Andrews Hardware & Seed Co. has been serving the community in Chatom, Alabama, for decades and in that time, the store’s growth has been significant.
The business is far different from its early days during the Great Depression and World War II, when store manager Lilburn Odom did all he could to scrape out an income selling hardware products from the salesfloor and doing embalming for a local funeral home in a building out back.
“He was just trying to make a living,” current co-owner Jon Odom says. “Manufacturing was going toward the war effort, so supplies were sparse and people’s incomes were severely limited.”
Andrews Hardware still sells the core hardware categories, but the Odoms have added seed and fertilizer, sporting goods, small appliances and lumber and building materials.
Today, Andrews Hardware is known for the beautiful decor displayed artistically in its housewares department. In fact, brides and grooms use the store’s popular bridal registry to create wishlists for everything from microwaves to wall art and decorative throw pillows.
A Constant in the Community
In 1938, Sam Andrews Jr., an Alabama businessman, bought the Chatom store as his second Andrews Hardware location.
The Odom family has been involved with the Chatom store almost since the beginning, when Andrews hired Lilburn around 1940 on a recommendation from his brother Walter Andrews.
“Because he had a relationship with Mr. Andrews, he was able to come here, work and establish a family,” Jon says.
In the 1960s, the Andrews family negotiated a deal to sell the Chatom store to Lilburn and his sons, Dwain and Travis. Lilburn spent the rest of his career operating the business and Dwain and Travis worked with him.
Now, Dwain co-owns the store with his two sons, Jon and Eric. Together, the three of them have grown the business at least 10 times larger than it was when their family bought it.
The store has 14 full-time employees and five part-time employees who work together to take care of shoppers.
“When you walk in, you get personal help. We walk you to the shelf, it’s what we do,” Jon says. “We don’t have anybody who just checks out at the cash register. Everybody here goes with the customers and helps gather up pipe fittings or breakers or whatever they need. One-on-one personal service is one of the reasons I think we’ve been successful over the years.”
Andrews Hardware primarily serves the town of Chatom and the surrounding counties. Other home improvement stores are located at least 15 miles away, so the store fulfills a local need. Customers come to the store from about a 30-mile radius, according to Jon.
The Odoms know their customers well. Dwain, Jon and Eric have lived in the area nearly their entire lives and have worked at the store much of the time. They serve the community by sponsoring the local schools and youth sports teams.
“We try to be a good member of the community,” Jon says. “We enjoy serving our community and seeing our neighbors.”
All three of them make themselves available to customers outside of business hours when needed.
“If they call on a Sunday or come to my house to get me, then it’s an emergency,” Jon says.
A Modern Evolution
Much has changed at Andrews Hardware in Chatom since it began. The Odoms replaced the original store building with a lumber warehouse, which provides storage for the building materials that produce about half of the store’s revenue.
Nearly 20 percent of customers are pro contractors, but most are DIYers or local handymen who do small projects, such as building decks and porches, as side jobs.
In 2016, the Odoms bought 8.5 acres of land and have plans to add an additional lumber storage building within the next few years. In 2017 and 2018, the Odoms changed wholesalers, expanded their inventory and completed a full store remodel.
The store is currently 8,000 square feet, and in addition to core hardware categories, the store carries guns and ammunition and housewares. They have a goal of expanding the retail salesfloor to better display home goods, patio furniture and grills which Jon anticipates going a long way toward growing sales in outdoor living.
Beautiful displays have helped make Andrews Hardware a show stopper.
“It draws people in. That part of the business has grown tremendously in the last 20 years or so,” Jon says. “When my grandfather got started, nobody in our town sold that kind of stuff.”
Jon’s wife, Shannon, works as a teacher, but she has an eye for home fashions and uses that creativity at the store. She chooses the products for the housewares department and does most of the merchandising, creating aspirational displays and using antique furniture to showcase products. Her home fashion sense is good for sales, helping customers imagine how products could beautify their own living spaces.
Business has boomed in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only grown the community’s need for Andrews Hardware.
“We’ve always been here and it’s just kind of evolved over the years,” Jon says. “We’ve decided to add this, pick up that, expand that. It just keeps growing.”