For nearly 140 years, Weakley-Watson Hardware has been a staple in Brownwood, Texas.
Founded on July 4, 1876, the business is now one of the oldest hardware stores in the state. It has remained a family-owned and -operated business over the years, but great customer service and a conviction to adapt with the times has given Weakley-Watson Hardware extreme longevity.
According to Mike Blagg, current owner and fifth generation family member to manage the business, his great-great-grandfather, J.C. Weakley, founded Weakley-Watson Hardware. Weakley grew up in Indianapolis and served in the Union army during the Civil War.
After being discharged from the army, Weakley rode a train west to St. Joseph, Missouri, and then took a steamboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. He then traveled to Galveston and eventually made his way to Brownwood while working as a tinsmith. He liked Brownwood so much he decided to start a business and live there.
In 1876, he opened a tin shop in Brownwood that quickly became a general hardware store. In 1893, he partnered with his son-in-law, Lee Watson, and Weakley-Watson Hardware has been a fixture in the community ever since.
While the business has moved around the city since opening its doors, the longtime history is something the family business celebrates. Blagg says they have a separate office building downtown where they have a room full of old photos and artifacts from years past.
“We have a room in our offices that we consider the Weakley-Watson museum,” Blagg says. “You can look at really old photos, and I just find it really interesting to see the merchandise we used to stock. We even have an old invoice charge account from a customer back in 1900 or 1901 that showed his running balance. It seemed just about everything cost a nickel.”
While Blagg says they appreciate their history, to stay relevant, they have always looked for ways to be current in the industry and remain a favorite store among customers.
“In the 1980s, we joined True Value for the advantages of being in a co-op,” Blagg says. “Then about four or five years ago, we opened our online shopping site and we’ve gotten orders from places all over, like Bermuda, Michigan and Montana.”
In addition joining a co-op, pushing an e-commerce site and testing out other operational tactics in the past few years, one of the biggest things that has remained a staple in the business is top-notch service and a loyal customer base, Blagg says.
“We run an ad in the newspaper once a year that highlights our employees and their many years of service,” Blagg says. “We have three employees who have served more than 25 years, three with more than 20 years and two with more than 15 years of service. Their experience and knowledge allows us to provide the best service for our customers.”
And while the customers have changed over the years, Blagg says they have many generations of customers who return.
“We have many second- and third-generation customers we help,” he says. “It’s not unusual for people in their 70s to come in and say how their grandfather brought them to the store when they were a child.”
In Blagg’s opinion, the hardware industry has seen many changes over the years, but he sees independent retailers making a comeback of sorts.
“The independent hardware industry has changed a lot over the years, and it continues to change every day, as does everything else,” Blagg says. “I feel like the industry took a hit from big-box stores like Walmart and Home Depot, but I also feel like those big boxes are losing their luster and people are turning back and going to smaller stores to get great service and help.”