Lou Muth has managed to build a successful business in “the goofiest retail location in America.”
That’s how Muth, owner of Do It Best, describes the location of his hardware store on the hidden little Pennsylvania Avenue in North Wayne.
Muth bought the business in 2000 when the hardware store that was there was failing, he said. He told Radnor Patch that he thought he could turn it around.
And he apparently has. Muth said that when he took over, the hardware store was doing 42,000 transactions a year; now they do 150,000 every year.
So how has he created a thriving small business when only ten minutes away are “big box” competitors that reportedly have much lower prices?
His answers: a big inventory and even bigger customer service.
“You’re not in store 10 seconds and someone will wait on you,” Muth said. The 6,000 square-foot hardware store employs 13 full-time and 13 part-time employees, including Muth, 63, and his son, Jeffrey.
A history of hardware, family fights
If Muth told you that there were three generations of hardware store owners before him, would you believe it? How about that every one of them split from the previous after a big family fight?
Well, that’s his story, believe it or not. According to Muth, his great grandfather bought a store in South Philadelphia in 1880. His grandfather got into the business with his father (Muth great grandfather), but after a family fight, he left and opened his own store nearby.
Muth’s father eventually got into the business with his father (Muth’s grandfather), but after a family fight (Really?) his father left the business and started his own in Upper Darby.
Muth got into the business himself and — guess what — a big family fight happens. (Yes.) So he went into the wholesale hardware service for ten years. He said it was the best thing he could have done.
“I saw how hundreds of other people did it. I emulated the good guys,” he said. He learned that even in the hardware business, “You’ve got to change, adapt.”
Muth said that he and his son get along great, and that he does not predict any big family fights in the future.
Doing it best
When Muth started his business in Wayne he had already owned a Do It Best in Upper Darby for 11 years.
In 2008 he sold the Upper Darby store to “get his sanity back” after eight years of running both stores.
“I took the chance on the gut feeling that the store would turn it around if I did it right,” he said of his location in Wayne.
“We like the area. We like the people,” he said. “The key to the store will always be getting first time customers to find us. Once they find us they always come back,” he said.
Muth knows very well the tips and tricks of some of his competitors – how payroll and inventory get cut and how the margins are widened on certain products, for example.
You may be surprised to know that the margins are not too different between Do It Best and nearby “big box” hardware stores. Sometimes Do It Bests beats the larger stores on pricing.
Do It Best sells more than 300 Weber grills a year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
“All things considered, people would rather buy it off of me,” Muth said.
Muth said he is living his version of retirement — working at the store, waiting on customers — and travelling.
Already in 2012 he has traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Aruba and Cancun, Mexico.
Muth is a lifelong Broomall resident with his wife Karen. They raised three children and have been married 41 years. They have six granddaughters.