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October 25, 2011 > Dale Hardware growing bigger and better

Dale Hardware growing bigger and better

By M. J. Laird

Rebuild and remain open. Dale Hardware, a Centerville business since 1955, faced this challenge, launching a massive reconstruction last year to expand its location near Thornton Avenue at Fremont Boulevard.

After months of routing customers through a maze-like entry facing Moraine Street and past "pardon our dust" signs, Dale Hardware opened its new doors last Friday welcoming customers to wide aisles, expanded product lines and a greenhouse gardening department.

"We have finished the most strenuous rebuild," says owner Garth Smith, relieved the challenge was met. "What occurred last Friday is we opened our new entry doors and our new parking facility. We've finished our first phase."

Nearly twice its former size, Dale Hardware now features a 13,000 square-foot greenhouse with gurgling fountains amid lush California-grown shrubs, perennials and annuals. Enclosed by towering glass, the greenhouse marks the company's first foray into full-scale "live" goods, according to Smith. Experienced, California-certified nursery personnel were hired to operate the gardening-arm of the business and offer classes, slated for next spring.

With Phase One, Dale increased product selection in several departments including plumbing and electrical, aimed at attracting more commercial business. "We've added probably 20 lineal feet of cleaning supplies," says Smith, hoping to attract residential and commercial customers alike. "We've also dramatically expanded our fasteners-nuts, bolts, screws-as well as power tools."

Customer feedback drove department expansions, says Smith, noting a change in Tri-City demographics in two decades, leading to changes in product demand. "When customers speak, we listen," he says.

Although facing a Phase One wrap-up, Smith is eyeing Phase Two, a 25,000 square-foot drive-thru lumber yard slated for completion in 2012's first quarter. A third and final phase, also scheduled for 2012 completion, will raze Fremont's original post office that led to Post Street's name. This phase will lead Dale Hardware to greater visibility on a major Fremont thoroughfare. Their address has already been changed to 3700 Thornton Avenue.

As many businesses across the nation became tight-fisted and reluctant to invest in expansions, how did Smith decide otherwise? He viewed the lifeless economy as opportunity knocking. "For years, customers have asked us to stock various product lines to complete their shopping experience. We just did not have the space. In an economy with cheap money and our pick of builders and contractors, it was perfect timing."

As an expansion neared completion, Smith reasoned two and a half years ago, the economy would rev back up and Dale Hardware would meet demand for home improvement goods and materials. "We were right about two out of three," says Smith, with a chuckle. "We received the pick of contractors with very competitive bids. Financing was right, but the economy just hasn't gotten better." Still, Smith is confident the decision was right. "I don't have second thoughts. Never once did I wish we hadn't started this. It will prove a good, profitable decision as we more forward."

This marks the fourth time in Dale Hardware history that the company has undertaken a major expansion. Smith came into the family business after college as his father planned a Post Street relocation, making the move from nearby Center Square, now a redevelopment site. When Dale Hardware opened on Post Street in 1983, Garth Smith was 28 years old, expecting to work along side his dad for years learning the business. Three months later, his dad died, leaving Smith at the helm. "The business landed on my shoulders a lot quicker than anyone anticipated. For me, the adage was true. I learned from my mistakes," recalls Smith, who isn't challenge-averse.

His son, Kyle, also joined the company upon finishing college, only to have Smith recommend a work experience outside Dale to gain perspective. Smith wished he had gained that perspective of first working for someone else and encouraged his son to experience work in a corporation before returning to a smaller, family-run operation. After 11 months of working for a competitor, Kyle returned and today serves as an assistant manager, overseeing two departments.

"I hope the expansion will mean a long career for Kyle and his family as well as all the employees we have on board," says Smith. He isn't sure what the expansion will mean for Centerville, though his traffic count can only help when a developer emerges for the redevelopment site.

At third phase end, expansion will take Dale Hardware from 38,000 square feet to 98,000 and increase parking from 140 spaces to 232.Smith won't put a dollar amount on the expansion, saying only "it was more than I wanted to spend."

The first phase boosted jobs, from 100 to 118. Within six months, the payroll is expected to grow to 150 employees. Seven employees have worked for the company for more than 30 years; 15 for more than 25 years. Employees average more than 12 years employment on the job. Smith says the work ethics of Ralph, Harry, and Mike Promes, minority partners and stockholders, have been pivotal to Dale Hardware's growth. "Their dedication is virtually unheard of these days," says Smith.

A grand opening will wait until all three phases reach completion. "We've had some soft opening teasers," says Smith. "We don't want to create too much excitement. Every item has not found its permanent home, but we will be revved up for the holiday seasons."

Last weekend employees had already unpacked Christmas trees and decorations, setting up displays aimed at holiday shoppers.

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