For many years, the local hardware store was the only place where the dedicated home improvement enthusiast could get all the equipment and paint needed to make his (or her) house a home. They was an Aladdin's Cave of nails, paint, hammers and assorted treasures that could only be used for one part of the DIY project.
It was where the local house painter came for his supplies and the place to compare the vast range of brooms. And the boom in reality television programs that deals with repairs and construction has newly fueled the desire of the average handyman to don his overalls and start fixing things.
David and Steve Richmond are two cousins who have been in hardware all their life. They started working in the family shop when they were kids and Richmond Hardware retains the same family feel that it did when their grandfather opened the doors. Now, as owners of the business, they have expanded into exclusive products and an equipment rental facility at the same location.
Surrounded by the tools of their trade, Patch sat down this week to talk paint, community and Home Depot.
Where are you both from?
DR: Steve grew up in Braintree and I’m from Quincy.
Why did Richmond Hardware start in Braintree?
DR: It’s a family-owned business. Leo Richmond, our grandfather, started it in 1945. Both of our fathers worked here. Steve’s father started in High School and my father started when he came back from the Second World War. They left in 1991 and we took over.
SR: We’re the third generation, we’ve worked here our entire life; it’s a real family business… my kids work here.
DR: My grandfather was a master plumber so the business was a natural offshoot for him. From the story I heard, my father didn’t want to go back to college. He’d been away for four years and he wanted a place for his kids to work. The economy was getting better and so that’s why he started here.
What makes Braintree special?
DR: The people are nice here, they’ve been very loyal and in other parts of the country I’ve heard that it’s not always the case. It’s a great location, good school system and a good town.
SR: It works both ways, we’re very supportive of the community. We sponsor three baseball teams and a girl’s softball team so we stay involved and they appreciate that. It’s a two-way street.
Where are your customers from?
DR: Most of the homeowners are from Braintree but the bulk of our business is commercial, so we are actually a little bit different from the average hardware store. We have three trucks, two outside sales people and we do business with large property management companies in Boston. We have a state contract with the hospitals that gives us a certain amount of buying power that a traditional hardware store doesn’t have. We carry products that the typical hardware store doesn’t have because of our commercial clients so our pricing can be a bit better.
There are several hardware behemoths in the area. How do you compete with establishments such as Home Depot?
DR: I think friendly customer service is one. You have certain customers that you’re never going to get; they’re dedicated to Home Depot. But then you have other customers that will go either way or others that are intimidated by the large stores and want a friendlier atmosphere. They want to get to know who is waiting on them and most of our people have been here for 10 or 20 years! With Home Depot, people come and go… there’s not a lot of longevity.
We also have certain brands that you can only get here, you can’t buy Benjamin Moore paint at Home Depot and, right now, this is probably the best paint line you can get. It has a huge following. There are companies that will sell to Home Depot but they’ll reserve their top of the line products for the independent hardware store. If you have a discerning customer that’s looking for certain products, they want the best and they can’t get them at Home Depot. That’s another reason they come here.
Do you think that expertise levels at the large hardware chains are lower?
SR (smiles): That’s what we assume…
DR: We hear this from our customers and it creates a certain level of frustration.
With so many large home improvement chains in the Braintree area, does this highlight the community aspect of a local store?
DR: To a certain extent. Nobody knows what another person has to go through to run their business, there are things that go on behind the scene that people don’t know about but that’s the same with any business. I’ve heard many times that we might find it hard to survive with Home Depot, it’s a challenge but we’ve never found it difficult to survive. The year they came in, we registered a double-digit gain… we’re actually surrounded, and we’ve got six or seven Home Depots or Loews within a 15-minute radius!
We have differentiated ourselves with the commercial business and it provides about 75 percent of our business, but we still do a good amount of retail.
How has the business changed since you opened the doors?
DR: It’s changed more in the last five years than in all the time that we’ve been here. Customer expectations are higher, they research things online and are much more knowledgeable then they used to be. One of the things that has changed is the cost of providing healthcare, it’s doubled in the last six years. That’s a challenge that our parents never had to contend with. In terms of rising costs, that is probably our biggest challenge. It’s out of control.
SR: It’s got incredibly competitive. You have the Internet, customers have more choices and the margins are slimmer. The business has got harder but that is typical of any modern retail environment.
The huge choice of paint colors available can seem confusing to the average person, especially when most of them seem to be the same. How do you differentiate, say, between Battleship Grey and Sharkskin Grey?
DR (smiles): We can tell the difference and our customers can tell the difference. That’s another thing that has changed. At one time 90 percent of the paint that we sold was white or off-white, now we sell many custom mixed colors. People are having fun with color, I don’t know if it is anything to do with changes in society but the dominance that white paint used to have isn’t there anymore. Not at all.
The paint product lines have also improved tremendously thanks to government enforcement regarding emissions and such. Companies had to come up with entirely new paint chemistry and Moores was at the front of this, they are way ahead of everyone else.
After the mild winter and with the seasonal nature of your business, are you looking forward to spring?
DR: In all ways. We’ve already got spring set and we have had this ready for a couple of weeks. We kept on hoping for winter, I hate to shovel but we needed to make sure that we had plenty of ice-melt and shovels in stock. Two years ago we sold 2.9 million pounds of ice-melt, last year it was around 500,000 pounds… most of which we sold early in the season. We now have all the spring products – the insecticides, the outdoor paint etc – we’ve getting ready for the last month.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business in Braintree?
SR: You need to be fully capitalized. We couldn’t come in today, start a business and buy all this land… that’s one of the attractions of Braintree. It’s a perfect spot with a confluence of highways and a large population. It’s a good place to do business but it’s not an easy place to start.
What would be the tagline for Richmond Hardware and Paint?
SR: Shop Us First. We’ve a wide range of products and the knowledge to go with it.
DR (smiles at his cousin): And we appreciate our customers!