For six decades the Barany family has operated the General Store in the same north Spokane location on North Division Street.
For years, customers have told CEO Bruce Barany he should open a second location up north or out in the Valley. But Barany held back. The recent recession was too risky a time, he said, to take that step.
Until now: Next month Barany will open his second store.
He is joining forces with Ace Hardware, his primary supplier of hardware and the many tools that have helped make the General Store a destination stop for buyers of just about everything.
His Ace on Argonne store is the new tenant in the refurbished former Spears Furniture building at 1330 N. Argonne Road, where heavy snow 4 ½ years ago caused the roof to collapse.
“It’s more advantageous (financially) for us to use the incentives and credit support we’re getting from Ace, rather than go out on our own,” Barany said Wednesday while visiting the new store.
Even so, Barany only began studying the idea of expansion in 2011 after a number of “miserable” years in which the General Store barely made any profit.
Some elements of the General Store will transfer over, he said, such as providing solid customer service and stocking a wide range of hardware, tools and garden items.
But this store is ultimately another Ace Hardware and is not going to have the range of product choices customers find on North Division, Barany said.
“And that’s what we want to do, to disengage ourselves from the General Store so that we could experiment with other ideas and do things according to the Ace Hardware method,” he said.
Carhartt work clothes, a popular item at the General Store, will likely be added to the Ace location. “And maybe we’ll add a live bait refrigerator,” he said.
While Ace is offering a credit line and financing, Barany and family members needed to provide a significant investment of their own to become a franchise. Two 42-foot trailers of merchandise are on their way to Spokane Valley from Ace, and Barany said he had to wire $350,000 to Ace before they’d send the trucks.
To help get the needed money, Barany convinced some of his four children to invest in the business. He’s borrowing money from their savings accounts and will pay 5 percent interest on their loans to the Ace operation, he said.
“That’s better for me than paying the 4.25 percent or so that I’d probably be paying one of the local banks,” he said.
The new store will hire about 10 workers. During the busier hours from 3 to 7 p.m., the store will have five workers on hand, Barany said.
He’ll still manage the General Store, but Barany said at first he’s going to spend some of each day at the Valley store. “Ace told me that they really want to make sure we start off right and create a good impression. You only get one chance to make that impression,” he said.
Ace has become one of the country’s most aggressive hardware retailers. The Chicago-based company owns no corporate stores, relying entirely on franchisees.
Its expansion strategy focuses on basing stores between big-box competitors and in neighborhoods those bigger stores draw from. Barany had to contact the nearest existing Ace store, about 4 miles away, to be sure his location wasn’t considered disruptive.