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Back in 1961, a group of 13 enterprising hardware retailers pooled together a cool $13,000 to open a warehouse in Houston.
Their goal was to join together in the collective support of the independent hardware store operator. It’s a concept that continues today at Houston-based Handy Hardware Wholesale, which will be celebrating its Golden Anniversary at its Fall Market later this month in San Antonio.
Much has changed. But much has stayed the same.
“Our core mission will be to continue serving the independent hardware store retailers,” said Mickey Schulte, VP purchasing and marketing for Handy. “We’ve learned over the years to service independent-minded dealers. And we’re blessed with a lot of those kind of people in our markets.”
While many of the co-op’s 1,300 or so dealer locations are in rural areas, big cities are part of the mix, too, and Schulte said there’s no reason why the model can’t work anywhere.
“We have territories where we support many rural dealers, but we’re also in two of the largest metroplexes in America — Houston and Dallas.
While the co-op has grown well beyond its Texas roots, it maintains a Southern character and expertise. “We’ve refined our inventory over the years to tack care of some of the unique characteristics of our regions,” Schulte said. “Marine products, hurricane prevention items, these are important to us.” He added. “It doesn’t hurt to have a Southern accent.”
Of course, with the addition of a new distribution center in Meridian, Miss., points East and North are considered fair game. “The key to our growth is our Meridian distribution center, as we move East and gain the ability to grow business efficiently,” Schulte said.
Ten years ago, on the occasion of the co-op’s 40th anniversary, Handy went in search of the original 13, with confusing results. It seems an overlapping entity called Handy Hardware Stores introduces uncertainty. But Houston-area dealers such as Werner Hardware, Martini Hardware and South Park Hardware were among the original founders.
“The special spirit and deep loyalty of Handy members today can be traced directly to these founding fathers,” read the Handy newsletter.
Based on profiles of Handy retailers in this special section, the same can be said today.