American Home and Hardware has continually evolved through the decades
May 30, 2017 01:41PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
In 1979, Harry Brown and Harry Hammond purchased American Home and Hardware, which has also long been known by some as the Elkton Supply Company. It was already one of the quintessential businesses in the county by then, occupying a prime spot in Elkton's commercial district on West Main Street. The Elkton Supply Company traces its roots to 1924, when it was an ice and coal business operating under the name Diamond Ice and Coal Company. Ice was frequently used for refrigeration at the time. Later, the Elkton Supply Company supplied coal, oil, and ice to residents in Elkton and the surrounding areas. At various times throughout its history, the business sold feed, lumber, construction materials, even furniture.
Since Harry Brown and Harry Hammond took over Elkton Supply Company 38 years ago, the core of the business has been general goods and supplies for the home and hardware. According to Joshua Brown, Harry Brown's son and the vice president of American Home and Hardware, the business offers everything from lumber and building materials to kitchen, bath, and flooring supplies. The business is continually evolving, based on what the community needs at a given time.
“Over the years, we’ve adapted to whatever the customers had a need for,” Brown explained, noting that they offered home heating services for a time, and during another period in the 1980s rented movies and VHS tapes until Blockbuster started taking over the movie rental industry. “Dad and Harry Hammond both have a had a knack for knowing when to get in and out of a business,” Brown said.
Today, in the 30,000-square-foot building, the store carries a little bit of just about everything that homeowners, do-it-yourselfers or building contractors could be looking for. Brown estimates that they carry twice as many individual items as a larger, big box store because they strive to carry such a wide variety of items.
“Our customers often say, ‘I knew you guys would have it,’” Brown explained. “We’ve always had a mix of homeowners and contractors. We’ve been Cecil County’s hardware store for quite some time.”
Situated on what is now, following an expansion, a seven-acre site, American Home and Hardware has a growing lumber and building materials business.
Brown explained that the company works closely with vendors in the lumber industry to get the best prices possible for customers. This can be tricky because the lumber markets fluctuate based on a variety of factors.
“The lumber industry, over the last 20 years, has really changed and become much more technical,” Brown said.
American Home and Hardware also has a membership with the Do It Best Corporation cooperative, which is a member-owned hardware, lumber, and building materials cooperative based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Again, it's the customers who benefit because the store is able to offer more products at a lower price.
Each year, Brown explained, they organize an event that brings contractors together with vendors so that information about industry trends can be shared.
“We've learned a lot through the years,” he explained. “We try to work with vendors that are really going to be fair with customers.”
In addition to competitive prices and having more items that other places won't have, American Home and Hardware also prides itself on providing superior customer service. Brown said that the experienced staff can help people make sure they are getting exactly what they need for a project. Harry Brown and Harry Hammond both worked for the company before they purchased the business in 1979, so they have nearly 100 years of business experience between them. They are still involved in the business today—as the CEO and president, respectively. American Home and Hardware is very much a family business. Two of Harry Brown's siblings, Tom Brown and Rob Brown, have key roles with the store, and other family members have worked there as well. Many of the store's 50 employees have been there for a long time as well, with some staying for 20 years or longer.
“People have come to expect a knowledgeable staff and good customer service,” Brown said. “What we try to do is sell you what you need, and only what you need. We want to make sure that you have the right things. We have a lot of repeat customers, and that's exactly why.”
Brown explained that it's important for customers to be able to trust what they are being sold. That's where an experienced staff can be very helpful―to assist customers so that they don't leave the store with the wrong item.
As an illustration, Brown recalled a time, years ago, when a customer came in and was about to purchase ten GFCI outlets that are used to provide protection from electrical shocks. The GFCI outlets are considerably more expensive than regular outlets, and the customer only really needed one GFCI outlet to accomplish what he wanted. A staff member was able to inform the customer that there was no need to purchase ten of the GFCI outlets, and he was able to save money on the purchase as a result. American Home and Hardware earned the loyalty of a customer that day.
Brown said that some of the customers have been relying on the store for their hardware needs since the times when he would come into the store as a kid.
“Growing up in the business, I’ve known some of these people my whole life,” he explained. “We have customers that we’ve had for decades. It's nice to see these people for all these years.”
The store, and by extension the Brown family, has very close ties to the community.
Brown said that it has always been a point of pride that so many local people have had their first work experience at American Home and Hardware and then gone on to do good things in the community.
“We’ve had a lot of people who worked here in high school and they’ve gone on to serve as police officers or to start their own businesses,” Brown said. “A lot of our employees have gone on to bigger and better things.”
They also take very seriously the loyalty of customers, who are considered to be a part of the extended family.
“Family is important to us, and I think that shows in our business,” Brown said. “We're local and we know our customers. If they are not happy, we are not happy.”
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.