PLEASANT HILL — To some, Eames Hardware store might seem like organized chaos, but to others, a walk down the tightly packed aisles of the 6,500 square-foot store comes with reassurance that the item they came for will be found.
As so many other small hardware stores have come and gone over the past decade, it's that ability to listen to the customers and fill their needs that owner Peter Eames believes is the reason for the store's success.
"We are real focused on not saying, 'No, I don't have that,'" Eames said. "If we error, I'd rather error on having something too obscure on my shelves than not having it at all."
On Yelp, one reviewer wrote that she comes to Eames because, "They are friendly and always help me find the random things I'm looking for."
Hardware has been in Eames blood from a very young age. When his father, William, bought Ellis Ace Hardware in North Oakland in 1954, Eames was exposed to the work environment at 10. While he swept, dusted and emptied the garbage as one might expect, Eames also helped the customers, rang up orders and made keys.
"I considered it more of a learning experience," he said.
In 1985, his father sold it to Eames and his brother and sister. There they stayed for 13 years until Eames decided he wanted to give the hardware store business a whirl on his own. In 1999 the doors opened on Eames Hardware store.
One of nine children, five of them are involved in the hardware
"I talk to my siblings four or five times a day about what we're doing," Eames said.
While the others are part of the Ace Hardware Franchise, Eames Hardware has a co-op with Do-It-Best.
An advantage hardware stores have over other retailers is that there's usually a sense of urgency when a customer walks into their store.
"If there's a leak, the customer is not going to wait until tomorrow to fix it," he said. "They want it right now."
Therefore Internet competition that has hit other store types hasn't been as much a factor to hardware stores. An item bought on the Internet can't be delivered the same day.
The impact of big-box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's is another matter.
"When my dad ran the store from about 1954 to 1980, there were probably 15 hardware stores in a fairly close area," Eames said. "Now because of the Home Depot's there probably are three."
Many of the family-run hardware stores closed shop seeing the competition to great. Eames embraces it. If one were to open just a few blocks away, he would embrace the challenge instead of run away from it.
"I might be wrong, but I think I could stay competitive with them," he said.
In the 10 years he's been there, Eames never laid anyone off for lack of money. Currently there are 12 employees on payroll. Sales dropped in 2009 because of the economy, but it wasn't drastic enough to knock the store off its tracks.
While other owners might be looking to branch out and run multiple stores, Eames would rather take one and do it perfectly.
And in the quest for perfection, knowledge is key.
"When we go on vacation, he will look at other hardware stores to see what they're doing," said his wife Sally, who works at the store as well. "If he finds one with a great inventory, he gets really excited."
If there's something at another store he's never seen before, he'll check the label for an address and try to stock it himself.
At his store, Eames is confident that he knows where everything is located. Just as important is to make sure his employees have a strong knowledge base as well. For example, somebody who specializes in plumbing needs to be able to answer basic questions in other parts of the store as well.
Each employee he hires is required to take a hardware store test. While nobody comes close to passing, it helps Eames gauge where the potential employee needs help.
On inventory, he has his employees track the shelves manually because he believes it helps teach the employees where everything is located.
Eames does realize that the future of his store right now rests on what happens to him. There is no safety net. In the back of his mind he has his eyes out for a potential apprentice, but with fewer and fewer people looking at a hardware store as an option, that could be difficult.
"Peter is extremely knowledgeable and works really hard to accommodate everybody's needs," said Erin Dentone, an employee of the store. "I think all of the success of this store falls to Peter."
Contact David Morrill at 925-977-8534.
Owner: Peter Eames
Address: 2665 Pleasant Hill Road, Pleasant Hill
Hours: Mon to Sat 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.