Person of the Week
Hardware Store Owner
Going way back, I wanted to move in the direction of service. At first I thought it would be ministerial — I spent two years in a Catholic seminary. Then I discovered working at the hardware store was being of service. It’s about helping people get through their day.
1. What led you to the mission of being a hardware store owner?
When I went to college, I was working at Schnarr’s Hardware Store. I really enjoyed working there because it allowed me to work with “stuff”. I really liked stuff and how stuff works. That’s really it!
In college, I decided that I really hated science. It was the 70’s. At the time, I was actually majoring in Frisbee. I thought, “Now what am I going to do?” I said, “I like working at the hardware store. I’ll just switch to a business major and maybe some day I can own my own business.” I switched my degree to business management and organizational behavior.
I was still working at the Schnarr’s hardware store and it became apparent that no one in the Schnarr family was going to continue with the business. Mr. Schnarr made an arrangement for my wife and I to buy the store from him. I’ve been stuck in that rut for almost twenty years now! (Laughter.)
2. What does this mission mean to you?
Going way back, I always thought I wanted to move in the direction of service. At first I thought it would be something more ministerial. I spent two years in a Catholic seminary. But I also discovered that working at the hardware store was being of service. It’s about helping people get through their day. Working at the store is all about serving other people. When you can combine that with getting to work with stuff, that’s a pretty good deal. I found I could make enough money to eat and have a roof over my head. I could support my family.
3. What was your best day as a hardware store owner?
I’ve had a lot of good days. A good day is when people are well served. We have a lot of those days.
The best day was when I had this little epiphany and realized I was right where I was supposed to be. I had all but one of my kids working here at that time. That fit what I had determined my vocation should be. My work fit. It fit from the time I was seventeen and decided to leave the seminary.
When I was in the seminary, the time was to discern whether or not I was called to do the priesthood. I did that. I always joke and say that I discovered that there weren’t any girls. But what really happened is that I came to this realization that I was actually called to married life. I had a vision of working with my family in some sort of common enterprise.
At the time the only thing I could think of was farming. I didn’t know what you could do with a family and farming. I wasn’t a farmer. My wife said I could be a farmer if I wanted to do that by myself. (Laughter.) So, I set that idea aside. One day I was here at the store, it was good day, everyone was working at the store, there was a common purpose, and I said, “Well, this is it! This is where I belong. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
4. What was your worst day as a hardware store owner?
My worst day was when I got a call that one of my employees had passed away. He was struggling with cancer. He was a great guy – a great guy. He worked right up until the end. I had talked to him the night before. He called me to make sure that all his customers were being taken care of. He wanted to update me. The next day his wife called me to tell me the news that he had passed.
5. How do you survive your worst days?
I crawl under the desk and pull the trash can in front of it! (Laughter.) What helps me is my sense of humor. I try to see everything for what it is and with a little bit of humor. I’ve always had a little sarcastic side. I don’t always let my customers see it, but my close friends and family understand my sense of humor.
Let me give you an example. We were visiting Seattle and my friend was going to pick us up at the airport. This friend sent me a text and asked, “Do you know what time your plane leaves?” My reply was, “Yes.” He replied back, “Very good. But what time would you like for me to pick you up…. or are you walking?” I can’t really do that with customers! But what always helps me get through is my sense of humor.
Read the book, Start With Why by Simon Sinek. If you know why you are doing something, you can learn the how. You are going to be much happier if you know why you are doing what you doing. If you know why, you can learn the how and the what.
A family business is a two edged sword. You have all the family dynamics. But this business has been good for us. I have enjoyed doing it.