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Do it Center’s Valencia store holds final sale

Profile: Home improvement store closes after more than 30 years

Posted: October 29, 2010 10:40 p.m.
Updated: October 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Inge York, of Valencia, loads her car with bags of potting soil that she purchased at the Do it Center on Thursday afternoon. The store, which is closing, has been in the SCV since the 1970s.

 

When a business closes, the effects can be far-reaching.

The community loses jobs, convenient access to products or services and tax revenue, which keep the city operating.

Do it Center’s Valencia store became the latest casualty.

“The company kept the local store open far longer than it should have because it was the flagship store,” said Laura Shanders, senior vice president. “It was our sentimental favorite.”

Community partner
The company is comprised of a small chain of stores privately owned by Jeff Ruf, who bought the business from Lumber City in 1986. The flagship store had been one of the hardware-store fixtures of the Santa Clarita Valley since the 1970s.

After the Northridge earthquake, while a large hardware chain closed for business, the privately owned Do it Center set up shop in its parking lot to help local residents. 

Although the store was an eclectic mix of items pitched on the floor during the violent shaking, employees Shanders and Larane Campbell retrieved items residents desperately needed by searching through the store with flashlights in hand.

With a cash register set up in the parking lot, Do it Center employees worked all day to supply people with items they needed. As night fell, the Sheriff’s Department finally asked them to ‘close’ for safety reasons. The store they were treasure hunting in was in the dark while aftershocks continued.

“We even gave merchandise away to the people on their word that they would pay us later,” Shanders said. “All but one person kept their word.”

Employees
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California’s unemployment rate as of Oct. 22 is 12.4 percent.

“Santa Clarita had a decrease in unemployment figures dropping from 8 to 7.7 percent,” said Jason Crawford, economic development manager for the city of Santa Clarita.

All of this is of little consolation to the 30 employees who are about to lose their jobs at the local Do it Center.

The hardware retailer has offered its employees positions at other stores, and some have accepted the opportunities.

The company is providing good recommendations for those employees who cannot transfer, hoping they will land jobs with other companies.

Campbell has been a store manager for 25 years. But she lives in Frazier Park. She said commuting to another Do it Center would be a hardship.

The core group is a team of long-term employees, Shanders said.

Crawford said the city plans to meet with the employees to help them with what happens next, such as filing for unemployment, and directing them to local resources such as the WorkSource center.

The center helps people write resumes and offers employment workshops, computers, printers, Internet access, phones and copy machines all free of charge.

The city also refers the employees to openings at the Westfield Valencia Town Center. Crawford said 20 or so retailers will be hiring.

“People retired from that store and later passed away,” Shanders said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Small business
Although the Valencia store is one outlet of a small chain of seven other stores, the total number of employees would tally fewer than 500. The total size easily meets the definition of a small business.

To compete against the larger big-box stores, Do it Center joined a co-op to gain price leverage when purchasing merchandise to help it compete.

Shanders said although the store was competitive pricewise, it’s difficult for a smaller business to fight the perception shoppers have that the big-box chain stores always have the best prices.

The city has offered various incentives to some chain businesses in the past, in exchange for a company locating a store within the city, adding to the revenue coffers so that it could provide residents with ongoing services.

And there are incentives to help an existing business expand within the Enterprise Zone.

For an existing business trying to survive, however, there are few real safety nets. Small private businesses that lack shareholder investments rely heavily upon owner investment and bank credit. And banks are conservative credit lenders today.

The SBA Advocacy Office estimates that 26 percent of the businesses survive 15 years or more.

Asked if the city could have helped the store stay in business, Crawford acknowledged the economy plays a big role in limiting how much any entity can do to help a business in these times.

However, he said that the business is in the Enterprise Zone, which provides special tax incentives to qualified businesses that hire qualified employees or make qualified purchases.

The SCV has become saturated with chain hardware stores, making staying in business even more difficult in the weak economy.

Because Do it Center is privately owned, its revenues are unknown. But Shanders reports the company is doing great at its other stores.

The local store, well-known for its holiday and patio selection, did well during special sales, but found it difficult to attract customers back to store outside of the specials.

“The owners and long-term employees are very sad about the closing of the store because they really loved it in Valencia,” Shanders said.

Staying alive
The Valencia store had been losing money every month, every year according to Shanders. She described it as a slow death.

All of the changes made at the Do it Centers were first implemented at the Valencia store. At one time, the hardware store held tent shows in the parking lot with Ferris wheels for the shoppers to ride.

As the city grew around the hardware store, Valencia Boulevard was widened significantly. Unlike the newer hardware locations around the city that have special entrance and exit lanes on busy streets, the Valencia store does not have the same access.

In canvassing shoppers this week, one customer from a local overhead-door company said he’d been coming to the store since the 1980s.

“People here know how to help you,” he said. “(The help) was great.”

The customer said many of the employees had owned two or three homes and knew what they were talking about when helping you, unlike working with less-skilled employees he often found at big stores who didn’t know what he needed.

Shanders said the store has great customers.

Independent retailers often move farther out of major population areas, seeking newer, smaller communities that lack access to products and services so that can survive. Or the companies seek cities that do not permit big box stores to locate within the city.

As an independent business, it’s difficult to feel confident in any location as the risks and stakes are high.

Do it Center is looking at smaller markets where it can open another store. Shanders said the company tries to find markets that are under-served by existing businesses. The hardware store is planning to open a store in South Lake Tahoe.

“There are a lot of great memories for us at the Valencia store,” Shanders said.

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