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Manager of Hardware Hank talks trends and challenges

Brandon Buckalew is the manager of Hardware Hank in East Grand Forks. Photo by John Hageman

Brandon Buckalew

Title and company: Manager of Hardware Hank, working my way into ownership.

Q. How'd you get into the hardware shop business?

A. My parents have owned the store in East Grand Forks since 1990. As a kid I would help out here in there. In high school I actually didn’t work at the store very much. In my 20s my parents needed help and made me an offer to come work for them that I couldn’t turn down. 

Q. What’s been the biggest change or challenge that your business has faced over the years?

A. We usually have at least one high-schooler and two to three college kids on staff.  It seems like by the time they are fully trained, it’s time for them to graduate and move on.  We’ve been blessed to have a couple of longtime employees but it sure seems like we always have the “help wanted” sign on the door. As soon as we get one hired, someone else puts in their notice. It’s always for different reasons, whether it’s a new job opportunity, graduation, moving or what not.  I’m always happy to have had them, but there is a lot to know in a hardware store and starting over on training a new employee can be exhausting.

Q. How do you compete with the bigger box hardware stores?

A. We have to do things different than a big box store. It doesn’t matter what we do, people are always going to believe that everything is cheaper at a box store. … The big box stores have changed the mentality of a lot of people to “cheaper is better,” which isn’t always true. I always say, “A $900 grill is cheaper than a $300 grill in the long run.” If you have to replace a $300 grill every three years, but a $900 grill lasts you 10 years, you come out ahead, and it seems a lot of people have forgotten that.

Q. How much of a craftsman are you? 

A. Growing up, I always wanted to be in a position to hire someone to fix everything when I got older. But the more I've been around the store the more I realize that a lot of the DIY projects aren’t that hard. Last year, I remodeled the basement in my house. … Compared to a lot of our customers, I feel like a beginner in the “fix it” world. But looking back at where I started, I feel like I’m worlds away from my beginnings. 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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