Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/9/2018 (465 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This weekend will mark 10 years of Pollock’s Hardware Co-op's unlikely battle against a slew of big box mega-retailers, proving that community support really can hold history at bay — for a while.
Now, if it can just survive the Amazon onslaught and the allure of online shopping...
The old-timey North Main Street hardware store has been cutting keys, selling paint, hand tools and cast iron pans since 1922.
When community groups rallied and sold memberships and formed a co-op 10 years ago to keep the store alive there was much goodwill and belief in the strength of the North End.
"We want people to buy more. Instead of just getting a key cut, maybe buy three gallons of paint. That's what we really need." -Board chairman Blair Hamilton
And the neighborhood customers have responded and kept shopping at the store. As well, 3,000 co-op members, up 25 per cent over the past five years, account for about 30 per cent of sales.
But Steve Kirk, the new general manager who succeeded Mike Wolchock — the co-op's founding manager, still has to explain to customers who call in about why Pollock's can't compete with online prices from retailers that are based who-knows-where.
"We don’t want to match Home Depot on price but we want to be in the same ballpark," Kirk said. "That's something that we have been making efforts on."
While they can't compete on price or on the range of offerings, Pollock's can win the charm offensive. The experience of shopping at Pollock's is as much of a draw as the actual products that are being purchased.
"Almost every day someone comes in and says they remember coming here with their grandfather or stories like that," said Kirk, who spent the previous 15 years as a member of the Organic Planet worker co-op. "We hear that constantly. Where else can you get that?"
Kirk said the reality of big box retailers is now well known, but online prices are another story.
"Being in the neighbourhood, we are 10-to-15 minutes closer than any big box store," he said. "We are providing a convenience and a lot of people know and respect that connection and people are willing to pay a few dollars more. When people say they can get something online for half the price Pollock's charges they are not thinking about the other costs involved."
While the neighbourhood traffic in the North End has kept that store around the break-even point for 10 years, an ill-fated second location on South Osborne has come and gone and a contractor store servicing social enterprises stayed open a little too long. Losses from those attempts to expand now sit like a millstone over the co-op, said board chairman Blair Hamilton.
"It's retail," Hamilton said. "We're fighting for our life every day. But we're plugging along. We need to have people continue coming through the door."
And that is effectively the essence of the go-forward strategy to survive.
The co-op raised about $50,000 five years ago through a provincial tax credit program but that's not an option that can be utilized again and Hamilton said it would not be fair to ask members for another cash call.
"We want people to buy more," he said. "Instead of just getting a key cut, maybe buy three gallons of paint. That's what we really need."
The plan is to continue with some unique product offerings — like Aladdin oil lamps that someone recently dropped several hundred dollars on and $37 stainless steel ice cube trays — with an emphasis on local to the extent possible and to encourage green thinking and green offerings.
Hamilton said membership is stable and there's no urgent need to increase those numbers, but new board members are being recruited for the upcoming annual meeting to replace three long-standing directors who are stepping down.
Meanwhile, a small North End Biz grant will help spruce up the store front and people still keep coming back, treading the creaky hardwood floors of the ancient building with its functioning rotary-dial phone, stopping to pet store mascot, Ratchet the cat, who's often found asleep beside the till.
Kirk said new young home owners in Point Douglas are a potential supply of new customers.
"I don’t have a silver bullet up my sleeve to turn things around," Kirk said. "I have faith and hope that we do have enough support from the neighbourhood where we do business to keep us afloat and to keep us going ahead."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.