The 2000 entrepreneur
What Frentz Hardware does, and what
anyone needs to do, to succeed in business today
We recently received an e-mail from a Royal Oak resident who wanted
to know how Frentz Hardware continues not just to survive, but
prosper, in the face of large, chain store competition.
might say the answer is raw determination, but thereís more to it
than that. Mike Frentz, one of the three brothers who runs the family
hardware store, isnít even certain his brothers would agree with all
his answers to that question. But he thinks they would agree with the
spirit behind the answers.
Itís no secret that larger, chain hardware stores, such as Home
Depot, are relatively close by and feature competitive pricing. The
Frentz brothers have watched them spring up; watched some of them
consolidate with one another; and still, their store remains healthy.
"What it (success) boils down to Ė is it me, my brothers,
the store itself, what we sell? Ninety-five percent of our items are
under $100. Many items at the larger stores are well over $100.
Weíve got so many things here. And I canít tell you how many
people come in and say ĎIíve been looking at three or four other
places and nobodyís got it,í but we always have it. This is a
hardware store, isnít it?" Mike said.
Itís sort of a lesson in New World economics. Mike said one of
his brotherís high school girlfriends, who moved to Colorado,
recently came back for a visit. "She said ĎI canít imagine
how you can still be in business,í " Mike said. The answer
comes in several parts:
John were here right now heíd tell you service is the main reason,
and service is number one around here," Mike said. "Iíd
tell you itís service plus having the right stock Ė
service isnít much without the right stuff to sell.
key is to order the items customers want, find them and stock them.
Thatís part of the evolution of our store. If theyíre asking for
them (items they canít find elsewhere), then they need them and
eventually, over long periods of time, like 5 or 10 years, you
gradually have (a store full of) what everybody needs." Mike said
the larger chains "donít want to deal with the nickel and dime
stuff, and Iím not saying that because itís cheap. Iím saying
that because itís really stuff that costs a nickel or a dime, like a
∑ The knowledge to determine
what a customer needs. If a customer asks for a given thing, and
Frentz doesnít have it, the transaction isnít over. "For
example, maybe we donít have a particular fitting, but we know how
things work well enough to suggest an alternative fitting." The
management texts call this flexible thinking and finding a solution.
Mike wonders if 15 or 20 years from now, there will be anyone left in
a hardware store who knows enough to explain the stuff he and his
brothers discuss every day with their customers.
donít have three owners on the floor waiting on
customers," Mike said of the larger chains. "Thatís
what makes everything else possible." Everything else, in this
case, refers to knowing many of their customers by name; being able to
establish a face-to-face relationship with their customers; and being
able to break the rules. "If a guy comes in and needs a faucet
but says he forgot his wallet, Iíll tell him to take the faucet and
stop back when he has his wallet," Mike says, adding that heís
never been disappointed by extending that courtesy.
∑ Of the larger stores, Mike
believes theyíll survive, and do well, because of their low pricing.
But he also believes thereís got to be more to it than that -- a
place for people like him, who have 30 plus years of experience in
plumbing, electrical, gardening and other specialties that
do-it-yourselfers often need a little guidance in. "You canít
find experience like that in the aisles of some of those other stores.
Itís just some guy whoís working at minimum wage, who might be
nice, but probably doesnít know any more than you do." He
notes, with pride, that the owners of Frentz have a lot of crossover
knowledge from department to department, while that isnít
necessarily true of his larger competitors.
"Sometimes I think weíre a dying breed," he says of
independent shopkeepers who actually know a little about their
business. "But we really like it, and we like doing what we do.
Thatís got to make a difference, too."