~story and photos by Paige Langenderfer
When Curt and Penny Scroggins bought a hardware store in Nashville 20 years ago their only goal was to keep their heads above water. Nearly two decades later, they have doubled the size of the original store and become a fixture in the community.
After working in hardware sales for 15 years, Curt said buying what was then named Cook’s Hardware seemed like a natural next step.
“I had worked with the previous owner at a hardware store in the past, so we knew each other,” Curt said. “Everything fell into place at the right time.”
Soon after the purchase, Penny sold her bakery in Bloomington and began working at the hardware store full time. The couple renamed the store Bear Hardware, in memory of Curt’s late brother Barry, whom Curt called “Bear.”
“Our sons were 9 and 11 at the time, so our goals were to raise our family and to hopefully be successful with the store,” Penny said.
Their son Sam had a goal then, too—he wanted to run the cash register.
“I told him that when he was tall enough to see the buttons, he could run the register,” Curt said. “It’s been a great place to raise our family.”
The store continued to offer hardware and paint supplies, but Curt and Penny soon started adding merchandise based on what customers asked for.
“We listened and if a customer asked for something, and we thought it would sell, we would add it the store,” Penny said.
They soon learned that what customers wanted more than anything was customer service.
“Customer service is basically dead these days,” Penny said.
“People want to go to a place where the staff is friendly and helpful and actually cares about their problems. Our staff is dedicated and knowledgeable and that is what we have over the big box stores. We will never be able to compete on all of the pricing, but we will always have better customer service. And when people find customer service, they are so thankful that they are willing to pay a little extra to get it.”
Penny and Curt have far exceeded their original goals of “just staying above water.” The store has gone through two major renovations, doubling the total square footage. They also purchased three acres next to the store for outdoor storage.
In addition to expanding the line of merchandise in the store, Penny and Curt also have added several complementary services to the business. They now offer tool and equipment rentals, haul gravel, sand, mulch and top soil, and also offer a trash service.
For $2 a bag, customers can drop off their trash and Bear Hardware employees will haul it to a landfill.
Penny said she is excited about the future of Bear Hardware.
“We will remain flexible and if an idea comes along, we will pursue it,” she said. “I have a theory that if you don’t change with the times, you go backwards. You have to be constantly changing and improving.”
Curt said he doesn’t see retirement anywhere in his future, and said he plans to run the store “forever.”
“I feel like we are an asset to the community,” he said. “People like the convenience and customer service and we plan on continuing to offer those things for as long as we can.”
Retirement also is not on Penny’s radar. She recently got her license to sell real estate.
“I like to wake up and be challenged every day,” she said.
While some things—ike offering excellent customer service and variety—have remained the same since the beginning, other things have changed dramatically in the nearly two decades of operation. The biggest change, Penny said, has been the addition of the internet.
“The internet has changed everything—from the way people shop and pay, to the way we do business,” she said. “We used to have these paper catalogs that were always outdated by the time we got them printed and in the store. Now everything is online, and customers can see what we have at any given moment. The internet has definitely made us more visible.”
Another major change has been the way people pay for purchases.
“When we started, my biggest fear was bad checks,” Penny said. “We maybe have had one bad check this year. People don’t pay with checks anymore, they all pay with cards. When we opened the store, we didn’t even have the ability to take a credit card payment.”
Items on the shelves have also shifted over the years.
“One area that has grown is camping and outdoors,” Penny said. “I think people spend so much time working indoors that when they do get time off they want to be outside.”
She said the canning and preserving aisles also have grown. When Curt and Penny bought the store there was a single, 6-foot section. Today, there are two, 12-foot aisles dedicated to canning and preserving.
Curt and Penny both say that their favorite part about owning the store is getting to know their customers.
“We love our customers,” Penny said. “It feels great when we are able to help them solve a problem.”
One of her favorite memories was with a customer who visited the store frequently. He would always bring his young son with him and one day the boy was wearing a new watch. Penny asked what time it was, and the boy answered, “time to visit Bear Hardware.”
Bear Hardware is located at 75 Chestnut Street in Nashville, behind the Brown County IGA, open daily, 7:30 a.m to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. You can reach them at (812) 988-8888, online at <http://www.bearhardware.com/home1.php>, and through their Facebook page.