A planned trip to Noah’s sidelined by weather
Dave Beveridge owns Miller’s Hardware, a much-loved Drake area business that hangs on proudly in the era of Home Depot, Lowes, Menards and other national behemoths. After the closing of Fairgrounds Hardware in 2017, Miller’s and Hiland Park Hardware Company
are the last of a breed — full-service stores that can help people “do it right.” We asked Beveridge to lunch, and he asked to meet in his office because it was a busy day.
“Normally I would suggest Noah’s. That’s my favorite place in town. But this cold weather almost always means we will be busy. Ice melt, snow shovels, snow blowers, windshield scrapers — they all move with the first snow. Last year we sold 28 pallets of ice melt. Weather affects business all year. Rainy weather, which we seem to have had a lot of in recent years, means the grass will grow and need mowing. Nuts, bolts, screws, tools and stuff move regardless, but the weather really affects seasonal items,” he explained.
What is the history of Miller’s Hardware?
“It opened in 1947 down the road on Keo. Pete Miller opened it and moved to this location (1300 Martin Luther King Boulevard) in 1959. Bob Miller took it over from his dad, and I started working for him in 1971. Bob passed in 2010. He’s the one who really got me to loving Noah’s. He would have Christmas parties there. He loved their gizzards. I love their Italian combo and chopped sirloin,” Beveridge said.
How much inventory does Miller’s carry?
“I am told we have 64,000 SKUs. (Stock keeping units are numbers assigned to a product by a retail store to identify the price, product options and manufacturer of the merchandise.),” he said.
What are the biggest changes Beveridge has witnessed in the hardware business since 1971?
“Inventory accounting. SKUs are constantly updated now on computers. We used to have to close the store for a couple days to take inventory. Credit cards made a huge difference. Customers used to have individual accounts. Now everything is paid with cards. When I
started, we just had a cash register. We would slide a credit card through a press and make triplicate copies. Now it’s all electronically billed. One of our employees called credit cards a fad when we first used them.
“Smart phones have made a big difference. Customers used to come in here and try to explain what a certain weed or problem looked like. Some would make sketchy drawings. Now they photograph stuff, and we know exactly what they are dealing with. Smart phones also often have translation capabilities. We had a Spanish-speaking employee, Joe Sandoval, who could help with languages, but now we can all do it with translation apps on the phone,” Beveridge said.
How does a little independent store compete with the Menards, Home Depots and Lowes of the world?
“Actually, Amazon is the biggest competitor, more than the big box stores. Especially now with Amazon Prime. One really good thing on that regard was when states were allowed to charge sales tax on Amazon purchases. That was an unfair advantage they did not need. One thing we have going for us is that we can sell a customer just one of whatever he needs. You have to buy a whole package at the big box stores. Older people need help loading their purchases in their car. We can supply that help.
“We can wait on every customer on a personal basis. That’s the satisfying thing about working here. That’s probably the main reason we have almost no turnover in employees. It’s really satisfying to find exactly what a customer needs. Employees enjoy that as much as customers do. Also, regular customers are so familiar with the store that they know exactly where to look for what they need. One of our customers owns apartment houses. She says she is loyal to the store because she hates wasting time. She can find almost anything she might need here without help,” he explained.
What are the best sellers at Miller’s Hardware?
“Teflon tape comes to mind. It’s 79 cents a roll, and everybody needs it sometime or other. We sell a lot of pocket knives. All tools move well. We make a lot of keys. Recently bed bug killer has been moving fast. That’s a product that has improved tremendously. It kills the eggs now as well as the pests. It’s safe to spray on your pillow now, too. It sells for $90 a gallon, and it moves,” he said.
I had been in the store the day before our interview looking for Ice Chek, a product from PPC, a Johnston company. Dave was out of it but promised to find some overnight.
“Ordering is really easier now. It used to take at least a week to get something in. Not anymore. The PPC products work great. Not just Ice Chek but the whole line. Bug Melt is popular. Crud Remover is a best seller. (It is PPC’s No. 1 product.) It’s a degreaser.
“Another popular product is Optisorb. It’s a floor cleaner but not the kitty litter type. It can actually soak up oil out of concrete. Electronical power strips are much improved. Now they are built to bend around. We sell as much glass as anything at this store,” he explained.
Who are the store’s biggest customers?
“Holiday Inn and the Savery Hotel are great. Drake, Rally Cap and Venture Management,” Beveridge said.
What does Beveridge see coming in the next few years?
“The new development by Drake on the south side of University will be interesting. The hardware business is very similar to the hospitality industry. We are all selling services as much as products. Both are about engaging people. Talk to them, explain what you can about the products. A lot of hardware salesmen worked in some form of maintenance. If you don’t have some experience with the products — I for one knew nothing about electrical stuff when I started — you learn from the ground up. That’s the hard way,” he concluded. ♦