When you ask Scott Pesavento, the third generation proprietor of Hemlock Hardware, how he competes with big-box stores, he gets up from his chair and crosses his small office to knock on wood for good luck.
"It's service and price," said Pesavento, 40, whose grandfather started the business in 1979. "This past year was our biggest and best year in 21 years."
Pesavento also believes that a core part of his business success is that his family works hard to serve the community of Fairfield. He hires only Fairfield residents to work in the store at 1860 Post Road, and supports local charities, especially in times of disaster. Last summer, his store donated fans to elderly residents on request from the Police Department, and flashlights during last winter's blizzard. And on the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, he recalled donating several hundred lanterns to the elderly in the storm's aftermath -- and the physical and emotional stress he felt as he helped customers recover from the storm's destruction. He cherishes the close connection he feels with regular customers, Pesavento said.
"I've had people literally sobbing in my arms," he said. "You can't put a value on that."
Police Chief Gary McNamara said that through the years Pesavento and his family have worked in partnership with town officials in times of need and through many crises.
"Hemlock Hardware has always been there to help us in a variety of ways," McNamara said. "It's such a good partnership." Sometimes, the Police Department contacts Pesavento when a local family has a particular need, such as insulation in cold weather, or Pesavento contacts police to offer help when there's a weather event or other crisis.
Pesavento's commitment to community helped Hemlock Hardware win a national award recently. The business was the only store in Connecticut to be named a 2013 Hardware Store All Star, presented for customer service, community involvement and business acumen. Pesavento accepted the award at a national trade conference in Indianapolis.
He travels to speak to others in the field about his business model, which involves dropping prices to compete with the bigger stores, as well as forging close links with his community. He has already dropped prices on 35 percent of his inventory, and plans to reduce prices on almost all the merchandise he sells. The price cuts stimulated business, he said, and personal service keeps customers coming back.
The hardware store was started by his grandfather, Alfred Pesavento when Scott's father, also Alfred Pesavento (but "not a junior"), returned from Vietnam. The business opened on Black Rock Turnpike, moving to its current location when August Brothers went out of business at the downtown site. His father is still involved in Hemlock Hardware, where Scott has been working since he was 14. And they look forward to many good years ahead -- and hard work to keep ahead of their bigger competitors.
"Our industry has contracted -- the weak don't survive," the younger Pesavento said.
But running a small business has its advantages, he added. He doesn't have to answer to shareholders, and his customers enjoy the old-fashioned aspect of direct service and mutual respect.
"My grandfather was a handshake kind of guy." Pesavento said. "And so am I."
Hemlock Hardware is at 1860 Post Road. Call 203-255-1771 or visit https://www.facebook.com/Hemlockhardware