trip adds up to $61.20

Wasted purchases

Between one-quarter and one-third of the purchases were unnecessary.  The buyer was distressed and was overbuying.  One-quarter of $130 is $32.50

The total cost

The total money wasted by shopping at that "cheap" store down the road was $131.20 ($67.50 wages, $61.20 driving costs, $32.50 unnecessary purchases).

Where did the perception of "cheap" originate?

It came from that cheap, promotional pair of channel locks.

That beautiful, chrome plated pair of channel locks warped the first time you put some weight on them.  They cost $12.95 while the channel locks at the local hardware store cost $17.95.

So, guess how much the second pair of channel locks from the BB store cost?  Yup.  $17.95.

So make a habit of shopping your local hardware first, not last!

1 comment:

  1. If I were closer, I'd damn sure patronize them! I miss the 'feel' and 'smell' of the old time hardware store!


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