The new Mom & Pop?

You may think that nothing can replace the Mom & Pop corner hardware stores, but that’s not true. They can be replaced. In fact, they already have.

I wrote last week about the inevitable disappearance of Mom & Pop businesses, and some of the reasons for it. But like all things cyclical, those bygone businesses have a present-day counterpart. You’re probably wondering what they are, but you already know; you just may not realize it.

Big Box stores are the new Mom & Pop. How? Well, these days they’re close to everyone. Perhaps not “on the corner,” but considering that corners don’t much exist anymore they’ve taken residence in what passes for the corner store today, the local strip mall. They have what you need; they’re a short drive away; and like the Mom & Pop hardware stores of yore, they’re one-stop destinations: Need nails, a garden hose, a hammer and a trashcan? You’re in luck. Just like the corner hardware store, it’s all there.

The most important ingredient is also there these days, and that’s personal service. They don’t remember your name, of course – that’s not possible considering the store traffic – but when you walk in the door you’re greeted like a family member. I almost expect them to offer me a beer and some snacks. You can’t stroll down any aisle without someone in an orange or blue apron saying hi and asking if you need anything. If you do, you’re not just told where it is; more often than not, they take you by the hand and drag you right where it is while asking you how you’re enjoying the weather. Is the item you’re looking for big? They carry it to the checkout for you, and then to your car.

There’s a reason for this, and that reason is the biggest proof that they’re the new Mom & Pops: They’re terrified you’ll go shopping online and put their local store out of business. It’s already happening. Lowe’s closed 20 stores in 15 states last winter because they weren’t seeing enough business. Home Depot has done similar in the last few years.

Is it any wonder that when you walk into Big Box store these days that you’re treated like a long-lost friend? To their way of thinking, you soon may be.



  • Doug Darter says:

    At the big box stores here if an associate sees you they run the other direction. And I mean run. Help loading a purchase is a joke, it never happens. I would suggest to you this may be why the stores were closed. A complete lack of service of any kind.

  • Sawdust says:

    I wish my local big box had that kind of service. My local orange box is very difficult to find help in. The blue box is better, but they aren’t that readily available. And unfortunately I find they don’t have the expertise I can find in my two remaining local HW stores. That expertise has been replace by Google and YouTube. So I look up “how-to” online before I got to the big box to get the stuff I need.

  • Lee Gordon says:

    One reason the big box stores are the new “mom & pop” stores is, the guy whose mom & pop store has gone (or been forced) out of business is now wearing one of those orange or blue aprons.
    When I remodeled my kitchen about 25 years ago, I bought a lot of the stuff I needed from a plumbing supply business owned by a guy named Sid. A few years later, Sid closed his business, sold the building, and retired. After a while, Sid got sick of being retired and went to work in the plumbing department at one of the blue Borgs where. last time I checked, her was still selling toilets, sinks, and what-the-heck-have-you.

  • Alan Young says:

    I am happy to recommend the Carpenter Rd Home Depot in Ypsilanti Michigan. I am not known by name but I recognize many of the employees that seem to have some longevity. I have yet to encounter any employee that is not helpful and knowledgeable about their dept. Esp plumbing and electrical-as Lee’s example-they have professional’s making better than hourly wage. College age kids employees are still able to find a product or get me an answer even if they aren’t personally experienced.

  • rgh says:

    I like both HD and Lowes, and our local stores are friendly and helpful. Each carries a different set of products, so you get a better selection than the mom and pop. Lastly, they do seem to have one very knowledgeable person in each department, so you can get reasonable advice. As for the internet, don’t know that I buy much there that I get from these guys except tools. I do think they need to update their web capabilities to be more integrated with the stores so we can get the best of both. Maybe they could sell through Amazon.

    As for being scared of the internet. i don’t think so, the economy and construction downturn maybe.

    I think you will see the mom and pop’s emerge as a niche to the big boxes (and internet). Taking advantage of big box buying power, and installing/customizing products you get there, then selling regional niche products that augment what the big boxes offer in bulk.

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