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Part-Time Job Inspires Family to Get Into Hardware

For more than 50 years, Jim White, owner of Boyne City Hardware in Boyne City, Michigan, has been working in the hardware industry.

And unlike many retailers who grew up in the business, Jim got into the hardware business before his dad did.

In 1965, Jim was a teenager in Midland, Michigan, who wanted a steady job that would help him earn some money for college. While looking through the newspaper, he discovered a stock boy position at a dime store was available. He went to apply for the job, but was immediately turned down.

Jim knew he did not want to go home without a job. So, he went to apply at Midland Ace Hardware, a decision that would change his and his family’s lives forever.

“I knew the owner of the hardware store, Dana Campbell, because my dad shopped there,” he says. “So I went to his office and applied for a job as a stock boy. Since Mr. Campbell had never hired a high school kid before, he asked me why I thought he needed a stock boy. I told him, ‘I’ve been coming into your hardware store with my dad and it’s pretty messy. I think I can straighten it up.’ He smiled and hired me on the spot for $1 an hour.”

From Part-Time Job to Long-Term Career

Jim worked at Midland Ace Hardware after school, on Saturdays and during summer breaks over the next four years, including two years in high school and two years at Delta Junior College.

“During my first year at the store, I remember not knowing very much about selling hardware,” he says. “After a short time working as a stock boy, I was working with the owner. He told me he was tired and that I should stop cleaning the shelves and help the next customer that walked in.”

He impressed his boss, and from then on, Jim worked as a store clerk and learned the ins and outs of customer service.

While he worked for Campbell, Jim learned valuable lessons about what is important in the hardware business, he says.

“Mr. Campbell seemed to know everyone who walked in the doors,” he says. “It was always so impressive to me, and I figured out early on, you make it a point to know your customers, remember their names and talk with them. I still remember that ability of his to interact with customers and I do the same and encourage my employees to as well. I think that’s my biggest strength.”

Getting More Family Into the Business

While Jim worked at Midland Ace Hardware, his dad watched him work. When the store went up for for sale, his dad was inspired to buy it, even though he had no retail experience and was just one year shy of receiving pension from his job.

“At first, my mom wasn’t on board. But eventually, she jumped in and helped my dad by working at the store. She managed the organization of the business, like the inventory, and this was before computers were part of the business,” he says. “After my brother Greg graduated from college and returned from serving in the U.S. Navy, he began working with my parents, and has been in the hardware business for 40 years now.”

Jim returned to the family business after he graduated from Michigan State University and his dad asked him to manage a failing store he had bought in Boyne City, Michigan.

“After living in Boyne City that year, we secured new customers and increased profits, so we decided to stay and expand the store,” Jim says.

He tripled the size of the store and continues to operate it 42 years later. This makes him Boyne City’s longest operating business owner. In honor of this accomplishment, he received a golden hammer award from the Estwing Company. Earlier this month at the Ace Hardware Convention, president and CEO John Venhuizen presented him with the award.

Over the years, Jim has learned that giving employees opportunities to learn and grow is crucial to success.

“I think it is so important for retailers to trust their employees,” Jim says. “I know some owners have told me they feel like they have to be there seven days a week. It’s so important to let your employees learn and give them opportunities to handle jobs without you.”

Today, Jim enjoys working with his family and bouncing business ideas off of his daughter and brother downstate. And just like he did when he first started working, his 8-year-old grandson, Miles, is following in his footsteps. Miles enjoys stocking the shelves like his grandfather did 50 years ago.

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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