Days Gone By: Nostalgia Can Help Small Businesses Bloom

Mom & Pop Hardware Stores Have Something Mass Merchants Don’t – Character

If you hired a top-shelf marketing guru to guide you through a new ad campaign, do you think they would suggest you label your product “Idiot Proof?” Likely a big no-no today, but it was popular in the early days of PC-Products, when we didn’t need to worry about being politically correct, and the occasional inane or frank comment was appreciated or chuckled at. If I were picking a new or untried epoxy repair product, and I was unsure of the outcome of my efforts, “idiot-proof” sounds pretty darned good to me. And no offense taken at all!

It is beginning to feel that times are again changing. People are horrendously tired of the giant box stores populated with non-English speaking or bored/detached salespeople. They yearn for the appeal of days gone by. Nostalgia for the past can breathe new life into smaller stores, and give them a big edge over the factory-feel of the heftier competition.

Owner of Ernst & Sons of Massachusetts, Rod Ernst says modestly of his continued success, “We’ve held on well and done okay.” The 78 year-old shopkeeper took over store operations from his father in 1973. His grandfather opened the store 107 years ago and passed it on to Rod’s father.

Inside the Ernst & Son’s store it is a bit like a time capsule. Not much has changed in the store over the past 50 years. Rustic old wooden floors line the aisles, tools and equipment hang on the wall as they always have, and a beautiful old-fashioned cash register sits regally on the counter. Due to their ambiance and great customer service, Ernst & Son managed to retain their market share after the invasion of larger stores in the late 1970’s and beyond.

Many other mom and pop stores are cultivating their nostalgia-factor in order to remain competitive and unique. In today’s economy, increasing numbers of families are pinching dollars and doing more home improvement projects on their own. They want answers to all their little questions, they want personal attention, and they want a knowledgeable source to give it to them. This is something big box stores just can’t provide.

Mutch Hardware in North Mankato, MN specializes in providing folks with that hard-to-find-item, it’s even becoming their unique selling proposition that they use to attract customers to their store.

Small businesses need to keep such uniqueness in mind. Provide a niche that the big boys can’t. Stick together, think smart, and have pride in what you have always done, and will continue to do. That’s American character!