Denman Hardware supports islanders’ self-sufficiency
As owners of the Denman Hardware store for just under two years, Graeme and Verna Isbister, Stirling Fraser and Noni Fenwick- Wilson had not factored a pandemic into the business plan. But Denman Hardware didn’t miss a beat when businesses starting shutting down in March.
“We didn’t close, we adapted the store protocol for customers to line up 6 feet apart, we served them outdoors, and they used a bank or credit card to tap through the glass, so they didn’t have to come in at all,” says Graeme. “We reduced our hours to 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, yet we found no drop in sales or support. We got so much positive feedback and appreciation that we were still open.”
One loyal customer even serenaded them with a violin outside the store in thanks for their service.
Gardens were a priority
In fact, the pandemic hit right at the start of gardening season, when supplies were in great demand.
“It was almost like a Y2K thing – people were thinking about the future and how to be self-sufficient,” says Graeme. “Also, people had more time on their hands, and with no holidays or activities to attend, the ‘Honey-do’ list came out with home and garden projects lined up.”
Seeds, soil, manure, and poultry fencing sold out regularly as locals planted gardens and built chicken coops in preparation for the unknown. Plumbing supplies were hot as more islanders built greenhouses with watering systems. He said it was difficult to get product in as garden centres everywhere were selling out. But backorders eventually came through and some products – like bedding plants, raspberries, and reusable produce bags – were locally sourced.
“Sell things that people need.”
Graeme says the hardware gig has a steep learning curve but the unofficial store motto is ‘Sell things that people need’.
“It’s like drinking from a firehose – there is so much to know! A contractor may come in and ask for something I’ve never even heard of. But we’re always learning and constantly asking customers what they need.”
Friendly, helpful staff, great selection, plus equipment rentals
And so, the staff knows that hardware can be intimidating, and want you to feel comfortable asking questions.
“There are so many options – even for a simple light bulb these days. We’re here to help you make choices about what would best meet your needs. It’s important to have someone knowledgeable, patient and approachable, and that’s what we all try to do.”
For a store of its size, the selection is extensive. From lumber, building blocks and fenceposts to camping and fishing gear, to water toys and kitchen items, and even garden shoes and boots!
And it provides some equipment rentals. For a fee you can rent a post pounder, hammer drill, drain auger, plumbing crimper, scaffolding, and an electrical fish stick. Bulk sales let you buy just the four screws you need, or wire, rope or chain by the foot.
Besides helping locals complete home and garden projects, the store contributes to the community in other ways.
As an employer, Denman Hardware provides income for the four owners plus one full-time employee, sales associate Colleen Yezagelian.
“Colleen is a tremendous asset,” says Graeme. “She’s friendly, personable, hard-working and knows the business really well. Overall, we’re a great team, we all enjoy working together and complement each other’s skills and abilities. It’s a good place to be, it’s a safe space.”
As restrictions are lifted Denman Hardware continues to adapt; you can pay in-store and one person at a time is allowed in the store now. “Which is flexible, depending on what areas they need to be in,” says Graeme. “When there is a lineup, one of us works the line to see how we can help you within five to ten minutes.”
Graeme feels the store’s prices are fair and they have occasionally had lower prices than off island stores. “We can’t compete with Big Box stores, but when you factor in gas, the ferry, and your time, we keep things affordable while at the same time run a viable business and keep the doors open.”
Email, phone and delivery service
The pandemic also prompted ordering by email or phone and delivery service, all of which the store will keep providing. Customers can email [email protected] or call 250-335-2400 with an order and then pick it up at the store the next day or have it delivered for a small fee.
They plan to continue with reduced hours for the foreseeable future but are open to after-hours shopping by appointment.
“It works well for us. If we steward our time and energies well, we can maintain a pace that allows us to keep doing this, so that we’re here for a long time to serve the community. We know that people could buy in town but choose to shop here. We so appreciate islanders’ support – it’s what keeps our doors open.”
Drop by Denman Hardware at 1071 Northwest Road, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, or call 250-335-2400 or email [email protected].
Written by Trish Weatherall
Published in The Islands Grapevine, July 30, 2020
For more about Denman Island, BC, go to VisitDenmanIsland.ca