Saturday, May 28, 2005

Facing the competition

Among many it is accepted as gospel that when a big chain store moves in, the locally owned businesses are driven out of business. Certainly that has been the case in many communities. However, based on local experience, I've witnessed several cases where local stores gave up too easily.

H&H Hardware in Seaside was a good example. They were probably the best hardware and home improvement store the Monterey Peninsula ever had, plus they had an exceptional arts and crafts department as well. But when Orchard Supply moved into Sand City, the owners of H&H almost immediately threw up their hands and gave up.

What a waste of community goodwill. Orchard, while nice, never lived up to its promise. I can't tell you how many times I've gone in there looking for something basic that they didn't have, including lamp parts, and standard recessed shower soap dishes. Furthermore, Orchard Supply's service has deteriorated in recent years. Their slogan "We've got answers" has turned into one answer "I don't know" often followed by "This is not my department."

In downtown Monterey a McWhorters stationery store moved into the old JC Penney slot. Fearing they couldn't compete, the venerable Palace Stationery immediately closed up shop. But McWhorters wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and it failed within a couple of years, even without local competition.

That's why I am most gratified to see that M&S Building Supply is taking a proactive approach to the impending competition from Home Depot. M&S has long occupied a bland beige building on Del Monte Avenue, that never really stood out. When I needed something, I usually went to Orchard, not because it was a great store, but because I kept forgetting about M&S. Even though I passed it every day, it was out of sight and out of mind. I would only remember M&S on those occasions when Orchard failed me.

This week M&S put new signs and paint on its building. Suddenly, I'm conscious that it is there. They painted a broad red band across the front of their building that highlights their front door. On the band in big white letters is the name of the store and the words "Since 1962." I think M&S can expect to see me walking through their doors more often, now that they've made an effort to draw me in.

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