GUILFORD, Maine — Business at Lovell’s Guilford Hardware on Water Street was brisk on a recent fall day with little sign that the region is still in a deep recession.
Several clerks eagerly assisted customers who were from as far away as Greenville and Milo with their needs from the stocked shelves that displayed the traditional hardware and tools, and from outbuildings filled with lumber, kitchen cabinets, flooring, as well as grain, wood pellet stoves, blown insulation and culverts.
Before Andy and Terry Lovell of Sangerville purchased the hardware store and its adjoining Victorian house in May 2006, Andy said he often would drive past the former store and think about its untapped business potential. When the former business owners, whose finances never recovered from the damage done to the store during the flood of 1987, closed the store in early 2006, Andy saw the chance to tap that potential. The couple invested their life savings into the business and have never looked back. Rather than worry about the possibility that the Piscataquis River could once again flood the street and their inventory, the Lovells prefer to think positively.
“I never once doubted that it was the right decision,” Andy said Monday, even in the current economy. “I knew if a couple wanted to work the hours that it took, I knew the potential was there. I never doubted that it would be successful.”
It has been so successful that the business has expanded over the years and today has 11 part- and full-time employees. “We’re grown every year,” said Andy, a carpenter by trade.
That growth is attributed to the customer service provided by the staff and the store’s hardware selection, according to Andy. “I won’t say that we (he and his wife) haven’t worked diligently to make it work, but I feel proud to be able to have brought in the help that we have,” he said. It also has helped that Andy’s humor and advice are free.
“A lot of times they don’t even know what they want,” Terry Lovell said of the customers. Although Terry works a full-time job elsewhere in the community, she puts in about 30 additional hours in the business ensuring, among other things, the bills are paid promptly.
Terry said a lot of homeowners are doing their own projects in the down economy, so they often need step-by-step assistance, gladly provided by store employees. Even if the customer needs a speciality part the store doesn’t carry, the employees make it their mission to get the part from another source, she noted.
“People get what they want here when they come in and they feel that we’ve worked hard to do that and that’s why they come back. I’ve always enjoyed helping people; I just get a real satisfied feeling and I get that every day,” said Andy, who works about 70 hours a week at the business. “It’s a good thing because if I didn’t get it I could very easily get very sick of this because you work so many hours.”
For Andy, the highest hurdle is making sure the business does not grow too fast for the couple’s budget. “He wants to go, go, go, and I have to put the reins to it because we don’t have the money,” his wife said. She said the couple have not taken a cent for their own pay and live off the salary from her other job. But that was expected and so was the hard work.
“I’d do it all over again,” Andy said, knowing that the community is supportive of its businesses. In exchange, the couple have donated thousands of dollars to support local nonprofits and schools.
It’s hard work, but in the end, it is the staff and the community that makes a business, he said.