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article number 37
article date 07-28-2011
copyright 2011 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
John Gilles Keeps Villa Grove’s Hardware Store Going
by Stu Moment

I had passed by Villa Grove’s hardware store many times but never stopped in. When I stopped in to do this article I did not know the ownership or management structure of this particular store. I assumed that the store had [remote ownership] and I would have to rely on the cashier for knowledge of its history and the product emphasis. I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that I should talk to the owner … and, that he is in the store.

John Gilles True Value Hardware store is on Rt. 130, just north of the railroad tracks.

John Gilles has owned the Villa Grove True Value Hardware store for 26 years. Hardware Stores located even in high traffic urban areas are having trouble competing with the big chains like Lowes, Menards and Home Depot. John’s secret to longevity includes persistence, emphasis of certain products and personal relations with his customers.

John Gilles has run Villa Grove’s True Value Hardware store for 26 years.

John enjoys remembering names. He likes people and enjoys the personal touch it takes to help customers, not just with purchasing decisions, but with their understanding of how to repair things. Given the limited advertising budget of an individual store, John relies on referrals … word of mouth, as his promotion.

John mentioned that in running your own business, you make less money, but you always have a job. He says he has no plans to retire. He enjoys meeting people too much.

John describes market conditions as “tough going”. Many locals who purchase products from big chains think they are getting a better price. Many are surprised that he matches their price and even beats big chain prices on many items. People who shop for appliances at Walmart assume that they are getting the best price. Walmart has a system of offering great prices on specials and daily consumption items but marks-up many of their items above discount prices knowing that shoppers think that they are getting a good deal.

The first few years in business were a struggle. Then he decided to add a dedicated line of floor covering, mostly carpeting to his store. In the last 20 years he has done much better although he notes that the big chains devise good sounding deals, such as free carpet installation (hidden in product pricing), which takes away many potential customers.

Villa Grove’s hardware store has a variety of carpeting choices at competitive prices.
… also a nice variety of wood flooring.

John sells other items beyond the True Value product line such as garage doors, cabinets, tops and farmer’s field cultivators. He also special orders items for his customers. His son Darren helps to do computer online searches. He has a small supply of lumber which he gets from a Newman lumber yard but sends big orders to that lumber yard. Many of his customers have local accounts with him, so transactions go smoother when a job must get done quickly.

Darren with a customer … Lots of personal attention at Villa Groves hardware store.
Mary at the checkout … yes … keys, candy bars, and sports drinks adorn the checkout.

John has good insight into the changes to small town economies. I asked him if the people of Villa Grove think about the cost of gas, perhaps $10 for a round trip, when shopping the larger towns. He told me that in many ways, Villa Grove has become a bedroom community. People work in the larger towns close to major shopping. He also noted that there are less farmers (larger farms) who need local shopping.

Besides his son Darren, John has a big appreciation of his wife, Connie, who helped him run the store for the first 22 years.

… “running your own business, you make less money, but you always have a job” … I think that the satisfaction of helping customers will keep him in the business for a long time. It was a pleasure meeting John and Darren … hope you all go out of your way to investigate and patronize small town hardware stores. You may enjoy it too.

Paint Isle
Hardware Isle
Gardening Isle
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