"My grandfather was born in Upland, Calif., in 1903. This makes me a third-generation native Californian. My grandfather and father were always eager to help people. It has always been just a way of life." -- Bill Wygal

Have you ever wasted a lot of time walking up and down the aisles of a store looking for a single item and not been able to find it? And where was the clerk -- any clerk for that matter -- when you needed assistance?

Have you ever sat down at a restaurant and waited for someone to take your order while other patrons arriving after you are being served before someone finally comes to your table and asks: "Would you like a menu?"

Frustrating? I totally agree! There is no excuse for poor service. And that's one big reason a lot of businesses lose customers.

When I was growing up in the thirties, most small businesses were family owned, so satisfying the customer meant everything if the business was to survive. Even the proprietor's children were taught to respect their customers.

The same holds true today. Everyone from the store manager to the sales clerk makes a difference, and it doesn't matter how big or small the operation.

Let me illustrate with an example I recently experienced.

Last month I had a problem with our bathroom sink. Although I'm not much of a handyman, I knew enough to dismantle the plumbing, which I took to our neighborhood Ace Hardware store to find out what needed to be repaired or replaced, if anything.


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One look at the plumbing and the clerk told me I only needed to replace one part, which he offered to put on for me. That cost me only a couple dollars but saved me the bigger expense of having to call a plumber besides having to wait for it to be repaired!

I thanked the clerk and he assured me it was part of his job. And that's what's lacking with a lot of businesses today.

My wife and I have always enjoyed shopping at Bill's Ace Hardware because of its convenience and complete stock of home improvement items, but equally important because of the service we can expect whenever we shop there. And we've been patronizing Ace Hardware almost 50 years!

So who is this Bill whose name appears on three Ace Hardware stores in Concord, Martinez and Pleasant Hill? That's what I wanted to know when I asked to speak to Tommy Ewart, manager of Bill's Ace Hardware in Concord last week.

As I was ushered into Tommy's office, both Bill Wygal, the owner, and Wilma Hawkins, the general manager, were also present, and for the next half-hour I sat and listened as they explained their roles in the stores' history and operation.

Although himself a successful businessman, I found Bill to be modest about his own achievements and quick to credit his parents and grandparents for starting a business that has expanded to what it is today.

"I was fortunate to grow up with a family that did a variety of jobs. This and a desire to help people has created a business that (has) been around 66 years."

Like all successful businesses, a vital ingredient is selecting the right personnel. Bill employs a staff of more than 160 employees and points out that a substantial number of them from clerks on up have been working for the company over 20 years. That says a lot, considering the high turnover rate in the retail business. And speaking of loyalty, Wilma Hawkins has been employed for more than 40 years.

Aside from the business, what's Bill's concern for the community he lives in, you ask? Bill's Ace Hardware has been certified a green business by the county the past 10 years. And his enterprise contributes more than $50, 000 annually to local organizations and charities, just to mention two of his many services.

Bill's Ace Hardware business card fittingly reads: "When Minutes Count and Service Matters!"

Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at transcript@bayareanewsgroup.com.