Ian Williams is manager of Fresno Ag Hardware. Founded in 1876, the retailer moved into its current location at the start of the Great Recession. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Editor’s note: The Business Journal is marking the 10th anniversary of the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy, and the start of the Great Recession, by featuring local small businesses that survived the ordeal. Here is one of them.
Not that there would ever be a good time for a real estate crash, but it came at a particularly bad time for Fresno Ag Hardware.
A lease dispute over the store at East Gettysburg and North Blackstone avenues in 2008 prompted a costly move a mile-and-a-half east to the business’ current location at North First and Gettysburg.
Up until then, “Business was great. It was definitely a boom time. We had a lot of people working on their houses, and we were seeing just a huge increase in sales from the housing market on fire,” said Ian Williams, the store manager and grandson of John Rosetta, who in 1952 bought the hardware store now more than 140 years old.
The move involved renovating a former grocery store.
“That hurt us quite a bit, because it cost us quite a bit,” Williams recounted. “We had the inventory, but it was still pretty much a startup operation, and it came at the worst time — 2008,” with the housing market crashing in the midst of the relocation efforts.
“I would say it caught us by surprise, because we were doing so many things at the same time.”
Sales of hardware goods slumped, leaving FAH operating in the red for four years.
Though finances never dipped to the point where the business was at risk of insolvency, “We had to scramble to survive,” Williams said.
Actions to stem the losses included tapping into reserve funds and identifying best-selling items and buying them in greater numbers to get discounts while also working with vendors to extend the time to pay for those items, which helped, Williams said.
Some family members were bought out of their shares, reducing the number of executives in the company and their salaries, while some employee hours were cut as were a few jobs, the latter of which came as a last resort, he said.
Things turned around in 2013, with sales of electrical, plumbing and other hardware finally inching up, but the real driver was a jump in sales of gardening goods, as the movement for people raising their own fruits and vegetables to save money took on new vigor near the end of the recession.
In fact, 2013 was the third top sales year in FAH’s history, and business has improved since then with the economic upturn to the point that 2017 was its best year ever.
These days, “We are better organized,” with more checks and balances on making business decisions and operating smarter post recession, which includes setting aside money in a “rainy-day” fund in case the economy turns sour again, Williams said.