Monday, June 19, 2000

Store finds success in its service

Area backs hardware shop

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a world increasingly dominated by mouse clicks and palm piloting, customers of Engel's PRO Hardware near Miamitown find a more traditional, hands-on approach at the store.

        “You'd be surprised at how it seems like everybody comes in waving,” said office manager Carol Beebe.

        “Their hands are up like old friends.”

        That kind of response from customers is one factor that led ProGroup Inc., an Englewood, Colo. company, to give Engel's PRO Hardware its top corporate award: the Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award. ProGroup Inc. has a licensing arrangement with distributor Bostwick Brown Co. of Toledo that allows Engel to use the PRO Hardware name.

        Engel was one of about 1,000 retailers under the ProGroup corporate umbrella eligible for the annual award, said Shari France, retail program manager for ProGroup Inc. The award honored the store for its business practices, commitment to customers, marketing and merchandising, she said.

        The store, owned by Jim Engel, 62, has seen a heady growth curve in the three years since it opened.

        Unlike many hardware shops, the store did not evolve from an existing busi ness.

        Instead, it has deep roots linked to other businesses Mr. Engel owns throughout the western suburbs. It has grown from one business that led to another and then another like tree limbs reaching to the sky.

        In 1982, Mr. Engel bought a storage lot for motor homes and boats on Harrison Avenue in Colerain Township. Locals told him that while the storage area was nice, what they needed in the region was a video store.

        That was what he opened next.

        Locals then told him the area also needed a Laundromat. He opened one. Then they said they would like to see a drive-through carryout, so within a year, he opened one of those.

        It was followed by a deli, because locals soon told him that it, too, was much desired.

        He bought a closed ceramic shop and converted it into a hardware store in 1997 because locals told him they would support it.

        Mr. Engel had started JJ's Bar and Grill on Harrison Avenue in 1993 but after five years it closed. At about the same time, he realized he could move the hardware store to that location at 7246 Harrison Avenue because it had outgrown its old site.

        Customers were not kidding about supporting the hardware store with visits and cash. Mr. Engel invested $250,000 to build and stock the store but it was not long before the place was too small.

        The 18,000-square-foot store is now three times bigger than when he opened it and its value has risen from $250,000 to an estimated $2 million.

        Ms. Beebe thinks there are a couple reasons why the store has done so well.

        Other companies might consider how:

        • Teamwork is encouraged. “You want to get the job done and make sure nobody is towed under,” she said. “Say if a truck comes in and needs to be unloaded, if the guy who takes care of the trucks is overloaded, then we all pitch in.”

        • Erase any hint of the it's-not-my-job syndrome that infects many workplaces. Show that nobody is immune from new daily du ties, not even the owner.

        “Honestly, we have never had any employees do that — say it's not my job,” she said. “If I need help, say, Jim (Engel) is the first to come down and help out. Jim doesn't mind lending a helping hand.”

        • Ask customers what they want or need and then go away if they don't want any help.

        A hardware store — any company, in fact — can't triple in size in under three years unless there is a big business niche that needed to be met in the first place.

        Another reason for the success of the company is that Mr. Engel realized there was opportunity here and was willing to take a risk to pay for what seemed like continual expansion.

        “If you can grow, well, you gotta grow,” he said. “Or else you'll be gone.”


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