Sisters Julie Buchkowski and Tricia Dauwalder-Luna have a special bond. Not only are they best friends, but even as they have built families of their own, they have remained as close as ever by working together in their family business, Paul’s Ace Hardware.
The business began in 1956, when their grandfather Paul Dauwalder bought a hardware store because he wanted to be his own boss. Today, his granddaughters Buchkowski and Dauwalder-Luna are eager to keep the growing operation a vital part of the Arizona communities they serve.
A Hardware Upbringing
Since childhood, Dauwalder-Luna says she and her sister watched their grandfather and father, Don Dauwalder, run the business and build their vision of expanding to additional locations.
“Our grandfather bought a hardware store in Scottsdale, Arizona, and although he was reluctant at first, he named it Paul’s Ace Hardware,” Dauwalder-Luna says. “My father began working with him years later. What started as one store is now up to eight locations, with the last two this past summer being acquisitions that were unplanned but worked out.”
Whether learning the ropes on the cash register or just playing while their dad worked, Buchkowski and Dauwalder-Luna spent their formative years in business. However, neither of them initially thought that their future careers would be to follow in the footsteps of their grandfather and father.
“Originally, I didn’t want to work for the company,” Dauwalder-Luna says. “I thought it’d be nice to have a family relationship separate from a work relationship. Now as I’m fully involved, I am so glad I went for it.”
Being raised in an entrepreneurial family also aided in the decision to join the business, which Dauwalder-Luna decided to do in 2005 after having worked for the police department as a dispatcher.
“My dad was looking to open another store and asked if I would want to join,” Buchkowski says. “When I was a kid, I didn’t think I’d want to work at the store. I later discovered how much I enjoyed working with my dad and using my entrepreneurial skills to implement changes, find new ideas and push the business forward.”
Today, Buchkowski and Dauwalder-Luna’s kids spend time in the stores like they did when they were younger. Yet unlike her childhood dreams, Dauwalder-Luna says her 11-year old daughter has already expressed interest in working in the business when she grows up and even cashiered some this past summer.
“My daughter has already told me she knows where she wants to go to college, and even asked me what classes she’d need to take to get my job one day,” Dauwalder-Luna jokes. “She’s eager to work her way through the company and learn. It’s great to see her so excited about what I do and the family business.”
In addition to Buchkowski’s 16-year-old son Sam working as an official employee, all their children enjoy spending time at the stores, learning how to work the cashier or just shadowing their parents.
Establishing Community Support
The eight stores with locations in five different cities all share the Paul’s Ace Hardware name, but they bring something unique to their specific customers, Dauwalder-Luna says.
For example, some of the stores are in strip malls, while others are stand-alone buildings. Their newest acquisition in Payson, further north than their other stores, specializes in hearths, woodstoves and pellet stoves, which is new to them and they are enjoying learning that business.
“Each store has its own niche,” Dauwalder-Luna says. “Even though they are all different, they match their communities very well.”
Not only do Paul’s Ace Hardware stores deliver the items most wanted and needed in their communities, but as a whole, the company is always looking to support their community in other ways as well.
Paul’s Ace sponsors different youth sports teams, high school marching bands and high school sports. Additionally, the company hosts a service project at a women’s shelter every year, and the business had a fundraiser to help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
“Many of the things we sponsor or donate to are important to our family and our Paul’s Ace Hardware family,” Buchkowski says. “For example, we started participating in Relay for Life after one of our longstanding employee’s asked to do it. Another employee is involved in an organization to give back to local families at Christmas time.”
To help spread the word and get to know their customers outside of a typical visit to their stores, they have even hired someone to take on the events aspect to ramp up involvement with community members. From hosting ladies nights, craft demonstrations, veterinarian vaccinations for dogs and a monthly kids event, the business stays busy to make those connections with their customers even stronger.
“I think hosting these events builds better relationships with our customers and the community,” Buchkowski says.
The Bonds of the Paul’s Ace Hardware Family
Even employing nearly 200 people across their eight locations, Buchkowski and Dauwalder-Luna both agree that the idea of family encompases both blood relatives and employees that are part of the Paul’s Ace Hardware family.
“Our business has just celebrated 61 years in Arizona,” Buchkowski says. “Hitting that milestone is special and we both are humbled by it. I love the Paul’s family and we have so many great people working with us. Over 20 percent of our employees have been with us more than 10 years and we have a good amount that have been with us 20 years.”
Although they visit the stores as often as they can, the sisters do most of their work at their headquarters office.
“With the help of all of our 183 employees, Tricia and I work out of the corporate office and make sure to get to the stores as often as possible,” Buchkowski says. “We both think it’s very important to be involved in the stores, know our employees and know our customers. It helps us keep a feel of what’s going on in the business, since we’re not always in front of the customers.”
While some people may find it difficult working with family, Buchkowski says they have had a very positive experience, as they both understand they’re looking to achieve the same goals.
“The success of Paul’s Ace Hardware stores is the common goal in our family, because we are always wanting to improve the customer experience and better our family name by contributing to the community,” Buchkowski says. “Tricia and I are fortunate that we get along as well as we do and that’s because we’ve defined our roles pretty well. We try hard not to step on each others toes.”
Sharing a workplace not only allows them to spend time with their children, but also one another, Dauwalder-Luna adds.
“I enjoy working with my sister,” Dauwalder-Luna says. “We are best friends and we’ve been together our whole lives. I’m glad we get to spend as much time together as we do. Outside of work both of us are very busy with our own families, so we get to spend time together a lot still, which is so special.”