Best Service Winner: Brookside Hardware for Auto Sales & Repair and Hardware & Building Supplies
By Jay Braman, Jr.
In the music world these days, it’s what’s known as a mash up.
It’s when you take a couple of popular songs that have nothing to do with one another and combine them into one. The results are often spectacular and memorable.
But long before musicians were doing it, Will Finch at Brookside Hardware came up with another sort of mash up when the entrepreneur in him recognized an opportunity for a local business.
While it may not be the first ever hardware store where you can get your dog food, lawn tractor, and a spiffy new pre-owned car in one visit, it’s certainly is the only one around here.
And just how did Finch come up with the idea? Well, he didn’t use focus groups or surveys and he sure didn’t copy the idea from anywhere.
Part fate and part smart is probably the best way to explain it.
The Finch family had its hands in a couple of things over in Kelly Corners, selling cars, lumber and farm equipment. They were even involved with trash hauling.
But in 1988, Will, his father, and brother, and Mary Hinkley decided that the location on Route 28 across from the Margaretville Hospital had potential. They bought it. Then they had to decide what to do with it. They already had a John Deere franchise. They already knew how to sell cars. They already knew how to run a store.
Make it a combo
So, why not open an auto sales/hardware, feed and tractor supply?
This week, in a telephone interview with Catskill Mountain News, Finch said that back then he and his partners didn’t move ahead blindly. They moved ahead keeping their ears open. Brookside Hardware (and auto), he said, is here because that’s what people wanted.
In other words, he listened to people. He listened to his customers.
“These businesses compliment each other nicely,” he said. “You’d be surprised.”
Give ‘em what they want
Now, 26 years later, Finch is still listening. Listening to the hundreds of customers who come into the shop six days a week for whatever they need.
He says that no one faction of the place does better than the other, but Finch is proud that he recently learned that, in the world of the small town used car business, Brookside is a stand out.
“We average about 400 or 500 cars a year,” he said. “I’m told that’s huge.”
Along the way, Brookside has had its ups and downs. It would get an award for business of the year from the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, but then it would burn to the ground. It would win best service business in the Catskill Mountain News Best Service Awards Contest but get half washed away by flooding.
That’s right. It should be stated again. In the spring of 2008 the original store burned to the ground, but Finch quickly rebuilt, only bigger and better.
Then, like the rest of Margaretville, Brookside took a bath in late summer of 2011 when Irene blew through. He recovered from that too, just like he did during the first washout in January 1996.
Finch thinks for a moment, and then says he knows one of the things that people like about him and Brookside. They can be counted on.
Like, when the place burned up, Finch didn’t slow down.
“We never closed,” he said. “We sold our next car the next morning. They were putting out the fire still and a guy was here buying a car.”
Irene didn’t shut them down either, even though she cost Finch $50,000 in damage.
“The repair shop was totally flooded, but we just don’t give up,” he said.
Keep looking ahead
But with all that now in the rearview mirror, Finch said he and his 10 full-time employees prefer to watch the road ahead and, of course, keep listening.
For example. A drive-by reveals that the vehicle inventory has changed from back in 1988.
“The car business has become the truck and SUV business,” he said. “We have lots of cars for sure, but those four-wheel drives, they are popular, and we provide what the mountain folk need.”