For 20 years, Pete Erickson’s job was selling and servicing forestry equipment, which required him to travel all across New England. Yet four years ago he decided to change his career path drastically.
From spending his days outside in the skidders and feller bunchers to entering into the independent home improvement retail industry, Erickson wanted to find a career that would give him the chance to spend more time with his wife Melissa and their three children.
So when his mother-in-law’s husband was ready to retire from owning and operating the local hardware store, Erickson decided to jump into store ownership. Located directly across the street from the school where his wife works as a guidance counselor and his kids attend, it was the perfect opportunity to be close to family and dive into his entrepreneurial dreams.
Today, Erickson’s Hardware and Gift, located in Hampden, Maine, provides both DIYers and pros all the products they need to complete various home improvement projects.
“There is a true sense of community that comes from owning a small business in Hampden,” Erickson says. “It’s a good feeling knowing that our store is the answer to people’s problems.”
However, the business has attracted even more interest with its unique additions not frequently associated with a hardware operation—a combined coffee and ice cream shop.
Selling Sweet Treats
Even before Erickson took over the hardware store, there was an ice cream shop that was connected to the building and welcomed seasonal customers during the warmer months. When Erickson bought the operation, he decided to make it a year-round addition to the store and made improvements to the ice cream shop to attract new customers and hardware store shoppers alike.
To complement the ice cream selection, last December Erickson decided to add coffee and pastries from other local businesses to the menu. The shop brews Unrest Coffee, which is roasted in town. The business also sells fresh-baked goods from Bagel Central, which is located in Bangor, Maine.
“Our ice cream and coffee shop is a popular stop in town,” Erickson says. “In the spring, the space is full of families and kids stopping by for tasty treats.”
To promote it and increase the business, Erickson has even started offering gift certificates for a free cup of coffee or an ice cream cone for shoppers who spend over $50.
Niches and Events Attract Customers
In addition to attracting ice cream and coffee lovers, Erickson’s Hardware and Gift serves a combination of homeowners and business owners. However, just as they’ve found ways to be unique with their ice cream and coffee shop, the store has also made an effort to attract a wider audience of shoppers, Erickson says.
Although Melissa works away from the business, she has helped when it comes to sourcing for the gift shop area of the business.
“In addition to the core categories, our store also has a solid gift shop and sells Hallmark cards,” Erickson says. “I really trust my wife Melissa, because she knows just what our female shoppers are going to want. It’s nice to see our store full of shoppers browsing the entire store, and a lot of that is due to Melissa’s great insights.”
Their three children are also a constant presence around the store, coming by after school or enjoying an ice cream cone now and then. Their oldest son also works in the store during the summer months, Erickson says.
Another category where the store has found success is its grilling department, where pellet grills have grown in popularity. In fact, during the summer months, they’ll cook on the grills outside as a way to attract customers and show off the features of these special grills.
Erickson Hardware and Gift is an active business in the Hampden community, participating in town events like Children’s Day, where families bring their kids and they enjoy free ice cream. Participating in community-wide events and in-store events is another way to remain a part of the community, Erickson says.
“We truly enjoy being a part of our community,” he says. “Not too many businesses allow you to see and interact with as many people as the hardware business does.”