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Sologuks defy retail formulas while making hardware store a popular local destination
While more and more retailers are following the same formulas and running stores that look alike, an Osoyoos retailer is succeeding by being different.
Frances Sologuk, who runs Osoyoos Home Hardware with her husband Larry, spoke at a recent lunch meeting of the Rotary Club of Osoyoos about how she is defying conventional wisdom.
Stepping into Osoyoos Home Hardware is like stepping into the past.
There are old cash registers on display dating back to the 1920s. Customers have often brought old items for the store to show that Sologuk refers to as “treasures.”
She shows off a retail catalogue from 1859 that features a building in Gastown in Vancouver on the front cover where a customer recently told Sologuk he still lives.
If you look hard enough among the merchandise, you’ll see a tall gasoline pump dating back to 1929 that features a glass bulb at the top proclaiming the brand “Home Ethyl.”
You may even notice a hole made by a bb gun that Sologuk has been told was shot by one of the Pendergraft children years ago.
“We are the oldest established retail store in Osoyoos that is still in existence … We are a destination store and we know that, but that’s a lot of pressure.”
“We are the oldest established retail store in Osoyoos that is still in existence,” Sologuk said. “We are a destination store and we know that, but that’s a lot of pressure.”
The store was built in 1939 and opened by the Fairweather family as a hardware store in 1942. The Sologuks took on the business in 1985 and bought the building in 2003.
Customers come for the experience as much as to shop. Sologuk brims with pride as she recounts some of the feedback she’s received from customers.
“This is my favourite store in the world,” a little girl told her.
A visitor from England recognized immediately that it was a family-owned business and asked to speak to the proprietor.
“I just love you ironmongers,” the Englishman said enthusiastically using the British expression.
Of course the store sells the same modern merchandise that other Home Hardware stores sell and the old-fashioned distribution systems are gone. Everything comes on a slow boat from China, Sologuk laments.
These changes, she says, have made her become more of a risk taker.
She defies the conventional retail wisdom that says stores should be selling for the next season instead of the current one.
“I believe if someone wants to sit on a lawn chair on a beautiful September day that they should be able to buy a lawn chair if they want to,” said Sologuk. “They should not be told that sorry we only sell Christmas trees in September. And I am a firm believer in that.”
Her philosophy may be better suited to a smaller community like Osoyoos, she admits, but she stands by it.
“It isn’t a formula,” Sologuk says defiance of conventional retail wisdom. “It’s about servicing your community.”
Conventional retail wisdom also says you should not have stairs in your stores and that each step results in the loss of X number of customers, she says. But her store’s lower level still seems to entice customers to discover its secrets.
She helps a woman raise her stroller up a few steps in the middle of the store as she continues talking.
“How do you like our escalator?” she asks the woman with a smile.
“I was truly born into retail,” says Sologuk, who lived as a child above her mother’s dress shop in Capreol in northern Ontario. “I learned about it around the kitchen table where I sat with my mother.”
She recounted how her mother sometimes replaced size 16 labels on dresses with size 14 ones. This delighted customers who discovered they could easily fit into a smaller dress size.
“I’m happy to be running a business in Osoyoos. I love going out and putting the awning out … I have no intention of retiring now. Sixty-something is the new 30-something.”
“The business person in me realized she was giving the customer what they wanted,” Sologuk chuckles.
When Sologuk, now 64, was a young adult, she was determined not to go into retail and she took up a career as a teacher in northern Ontario for seven years. She found that profession constrained her, and she understood that retail allowed more creativity.
In 1973 she was drawn back into retail when she and her husband Larry bought a Stedman’s store in Osoyoos.
She returned to Ontario in 1978 when her mother became ill, but after watching a movie with scenes of mountains, she came back to Osoyoos in 1981, this time to stay.
Today the store hires 16 full-time staff and eight part-timers, who Sologuk says she’s committed to keeping employed even during the slow season.
“If you have a passion for something, the money follows,” says Sologuk. “I’m happy to be running a business in Osoyoos. I love going out and putting the awning out … I have no intention of retiring now. Sixty-something is the new 30-something.”
Sologuk said she and her husband are looking forward to running their business in their own unique way for many years to come.
That will be very good news for their loyal customers.