Although there was no sign on the door yet last Monday, store regulars still flocked to the relocated Faulk Brothers Hardware, now in a former railroad company building at 6001 Orr Road next to an industrial park on the corner of Old Concord Road.
For 50 years, the hardware store was based at 5744 N. Tryon St.
Construction on the Lynx Blue Line extension, Charlotte’s planned transit project to connect uptown with UNC Charlotte, jeopardized traffic to the store and likely would have turned off customers, said the 64-year-old Gerald Simpson, who owns the store with his cousin.
To get ahead of what he expected to be a troublesome disruption to business, Simpson and his employees moved to a building a half-mile away.
Already skilled in adapting to change, the folks at Faulk Brothers Hardware are turning their relocation into an opportunity to enhance their reach. Not only have they moved to a new, smaller building, but they’ve revamped their inventory to match contemporary customer buying trends, with fewer hammers and nails and more yard chemical sprayers and heavy-duty drills.
For Simpson, it’s all a matter of business viability.
“We’ve got to change or we’re not going to be here,” he said.
Adapt to survive
Ever since city officials began construction on the 9.3-mile Lynx Blue Line extension, business owners along North Tryon have said they feel the squeeze of massive changes and road work.
About 20 businesses were forced to move when the city took their properties to clear the way for the line. Property owners questioned the city’s process for condemning properties, while others claimed city officials did not properly compensate them for costly moves.
That same construction dissected Faulk Brothers Hardware’s front parking lot, Simpson said. The work also cut into a side docking area workers used to unload cargo from trucks.
Simpson feared customers traveling southbound on North Tryon would have to drive down the road and make the closest U-turn if they wanted to visit his store.
“People don’t like to be inconvenienced,” Simpson said. “My customers may decide it’s more hassle than it’s worth. We’ve elected to jump ship before it gets really, really bad.”
Last weekend, employees auctioned off more than 600 items of outdated inventory.
In recent years, the store has shifted its merchandising priorities, emphasizing less of a traditional hardware inventory to focusing more on a professional landscaping supply, such as leaf blowers, mowers and gas-powered hedge trimmers.
“Society changes,” Simpson said. “A lot of the stuff that we sold 20 to 30 years ago, people don’t live that way anymore.”
Once upon a time, customers bought wire fencing to keep in their chickens and livestock, and vegetable seed to maintain big gardens. They cooked using wood stoves and looked to the Yellow Pages to find hardware stores selling the tools they needed.
“Now people live on quarter-acre lots, and they surf the Internet,” he said. “They don’t plant gardens. Old-fashioned hardware is not ... viable anymore.”
About 80,000 customers patronize typical hardware stores each year, while nearly 90,000 shop at high-profit stores, according to the North American Retail Hardware Association. Those major retailers earned about 17.8 percent more in sales last year than their smaller counterparts.
To keep their heads above water, hardware stores last year changed their product lines and floor plans to deal with lower consumer spending and increased competition from online retailers and big-box home improvement stores, such as Lowe’s Home Improvement and The Home Depot, according to a report by IBIS World, an international market research firm. While revenues for hardware retailers are expected to grow, analysts expect the number of hardware stores to decline within the next five years.
“People look for items differently than they used to,” Simpson said. “We live a 24-hour lifestyle. Wal-Mart’s open 24 hours a day. A lot of things have changed.”
‘Fair and honest’
The family is selling the North Tryon Street building for $780,000. They’re also offering to lease it for $12 per-square-foot.
And, though the new building features a downsized inventory, some things won’t change, such as the store’s phone number, website and Facebook page. Its focus on customer service will remain a constant, employees say.
Art Lloyd, 69, has been patronizing the store for all 50 years it’s been open.
“You can always find what you (are) looking for,” he said. “If you didn’t know how to use it, they would show you how to use it. And you can bring it back for service repairs.”
Just ask James Jackson, 62, who has been a Faulk Brothers customer for about three years and, last week, required repairs to a hedge trimmer.
Jackson first visited the store to find hedge trimmers and rakes after moving into a new home. Good customer service keeps him going back.
“All I know is that they’re fair and honest,” he said. “They’ve always treated me right.”
“When you go into the big stores, nobody helps you,” said 75-year-old Allen Carpenter, a store employee for 32 years. “When you go to Faulk Brothers, everybody wants to help you.”