Working in his family’s business is the only job Rick Cantelmi has ever known. He started working for his grandfather when he was just 8 years old. Placido Cantelmi opened Cantelmi’s Hardware in Bethlehem, Pa. in 1922. He eventually handed the business down to his son, Louis, who started working in the store in 1937. Now, Louis’ son Rick is celebrating 41 years in the business and runs two stores in the area covering 30,000 square feet. In the era of mass merchants, he credits his family’s legacy of quality customer service for keeping both stores in business and thriving.
Serving the Customer
“Customer service, that’s what keeps people coming back to us instead of going to The Home Depot or Lowe’s,” said Cantelmi. “It costs nothing to be nice.” That’s something his grandfather used to say and it continues to be the philosophy for both stores. Cantelmi encourages all of his employees to make the customer their first priority. “If you have a question about a product or project, we can help; and you won’t have to wait in line here.” If that means he has to get behind the register to open another line or on the sales floor, he’s happy to do it.
Many of his customers have been shopping at his Bethlehem store for several decades. Cantelmi said in the early days, people would have a problem, like a broken window, and his grandfather would repair it on credit. “To this day, people still come to my store and say they remember my grandfather. They don’t forget things like that.”
Along with customer service, Cantelmi believes being able to adapt to new demands has helped the business stay afloat during tough economic times, including the Great Depression. “My grandfather started this business as a glass repair shop; we later added hardware and outdoor power equipment.”
Cantelmi also believes knowing your customer base is key. “You have to look at what the area needs and meet that demand. At our Bethlehem store, we have a much higher percentage of commercial customers, so we cater to them.” It’s a much different story for Cantelmi’s second store in Forks Township, Pa., where the focus is more consumer-based. He decided to open the Forks location in 2006 because of suburban growth in the area. “Our clientele in Forks is 80 percent consumer and 20 percent commercial. Because of that, we decided to sell more lawn and garden products, as well as propane and grilling equipment.”
Another area that he recently ventured into is pet supplies. “We noticed the demand was growing for premium pet products, so we added a pet supply department and it’s really taken off.”
Finding the Right Products
“My customers expect me to carry the best products,” said Cantelmi. As they have expanded both stores over the years, he has tried to find quality products that attract new customers and keep customers coming back. Cantelmi thinks STIHL is a great example of that. “We’ve been selling STIHL since 1977, and the dependability of their products is legendary. As a STIHL dealer, it is easy for us to stand behind that equipment.”
Cantelmi was also excited about working with STIHL because their products aren’t sold by mass merchants. “Customers will have to come to Cantelmi’s Hardware or other independent dealers to buy STIHL products. That gives us a definite advantage over big box stores.” Cantelmi says many customers come to him the first time to buy STIHL products, then keeping coming back to buy others. “Our staff can give them in-store safety and operating demonstrations so that they can get started on their tasks as soon as they get home. You can’t find that kind of service at most mass merchants.”
Future Generations of Service
Cantelmi believes his family’s ability to honor their traditions while adapting to the changing business environment will keep the business going strong in the future. And, while he doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon, he hopes to pass his stores on to his son, Patrick, 22, who just graduated from Temple University with a degree in Information Science and Technology as well as Business. Cantelmi believes that communication technology will play a big role in the future of his business and that his son will be ready to lead the charge, “This is a family business, and I hope it will stay that way for many generations to come.”
Learn more about Rick Cantelmi and Cantelmi’s Hardware at www.cantelmihardware.com.