Scott Emory took an unconventional route into the hardware business. He started as a premed student and worked as a physician’s assistant in a trauma unit before deciding he didn’t want to be a doctor. He did a stint with his father’s insurance business, and then went into sales, first in medical supplies, then office supplies, then coffee.
In 1999, Emory bought a 175-year-old home in Madison, N.J., and restored it from the ground up. A few years later, he bought and restored a Long Valley house built in 1721. He learned a lot about home improvement along the way, and it was his enjoyment of this kind of work that convinced him to go into the hardware business.
“I love trying to help people, showing them new products, being there for them,” said Emory, 42, who bought Mendham Hardware & Paint in Mendham, N.J., just over a year ago. “It’s a small town, a small community. A lot of people have been here for 30 or 40 years.”
Mendham Hardware & Paint has been around even longer than that. It was started by a New Jersey lumber dealer named Sig Kuepferle in the waning days of World War II as an addition to his lumberyard. The GI Bill of 1944 guaranteed low-interest home loans to veterans, and Kuepferle had put himself in position to take advantage of the rapid growth of suburbia.
When his lumber business burned to the ground in 1948, Kuepferle put all his energy into the hardware store. He fashioned the store around his expertise in architectural design, electric, wiring and other areas, and Mendham Hardware & Paint became the go-to place for homeowners in this tight-knit community. Almost 60 years and two owners later, it remains just that.
“There are a lot of people involved in horseback riding. There are a lot of gentlemen’s farms,” said Emory, whose own family moved to Mendham in 1968. He bought the store from Jeff Cook, who had owned it since Kuepferle retired in 1982—almost 20 years after the business was relocated to a strip mall in the town’s shopping area.
Mendham Hardware & Paint caters to homeowners—who make up about 70 percent of the clientele, compared to 30 percent professionals—carrying a wide array of categories and hundreds of product skus. Emory buys about 80 percent of his stock from Orgill, though he looks to outside sources for paint, glass, door-knobs, door pulls, corner brackets and some housewares. And he has the only store in the immediate area that carries the Martin Senour paint line, whose Williamsburg Collection was inspired by the traditional colors of Colonial Williamsburg, Va.
“We carry a lot of things that others don’t,” Emory said, referring to such categories as equine-related supplies, paintball products and fishing supplies.
One of the store’s regular customers is Paul Kuepferle, 57, a college professor and filmmaker, and son of the original owner. He gives Cook and Emory credit for keeping the store current and relevant to today’s homeowner.
“It’s very interesting because hardware store owners today have to compete with the big-box stores,” Kuepferle said. “For five or 10 years after he retired, people still came to my father’s home to ask him questions. People had an understanding that competency matters, but I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.”
Emory tries to stave off big-box competition by offering more services, like changing clock batteries and assembling products, mostly at no charge. He believes in giving back to the community where he has lived and worked most of his life, and strives to make the store a home away from home for its loyal customers.
“People come in with their coffee, sit wherever they can find a chair and chat,” he said. “My goal is to put in a checkerboard with two chairs this summer.”
The store also has a display of replacement windows and doors from Royal Prime, which Emory said generates customer interest on a daily basis. More than that, it keeps customers coming into Mendham Hardware & Paint instead of making the 30- to 40-minute trip to three different big boxes in neighboring towns.
“We’re serving the needs of [local] people,” he said. “We’re trying to keep business in the community. We pride ourselves on the fact that every individual, no matter what they’re asking for—one screw or a whole household of goods—we give them the same attention and service.”