The Grasso brothers, Giovanni and Angelo, worked alongside their father Angelo Grasso Sr. in the family business, AG Hardware and Paint in Brooklyn, New York, for 30 years. That experience laid the foundation for them to eventually successfully own and operate their own business and lead a team of hardworking employees.
When Giovanni and his wife Erika decided to move to upstate New York, opening their own hardware store with Angelo made perfect sense. The family trio opened the first Hatchet Hardware store in Brunswick, New York, in 2014. Since then, they have opened four additional locations in the region.
Each member of the family brings their own focus to the business. Giovanni and Erika manage the day-to-day operations, spending time at each location throughout the week, while Angelo focuses on business planning, financials and renovations. The business has been able to grow so quickly because the Grassos have made connections with area store owners who are looking to retire. Hatchet Hardware makes it possible for local businesses to continue to serve their communities.
By working with owners in the transition process of each new store, the Hatchet Hardware team gains insights into their customers, the local community, what products move and the items that don’t sell. In several cases, the original team that was there before the transition has remained, like at the Waterford location.
All of the stores, except one, are situated fairly close to one another, within a 15-minute drive in most cases. Each location offers the basics, including hardlines goods, garden supplies and paint. In addition, the home goods section is something Erika has been passionate about from the start and it is strongly represented across all five stores.
To keep a consistent look among the stores, the Grassos have focused on making sure each location provides natural light and has an airy feel to it. By renovating the buildings to make them brighter and opening up the layouts, the Grassos hope to provide a pleasant shopping experience for customers.
Caroline Bolibaugh dreamed of working for a family-owned business. When she learned Hatchet Hardware in Troy, New York, was hiring in July 2018 for a buyer and merchandiser, she jumped at the opportunity. Bolibaugh has since become the social media and marketing manager for the multilocation family-owned operation.
Although she didn’t come into the business with experience in hardware, Bolibaugh says that shouldn’t be a deterrent.
“In the past, people would shy away from applying at the stores because they would think they need a deep knowledge in hardware to join the team,” Bolibaugh says. “We let them know a construction background is a plus but individuals who are enthusiastic and creative are a great fit here. There is something everyone can do to be a part of the team at Hatchet Hardware.”
In addition to passionate employees, the team at Hatchet Hardware has a wealth of supportive customers. That has been significantly more apparent this year as the company has adapted to continue serving its local communities during the pandemic.
“We have had so much support throughout the past year from our customers,” Bolibaugh says. “They are great advocates for the stores, constantly sharing on their social media that they found sanitizer, masks or even our hours of operation online. It’s nice to know, even when they aren’t in a store, they are sharing their appreciation for the team at Hatchet Hardware.”
For all retailers, 2020 brought challenges to Hatchet Hardware due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Bolibaugh, once their business was deemed essential in the state, the demand among customers for face masks, hand sanitizer and other household essentials led to lots of customer traffic.
Each of the stores implemented protocols to keep employees and customers safe, including team members having their temperatures taken before each shift, adding plastic shields to the checkout counters and creating a checklist to make sure employees were properly disinfecting the store throughout the day.
While customers turned to social media during the past year, Facebook and Instagram have been important tools for connecting with customers even before the pandemic.
“Our specialty goods and home goods departments are huge selling points on social media for all Hatchet Hardware locations,” she says. “Instagram has been a great tool to get our customers excited about our products.”
Bolibaugh has even started sharing videos on Instagram and Facebook that teach DIY projects to customers and gives them the feel for workshops. She says they hope to post more DIY projects in the future. The team also uses social media to let customers know about updates, like the buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) option the stores launched during the spring of last year.
To establish a positive first impression with new customers who find Hatchet Hardware on social media, Bolibaugh says she makes it a point to respond to all messages and comments like talking to a friend.
“I didn’t come into Hatchet Hardware with a ton of knowledge in the hardware industry, but by putting together content for social media and our email newsletter, I have been able to learn so much more,” she says. “It makes it so fun connecting with our customers, and at the same time, I’m becoming more knowledgeable about the products and projects we sell, too. I’m happy I’ve gotten to use my communication skills and learn along the way.”
Hatchet Hardware stores remain a staple of the communities they serve, with employees like Bolibaugh proving a passion for independent retail and family business will continue.
“Working for a family business is so rewarding,” she says. “They always listen to new ideas and are likely to agree if you show them why you think the team should try something. I love the ability to be creative here in ways I couldn’t be for a corporate retail chain.”