“Buy from the merchants who are your next-door neighbors. They are the folks who go to church with you, buy from other local firms and keep the money flowing within the community. Your local independent retailer is a longtime resident of the area who actively participates in and generously supports the community.”
That passage was written by a retail store owner, who worried about large competitors encroaching on his turf. The year wasn’t 2011, 2001 or even 1991.
It was written in the 1930s by a James Lowry. He operated a retail plumbing and heating firm that felt threatened by a growing number of chain-store competitors. Back then, he was fearful of the rapidly expanding Sears, Roebuck and Co., and Montgomery Ward, which offered essentially the same lines of plumbing supplies that were available in his store.
More than 70 years later, the players have changed, but much of the story line has not. Independents are leery — and rightfully so — of big-box competition, and they’re looking for every edge.
Some of them are finding it in independent-minded vendors. In the corner of the independents are allies including Benjamin Moore, Stihl and John Deere — brands that have the power to decide how they are sold. Then there are smaller players such as Fertilome that might lack the mass following, but share the independent commitment.
But with the three leading big-box home centers accounting for about $125 billion in sales, is it a good idea to avoid them?
For Benjamin Moore, which has sold to independents since 1883, the answer appears to be “yes.” A spokesman said the company has no reason to switch allegiances. “We’ve seen hard times before,” he said. “We’ve had a very successful track record selling to our independent network.”
Ditto for Fertilome, which began 43 years ago selling only to independent garden centers. “We were built on a commitment to independent dealers and have never thought of deviating from that course,” said Geneva Aragon, marketing operations manager for Fertilome.
The company’s 1968 beginning pre-dated Home Depot and Lowe’s. Still, as Home Depot and Lowe’s have grown and prospered, Fertilome hasn’t budged from its position. “No. No, absolutely not,” Aragon said. “We have a loyal customer base of independent r