Dale and Shelly Drew, owners of Merrilees Hardware, say the best aspect of running three successful home improvement locations is being able to help customers. The company’s motto is “We’re the problem-solvers,” a principle that’s shown in action each day.
“When you have your own business, you feel like people are coming into your home and your customers are your family,” Shelly says. “I love helping people and spending the time to really understand what a customer needs and help them get through a project.”
With the support of their longtime distributor, House-Hasson, Merrilees Hardware offers a deep product mix, including hardlines, automotive gear and pool products that came just in time for summer. The Drews say their connection to House-Hasson has strengthened their business through the years.
“We have a very personal relationship with House-Hasson and Distribution America,” Dale says. “We know we can count on them for exactly what we need.”
The Right Mix
Much like Distribution America operates a powerful international network, Merrilees Hardware comprises a thriving chain of regional locations. Dale and Shelly empower each location to find the right mix of products and services to meet customers’ needs perfectly.
The business began when Dale’s father, Michael, bought Merrilees Hardware in 1980 in Cleves, Ohio. Dale worked in the store throughout high school, and as that store established itself, Michael bought additional locations in nearby towns Milan and Bright, Indiana, throughout the 1990s.
Dale now manages all three locations, but has developed a company structure that permits each location to find its own local footing to best serve customers. Dale oversees day-to-day operations in Cleves, and Shelly focuses on the Bright location. Two brothers who have worked with the business for decades guide the Milan location. The arrangement allows each store to best serve its community, the Drews say.
The Bright location caters more to DIYers than to pros, the Cleves location is split about evenly and the Milan location, Merrilees’ largest, caters to both consumer segments, with an added focus on farm supply due to its rural location.
“I’m happy with the mix,” Dale says. “The stores complement each other and let us pursue both markets in each store to help keep things flowing all year long.”
One of the most important aspects of their operation’s success is finding the right mix of employees, the Drews say. They have around 30 employees among three locations,
and managers are always looking for new hires to strengthen the business.
“Finding good staff members is one of the biggest challenges,” Dale says. “I’m always keeping my eyes open for new employees. I’ll add an employee even if I don’t technically need one, if that person is a good, quality candidate for the store.”
Shelly says the first few days on the job are a crucial period to instill lasting training values. Once the basics of the POS system and customer interactions are met, it’s time for the employee to work directly on the floor helping customers and refining their product knowledge.
I can’t begin to say enough about how important the employees are to our success. We truly value them, and they’re such a huge part of helping to take care of Merrilees’ customers.
—Shelly Drew, Merrilees Hardware
Eyes on the Future
The Drews say they’re considering ways to extend Merrilees’ reach and grow its customer base.
Dale is collaborating with House-Hasson on an addition to his Cleves location. He and Shelly are also open to adding new stores to the Merrilees network.
“We’re so busy now that opening a new location is a little overwhelming, but we always keep our eyes open and would love to grow into northern Kentucky,” Shelly says.
This year, the business is celebrating 20 years in Bright. The Drews have two children, a daughter who is studying education in college and a son in high school. They would love to see one of them run Merrilees Hardware, but feel comfortable knowing whatever the future holds, the business has a solid base of support from its longtime employees.
“I can’t begin to say enough about how important the employees are to our success,” Shelly says. “We truly value them, and they’re such a huge part of helping to take care of Merrilees’ customers.”