WTOP is proud to spotlight the many small businesses that make up the D.C. region as part of our Small Business September coverage. The Small Business September series is brought to you by EagleBank.
On one hand, it provides a sense of community — the opportunity to offer personalized service and a chance to contribute to the local economy.
On the other hand, however, it demands adaptability and the tenacity to compete with larger retailers, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
“It’s hard for us to stay relevant, because we can’t compete with the big stores on price,” said Kristy Peterkin, whose family owns Ayers Variety & Hardware in Arlington, Virginia.
Peterkin said her business has managed to stay relevant “by providing a service that’s tough to get.”
“If you go to a big store, finding a person [to help you] frequently is an issue, and finding somebody who knows what they’re talking about is a bigger issue,” Peterkin said.
Getting superior service at a small hardware store compared to a larger retailer is a testament to the unique advantages of a community-oriented business.
In a local store, such as Ayers, employees have specialized knowledge, and they offer advice and solutions that are tailored to individual needs. Unlike in larger stores, where employees may have less familiarity with specific products, local store staff can provide hands-on expertise and recommend the best and most effective options.
“If a customer needs help, we try to have a ‘jack of all trades’ on hand at all times,” Peterkin said.
Her employees answer questions from customers in person or over the phone, and they have even helped guide people through projects over FaceTime.
One of the most gratifying aspects of running a local hardware store is the close-knit relationship forged with the community.
Ayers has been there since 1948, and Peterkin’s family has owned it since 1977.
“We know our customers frequently by name,” Peterkin said. “Some of them have been shopping here longer than I’ve been alive, and so it’s kind of fun because we know them on a personal level.”
“It’s more than just a business,” she added.