Skopos “30-Minutes With…” series highlights some of the best and brightest small business owners in NYC. In our Manifesto, we express the awesomeness of small business owners, and we mean it. “30-Minutes With…” puts us in touch with real business owners in NYC, and their stories.
INTRO: Joe Franquinha is the 2nd generation of Crest Hardware in East Williamsburg. I was introduced to Joe my community partners at Evergreen and Pratt Center for Community Development (shout out to Leah, Rebekah and Simon!). Joe needed capital to give the store a face lift and replace its old HVAC units. I was brought in to figure out how to get it done.
Crest Hardware is the epitome of a long-standing community business that adds heart and soul to our neighborhoods. They recently celebrated their 50th birthday. This kind of longevity doesn’t come easy. Here, Joe shares the smarts, heart and grit that'll keep Crest going for another 50 years to come.
Walking into Crest Hardware, I noticed a new sign greeting customers: “Franklin is IN.”
The sign refers to Franklin the Pig. I don’t get to pet a jolly, fat pig everyday, so I’m excited. As I head back to see Franklin, my attention is captured by an employee smile, the store’s homey feel, unique products and art made out of, well, things you’d find in a hardware store. After exploring the 10,000 square foot space, I meet with Joe in Crest Hardware’s lush urban garden:
Me: Congrats, the store looks great and the garden is beautiful. You pulled off a fantastic project!
Joe: Thanks, we’re super happy with the remodel. We did as much as we could to get the most bang for our buck and use repurposed materials. Like, we replaced our vinyl floors with reclaimed wood. The capital we got also replace our old HVAC system which we direly need for summer. And we remerchandised. We now feature a Home Goods section which has been great.
Me: When we first met to explore your project, I was impressed at how you eased into taking over the business from your Dad (during the recession) and really managed to keep things financially stable and fresh considering our economy was in such a slump. What did you do?
Joe: First and foremost, we looked at our own neighborhood that we serve. It’s changed a lot, and still is changing. During my Dad’s days, East Williamsburg was a lower-income area and our customers didn’t have disposable income. They would come into the store to fulfill basic needs: fix a broken toilet, replace a light bulb, outfit the home with basic items that they didn’t want to spend a lot on. But given nearby gentrification of Williamsburg that has spilled over, Crest’s customer now has a little more disposable income to complete home renovation projects, they’re interested in unique home accents that cost a little more. Also, tapping into the DIY (do-it-yourself) segment was a big focus of ours, as well as opening our doors on Sundays to accommodate customers. I also invested in this garden area we’re sitting in.
Me: You built the garden on your own, right? There was no garden before?
Joe: Oh yea, the garden is one of my proudest moments – I love it. Customers love it, too. Everyone needs plants for their home and our horticulturalists are great guides.
Me: Tell me about some of your greatest challenges.
Joe: 9-11 impacted us for sure - money was super tight. And the entry of big box stores -- we lost a lot of contractors that used to shop with us but were now shopping at Home Depot. Fortunately, our local community was still here to support. Brooklyn does a great job at supporting local businesses. And the recession in 2008, people stopped spending too, and that’s where we realized we had to shift and invest in Crest to stay relevant to the good things that were happening.
Me: What carried you through those lean times?
Joe: Being frugal. I learned that from my Dad and his generation. We’re also big on creating an experience, not just a sales transaction, for our customers and community. We do our best to keep up to date with relevant signage, branding, merchandising. You know, making things look nice.
Also, my Dad had the forethought to buy this building back in the day. He said “always buy to protect your business and property.” I don’t know if we’d be around for the community if we weren’t our own landlord. Developers approach us for the space and we could sell, but this is our purpose in the neighborhood.
Me: Let's wrap up with your Top 3 pieces of advice you’d pass along to fellow business owners?
Joe: 1. Be civic-minded. One of the most meaningful things I’ve learned. Eric Haze (iconic NYC urban artist) once captured it perfectly for me: “You gotta put back into the earth what you take from it.” Crest Hardware Arts Show, for example, brings together community organizations, local businesses and volunteers together for a day of food, music and coming together.
2. Create an experience. We’re here to answer questions, help our with projects and listen to understand what customers want. We totally give that extra effort. Franklin and our African parrot is a big experience attraction too.
3. Customer focus and engagement. To create the right experience, we have to be in tune with our customers and community. Engagement is a natural. If we didn’t pay attention, customers would have stopped coming.
Go check out Crest Hardware for your home goods and projects… and stop by to rub Franklin’s belly!
Crest Hardware | 558 Metropolitan Ave. | Brooklyn, NY 11211 | 718-388-952
Mon-Sat: 8am - 7pm | Sun: 10am – 5pm