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- Member profile: Future is bright for family-owned St. Peters Hardware & Rental
Member profile: Future is bright for family-owned St. Peters Hardware & Rental
by Connie Lannan
Seventy-five years ago, Dan St. Peters’ grandfather started a small hardware business in a 19-ft.-by-33-ft. building in Alton, Ill. Today, the family-owned-and-operated St. Peters Hardware & Rental serves much of the Illinois area near St. Louis, with a third location expected to open later this year.
While hardware was the foundation, Dan’s father, Dale, and his uncle, Doug, brought rental into the picture in 1992.
“The department manager from ServiStar, which later merged with True Value, came in and essentially talked my father and my uncle into getting into rental,” says Dan, who serves as co-owner of the operation. “He explained the profits a rental store could make if it was run properly. He also showed them that the people renting tools were a lot of the same people who were walking in our hardware doors everyday as a contractor, subcontractor or do-it-yourself homeowner. It was like a lightbulb that went off in their heads. It made so much sense.”
Convincing Dan’s grandfather that rental would complement their existing business was another thing. “My grandfather said that it was fine with him if his sons wanted to get into rental, but he didn’t want to be involved. My dad and uncle actually had to get a new federal ID number and start a business within a business. At that time the books were kept separate. Then about four or five years later they merged it all in. That’s when we became St. Peters Hardware & Rental,” Dan says.
The combination of hardware and rental, which has operated as a True Value business since 1999, has been a successful collaboration. The growth of both is what brought Dan, who serves as ARA of Illinois chair and treasurer, into the family business.
“I came back in 1997 after working as a project engineer at Barry-Wehmiller. The local central hardware was going out of business. Our hardware business was growing leaps and bounds, and by the same token we were still seeing growth on the rental side of our business. At that time my brother was getting involved in ownership. They just needed some help, so I came back. We built a new, much bigger building here on the same property. That was one of the reasons I came back — to help with all that,” he says.
When Dan returned, the plan was that he and his brother, Mike, would take over the business, allowing his father and uncle to cut back on their involvement. “About five years into coming back, my brother decided that he wanted to build houses. He got out of the business and started a development company and built houses. Since then he has moved on to another business, which is one of our major customers, so that’s nice. But when he left, I went from having a partner to having to do a lot of this by myself. My father and my uncle offered tremendous help. My sister came back to work for us at that time, but she was more focused on our marketing plan and advertising. A lot of the day-to-day operations went from two of us — one handling hardware and one handling rental — to one of me kind of handling both sides of the business,” he says.
That was a significant challenge, but by leaning on his father and uncle, getting more organized and having a good team, “I just kept plugging away,” he says.
Over the years, as the business has continued to grow, so has the team that makes it happen. As for family members, the company now boasts eight St. Peters working at the operation — Dan, his father, his uncle, his aunt, his wife, his sister, his nephew and his son. All in all, they have 32 employees between the rental and hardware sides. To Dan all are considered part of the St. Peters contingent.
“Yes, we have eight St. Peters who work here, but I don’t think of them that way. I think of everyone who works here as a St. Peters. We’re more of a family here. We treat everyone like that. What guides all of us is something my grandfather always said, ‘If you don’t take care of the person who walks in the front door, nothing else you do is going to matter.’ That is what unites us,” Dan says, noting that the operation has benefited from longtime employees. “One of my guys who had been with us for 20 years just retired. Most of our employees have been with us for about 10 years.”
As a True Value operation, Dan and his employees handle all aspects of the rental spectrum.
“We cater to all rental markets — construction, general tool and party. Being in business so long, we have a very loyal customer base on both sides of our business — hardware and rental. We have done multiple weddings for families — handled the arrangements for one daughter and then the next daughter in the family, etc. We have done projects with folks beginning with when their dad was the owner of the contracting business to now where the son is the owner,” Dan says.
That variety is what he thrives on. “I love the fact that we get to help customers every day with something different — a challenge, a project or, unfortunately, a bad situation that they’re trying to fix. It might be someone who has a sewer pipe clog to a bride who is putting on a wedding. It’s always different,” Dan says.
To keep up with the increased demand, the facility had to expand — on the same property where they started. Today their Alton location consists of their main 17,000-plus-sq.-ft. building, about 10,000 sq. ft. of that as showroom and hardware sales floor; a 7,000-sq.-ft. warehouse for their party and tent inventory; and another 3,000-sq.-ft. building with two levels that operates as a warehouse. “Every bit is full,” Dan says with a laugh.
In 2002, they recognized a need for a second location in Edwardsville. “There was a rental store in town that closed. Almost at the exact same time, an equipment and party rental store in St. Louis was going out of the business. We essentially, in a very short time frame, worked with a developer to build a 5,000-sq.-ft. building. We got our membership with True Value to have a rental store in Edwardsville and bought that inventory and opened a store there,” Dan says, adding that Alex, his son, will soon take over the Edwardsville store from Dan’s father.
Throughout the years, there have been other challenges. These past few years have been particularly difficult, first with the uncertainty surrounding the onset of the pandemic to the current supply chain issues. But no matter what the obstacle, Dan and the St. Peters team have found ways to deal with the hand that is dealt them.
“The one thing that’s always been true for us is that we figure out a way to take care of our customers,” Dan says.
That attitude has made the operation successful. A tip that Dan learned years ago also has helped the team stay centered, even during stressful times. “I have learned to not dwell on the failures,” he says. “Most days none of that matters. What matters is all the people you have helped. If you have an employee who didn’t work out, an issue with a supplier or that customer you just couldn’t satisfy, you can’t let that stress you out. You can’t let that failure bother you because there are hundreds of successes that happened before that,” he says.
Dan sees continued growth for the operation. “We will open our third location later this year in September. Thirty-plus years ago, we did the hybrid of hardware and rental. This will be another hybrid that I have not seen before — a farm, ranch and rental store in Breese, Ill., which is about an hour from us. It will open our footprint up a whole lot larger. This is a market that needs to be served,” he says.
But he doesn’t see it stopping there. “I hope we will have more expansion. As crazy as I am, I think one more store is possible before I retire and let my son take over. It will provide a little more of a link for all the stores. We don’t have any set plans right now, but I see it happening,” he says.