By JIM ROSS ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
SPENCER — In a world of big-box hardware stores in shopping plazas, where parking lots are measured in acres, a small West Virginia-based chain survives.
Hardman Supply Co. has stores in six West Virginia communities: Ripley, Mineral Wells, Glenville, Grantsville, Summersville, Moorefield and the home base of Spencer.
In most of its markets, Hardman's Do It Centers are not in direct competition with the well-known chains such as Lowe's and Home Depot. Instead, the stores are smaller operations in smaller communities.
But they still have to compete with the big boxes and with Walmart, said Tom Hardman, vice president of marketing.
Each store is different according to the community it serves, Hardman said.
"We adapt to what the individual markets are like. In the smaller towns we may not sell what the stores in the larger towns sell."
In fact, the stores in Summersville and Moorefield are more like the old-time hardware stores that people may remember from their youth, Hardman said.
According to the company's website, www.hardmans.com, Hardman Supply Co. began as two produce companies in the 1800s. In 1907, Spencer businessman Owen Ruby "O.R." Hardman merged them, renaming his company Hardman Produce. In 1928, he incorporated as Hardman Supply Co.
The company expanded by purchasing produce, wool, poultry and other agricultural goods throughout central West Virginia and selling to customers as far away as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the company added appliances and farm machinery.
Charles O. Hardman, O.R.'s son, joined the family business after graduating from West Virginia University and serving in the Army during World War II. Under his direction, the business moved more in the hardware direction and slowly phased out the produce department. Expansion continued in the following decades with the addition of building supplies, ready-mix concrete plants, and additional stores in neighboring communities.
The third generation came into the company in the 1970s when Charles' sons — Stan, Fred and Tom — each graduated from WVU. The brothers added store locations and then added an aggressive advertising program, computer systems and membership in Do It Best.
Hardman said the fourth generation is taking its place in the company. One is a CPA who lives near Washington, D.C., and is an officer in the company. Another is about to complete his graduate degree in computer engineering at Virginia Tech. He has been the company's IT person.
One thing Hardman stores have done in recent years that has been well-received by their customers has been their Made in the U.S.A. campaign. Stores promote products that are made in America, and it labels shelves containing those items. The company has received national recognition within the industry for it campaign, Tom Hardman said.
The company is scheduled to be on the cover of Hardware Retailing magazine's July issue, Hardman said.