Hardware has always been one of Charlie Hartman’s passions, and luckily for members of St. Charles Parish, that has allowed him to share his immense experience in the field from the friendly confines of Hartman’s True Value Hardware.
For over 17 years, Hartman and his staff have helped their customers deal with issues ranging from home remodeling to car rebuilding. And that has suited Hartman just fine.
“I have always been interested in hardware,” Hartman said. “I just enjoyed the work I did in hardware and I wanted to get into the business.”
Hartman opened up his store in October of 1990 when he purchased a similar business that was located across the street from his present location. Soon after opening, Hartman was faced with a couple of problems.
“The existing business didn’t have much inventory and had a very low client base,” Hartman said. “The first change we made was that we began to develop a much bigger client base. We also started to increase our inventory.”
Because of his growing inventory, Hartman eventually re-located to a larger building. That allowed him to change out all of his shelving units and re-merchandise everything in the store. The business has remained in the same spot since making the move in 1995.
Now, the store boasts a large customer base and an even larger inventory. Hartman credits that to his employees.
“We have knowledgeable people in the store, give our customers good service when they come in, and a lot of my advertisement has been word of mouth,” Hartman said. “We help the customers out, we’re not just here to sell them something. I think that goes a long way towards building a customer base.”
Hartman and his staff have been able to concentrate on keeping their customers informed about all of the changes in hardware technology by taking an aggressive approach to employee training.
“We have informal training that we do on a regular basis, particular when our employees first start,” Hartman said. “This introduces them to all of the different products we handle and the uses for them and what would be the best ones to use on certain jobs.”
But that’s not where the training ends. Since more and more people are choosing to do home remodeling jobs on their own, Hartman and his staff have to be sure that they are able to advise their customers on almost any job possible.
“Our formal training is down from myself on down and we have training on the internet that we do with True Value,” Hartman said. “So, it’s training on a continual basis.”
The particular jobs they have to help customers with can range from the impossible, to the tedious.
“I had one gentleman come in wanting to buy a kit to convert his electric drier to gas,” Hartman said with a chuckle. “I think we’ve had a quite a few of those during the years, but some of the serious things we get involved in with our customers is when they are rebuilding old cars.”
To help the customers find out exactly how to go about that rebuilding, Hartman and his staff will go through all the nuts and bolts on a car to get that customer the fasteners they need. Of course, a lot of customers also want their old cars to look nice, so Hartman says they have to keep specialty items in stock like chrome or stainless steel.
While car refurbishing is an exhaustive task, a majority of the help Hartman’s True Value gives their customers is a lot more ordinary. Hartman says that the biggest sales department in the store is actually plumbing, since most people feel confident fixing a broken toilet or a leaky faucet. The lawn equipment and garden items sell better during the spring and summer, while paint flies off the racks in the spring and fall, since most people don’t like to paint if it’s either too hot or too cold. The holidays also see their fair share of remodeling and repair.
“A lot of people do repairs around their house that they have been putting off during the holidays because they have company coming in,” Hartman said. “They do a lot of interior painting to spruce the house up and make other repairs.”
However, while those particular items might be the biggest sellers, the majority of customers who ask for advice do so about electrical work.
“A lot of people have some working knowledge of plumbing, and we do give a lot of plumbing advice, but it’s more electrical because the average person is not familiar with doing electrical work.”
And then, of course, are the Mardi Gras floats.
“When people are decorating their floats, they need particular paint colors or they need a particular way to do a project for the float, so we help with that kind of stuff to,” Hartman said. “We enjoy doing that and it’s a fun thing to do.”
To match those colors, Hartman’s store relies on computer color matching, which makes it easy for their customers to find out exactly what colors they are looking for.
“If they see a particular color they want for their paint, they can bring us a sample and we can match it,” Hartman said. “We take a sample of the color and we have a spectrometer that looks at the color and breaks it down into colorings that we use in our paint.”
But that’s far from the only kind of service the store supplies. Besides serving as a U-Haul dealer, Hartman’s True Value Hardware also fills propane tanks, sells kerosene, cuts keys, glass and pipe and repairs any lawn equipment that they sell.
And while that may add up to a lot of extra work, Hartman knows it’s all worth it in the long run.
“The most enjoyable part of the job is working for yourself,” Hartman said. “I put in long hours and a lot of it is doing hard, nasty work, especially when you are repairing lawn mowers, but you’re still working for yourself and you don’t have anyone telling you what to do.”