In my office hangs an old clock that was manufactured about 100 years ago. Its significance? It hung in my grandfather’s workspace for decades before he retired.
My memory of his working years were clear: He was a “hardware man”, heading off to work each morning in a white shirt and tie. He worked at a place called Taylor’s Hardware in downtown Wakefield, MA. I’m pretty sure the building is still there, but Taylor’s is probably long gone, a victim of changing shopping habits.
It was one of those classic old-school hardware stores – wooden floors, crammed and narrow aisles, nails in barrels. And the salesmen all wore white shirts and ties. And they knew their hardware. All the nuts and bolts.
My father, who’s still kickin’ at 92, spent his working life in the marine hardware business in South Florida. The store primarily served boat builders and yacht captains, but my dad and his guys knew their nuts and bolts, too. They dressed more casually (no air conditioning, except in the offices), but theirs was still a profession to them.
The retail scene has changed, but the need for professionalism and expertise hasn’t.
While I never worked in either store, I picked up plenty of knowledge along the way. Same for the automotive scene, but any discussion of today’s auto parts stores is best left for another day.
I can find my away around modern home-supply warehouses pretty well, but I still need expert help from time to time. As partial as I am to orange and blue, I’m not always confident that the people in those vests always know what they are talking about. Some are incredibly smart; they know far more than I’ll ever know. But, there are a few who act like they don’t know the difference between standard and metric wrenches.
When my grandfather worked at Taylor’s in Wakefield, it was probably the only full-service hardware store in town. Today, within six miles of the town are two Home Depots, two Lowe’s and three Ace Hardware stores. Sixty years ago, Taylor’s probably didn’t have to worry about nearby competitors stealing their best employees. Today they’d have a tough time competing for skilled people.
As the retail sector recovery gains steam, all of the players face the challenge of handling growth with a skilled, experienced workforce. I don’t know how many project managers and superintendents were shed during the recession, but I suspect many of them have moved on to other careers and have no desire to return to retail.
That means it’s even more important than ever for retailers and their industry suppliers to work with partners who know what they are doing. The need for even-more-efficient building practices and the push for more-sustainable building practices mean that the right skills will be in even more demand.
Not that hiring the best people was ever easy, but as the retail economy rebounds it will be even more important to find the best people, train them properly and weave them into the industry.
Dave Doucette is the editorial director for Retail Design & Construction Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.