Four years and one challenging start later, True Value of Rock Hill in Rock Hill, South Carolina, has found its groove as a business and a member of the community. Owner Jay Simpson opened the store in February 2020 with business partner Alex Dorsey, who also serves as part-owner of City True Value in Chester, South Carolina, with Simpson’s father, Jack Simpson Jr.
“I was just getting out of college with a degree in entrepreneurship and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Jay says. “My dad told me Alex was interested in opening a second store, so I jumped at the chance to join him.”
Jay was 24 and Alex was 28 when they endeavored to open the second location, and a few weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, testing their ambitions. The duo had scheduled the grand opening for April 2, 2020, which ended up being the same day they had to close the store’s doors for several weeks.
“Fortunately, hardware was deemed an essential business, so we were able to open a few weeks later,” Jay says. “It ended up being really good for us saleswise and to show our community we were there for them. We partnered with a local veterinary lab that manufactured hand sanitizer and sold about 10,000 bottles, providing a much-needed product to the community.”
As a new store, True Value of Rock Hill had only about 3,000 SKUs, which made the pandemic-induced inventory shortages extra challenging. Jay says they had to scramble to find new SKUs and planograms, which led them to stock local items, a strategy they’ve continued. The store carries locally made and sourced products, including raw milk, canned vegetables and jellies, grill seasonings, steel mailboxes, candles, flashlights and Christmas ornaments.
“Those local products held stock in the store when it felt like everything else was out from our vendors,” Jay says. “We’ve kept all of those products too, since they have sold well.”
Other niches Jay and Alex have carved out at True Value of Rock Hill include small engine repair, battery-powered tools and lawnmowers.
“We’re best known for our STIHL selection,” Jay says. “We just increased our 52-foot display by an extra 20 feet in anticipation of more battery-powered sales. In just a few months in 2023, we also sold 19 zero-turn lawn mowers, putting us as the top dealer for our region, which I am proud of because we’re a small hardware store and not a large landscaping retailer.”
Jay says they employ the only gold-certified STIHL mechanic in town and also have two silver-certified STIHL mechanics on staff, so repair times are usually a same-day turnaround.
Despite the challenges with opening the store, Jay and Alex found success, marking almost $900,000 in sales in their first year when they were slated to make $650,000. For 2023, Jay says they are on track to net $1.6 million.
Beyond the Store
Finding the right product mix during a tumultuous time was one key to the store’s success. Jay says the employees at True Value of Rock Hill and the store’s involvement with the community are other crucial components.
Jay and Alex treat the store’s seven employees like an extension of the family, offering them a genuine work-life balance and flexibility. In return, their employees provide the personable, high-quality customer service they want to be known for and that sets them apart from the competition.
“It’s always good to know our customers’ names and to go out of our way to help them find what they want. Our customers like being recognized and always remember when they’ve been helped,” Jay says. “Even if we don’t have the product on the shelf, we always ask them if we can order it for them or get it from our other store. That’s what keeps them coming back.”
Employees are also included in the decision-making process. For example, Jay says at one point they were having a difficult time finding a good cooler to stock. He asked the two cashiers, Katie and Elaine, who recommended Brumate coolers.
“We went with their recommendation, and now we have a good selection of unique coolers and coffee cups that no
one else in the area stocks,” Jay says. “We appreciate and want our employees’ input because the store is just as much their livelihood as it is ours.”
Going the extra mile extends beyond the walls of the store. True Value of Rock Hill hosts raffles throughout the year to support local organizations and contributed funds raised by two raffles to build a special needs park in town. The store also participates in its wholesaler’s paint grant program to donate paint to eligible schools.
“Our customers love coming into the store for our quick service, attention to cleanliness and product variety,” Jay says. “We stand out by being committed to selling local and high-quality products and showing we are engaged with our customers, employees and community.”