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Enduring Traditions: Military Service and Hardware

Residents of Ellicott City, Maryland, patronize Clarks Ace Hardware for reasons beyond their latest home improvement project. Shopping at the store allows them to support a local, family-owned business. The business has a team of hardworking individuals, many of whom are military veterans.

For store owner Andy Clark and his daughter, Margaret Clark, the store’s inventory control manager, military service is a family tradition.

“The Clark family has proudly served the U.S. military for several generations,” Andy says.

Both Andy, an Army veteran, and Margaret, a Marine Corps veteran, spoke with Hardware Retailing about their military service in honor of Veterans Day.

“Veterans Day is so special because not only do you remember people that have fallen that were stationed with you, but you are also able to thank the ones that are still here,” Margaret says. “It’s a very proud day—it feels really good to give back to your country in this way.”

Like Father, Like Daughter

Andy’s father attended the Virginia Military Institute and served in World War II. Andy and his brother followed in their father’s footsteps, with Andy joining the Army and his brother joining the Marine Corps.

After serving in the Vietnam War, he returned to the United States in 1969 where he was stationed in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was then stationed in Vicksburg, Mississippi, at the Waterway Experiment Station for his final tour. There, more than 200 professional engineers did research in soils, concrete, hydraulics and environmental quality research.

Although Andy had previously worked in the hardware store that had been owned and operated by the family for five generations, he hadn’t planned on returning. Instead, he had planned a lifelong military career.

“My craft was engineering, not running hardware stores,” Andy says. “But when tragedy strikes, sometimes your world changes. My parents were killed in an automobile accident in 1972. Following the tragic and untimely death of my parents, my brother and I felt a familial duty to return to the hardware business.”

Andy’s dedication to serving his country was what led his daughter Margaret to serve the country as well.

“From an early age, I knew I wanted to join the military,” Margaret says. “I proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2005 to 2009. I’m the only one of my father’s children that went into the service.”

As a combat correspondent and broadcast journalist, Margaret’s role in the Marine Corps was as a journalist, photographer, media specialist and broadcaster.

Although Margaret says one of the reasons she joined the military was to get away from the family business, as her four-year enlistment came to a close, she was ready and eager to return.

“After my four years, I knew I was ready to pursue my education full-time and revisit my role in the store,” Margaret says. “I attended John Hopkins University, where I studied business administration with a concentration in management, and meanwhile, I worked part time at the store.”

Military Experience Strengthens Family Business

For Andy, the military taught him many important life lessons, which translate well into the hardware industry.

“We try to run the store like a Rhine riverboat captain after he has been through a few locks. Everyone has specific duties to make the passage a success,” Andy says. “With the right training, we give our employees responsibility for certain departments.”

As for Margaret, training was one of the biggest takeaways from the military that she applies in business.

“Whether it’s for a life-or-death situation or something essential in the store, training is the key to success,” Margaret says. “Not only does training build skills and expertise, but it also builds loyalty. When people know you are investing in them, it pays dividends.”

Margaret says the thick skin she gained during her service also helped her navigate the hardware business.

“I have to prove to my customers on a daily basis that even though I’m a woman, I have a strong business sense,” Margaret says. “And have a lot of knowledge from growing up in the industry most of my life. We have a long way to go in getting women to break through the glass ceiling in the hardware industry. However, it is definitely moving in the right direction.”

Over the years, Andy and the team have made it a point to hire high school and college-age associates. These individuals are able to learn how to relate to people and manage challenging situations, Andy explains.

“I came of age in the military,” Andy says. “It taught me about camaraderie, organization and the importance of education. Many people who worked in our store return years later as ‘alumni’ to tell us how valuable working at Clarks Hardware was for their first job. That makes us extremely proud.”

About Renee Changnon

Renee Changnon is the retail outreach coordinator for NRHA. She meets with retailers in their stores and at industry events and introduces them to the services NRHA provides. Renee previously worked as a member of the NRHA communications team. She earned a degree in visual journalism from Illinois State University, where she served as the features editor for the school newspaper. After college, she implemented marketing and promotions initiatives at Jimmy John’s franchise locations across the country. She enjoys exploring books with her book club, Netflix marathons and hosting goat yoga at her apartment complex. Renee Changnon 317-275-9442 rchangnon@nrha.org

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