Business

Becky Bell, big on success: Jim’s Hardware owner trusts instinct, customer service in risky move

Becky Bell, owner of Jim’s Hardware Store in Clinton, helps a customer Monday night. She has run the store since 2008 and recently moved the store from Clinton to Ken’s Korner.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Becky Bell, owner of Jim’s Hardware Store in Clinton, helps a customer Monday night. She has run the store since 2008 and recently moved the store from Clinton to Ken’s Korner.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

A good 15 minutes after the store was technically closed, customers are still coming in Monday night, and Jim’s Hardware Store owner Becky Bell keeps helping them and ringing them up.

Bell, who has owned the little-bit-of-everything store for five years, credited the shop’s recent rescue from the brink of closing to its willingness to serve customers.

“I’ve had people come to my house 7:30 at night because they had a leak,” Bell said.

She had an uncertain and frightening choice before her this summer.

“Did I think I’d be successful?” Bell asked. “I had no idea. I just knew I had to try something.”

The owner of the iconic shop in Clinton moved the store to the Ken’s Korner Shopping Center in July. She had watched business dip $23,000 between October 2012 and June 2013 — unprecedented in her time as the store’s owner. Bell was reminded of words that her grandmother used to say to her: be big.

“I knew that if I stayed down there, I’d have to close,” Bell said.

She went bold, uprooting a Clinton fixture and relocating to the shopping center at a major traffic hub. Ken’s Korner was an ideal location at the crossroads of Clinton, Langley and Freeland, and already had a draw in the Red Apple grocery store.

Moving the shop was one of the biggest risks she has taken since she purchased the store from Mary Harwell, wife of Jim Harwell for whom the store is named, in April 2008.

“Business is a gamble,” Bell said. “I love adventure. You have to open those doors when you can and experience life.”

Since following her gut instinct and moving the shop, foot traffic and sales have increased. She didn’t want to divulge how much sales improved, but orders are up 35 percent from 2012.

One of the store’s greatest assets is the staff. They work hard, are plenty competent and genuinely care about customers, Bell said. Bell works seven days a week and only takes off Tuesday and Thursday mornings. On those days, longtime Jim’s Hardware employees MaryAnn Davis and Linda Alexander open the store and answer people’s questions about everything from salmon tackle to threaded rods.

“All three of us grey-haired old ladies love being back there helping people,” Bell laughed.

There are also volunteers like BikerBob Akers, who repairs windows and set up the store’s point-of-sale system; Jim Engstrom and Larry Corradini, who helped set up the new shop’s shelves and are the resident fishing experts.

“And they help me drink my coffee,” Bell laughed.

Being a woman in the hardware business was a daunting task at first, she said. Along the way, however, she learned a great deal about her store’s products and their functions. When someone comes to the register with something she doesn’t know, she asks the customer more about it.

Posing the right questions has helped her stay on top of consumer trends, too. When someone asks for a specific product and Jim’s Hardware doesn’t carry it, Bell is sure to order it when she can.

“I’m always learning,” Bell said. “That’s what makes doing this interesting.”

Bell credits her store’s success to following her gut to relocate, even though it was difficult and risky. Hiring and retaining the right employees and following her desire to run a community-driven shop is a big factor as well. Then, there’s the customer-focused service at Jim’s Hardware, a legacy Bell wants to live up to.

As a third customer entered the shop looking for a toilet plunger, Bell sees him bring one to the register and warns him that it can be a bit stiff. When he tried, with some vigor, to push down the plunger, Bell noticed it received a crack. She grabs him a new one, rings him up and sends him on his way, a good 20 minutes past closing time.

 

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