The Wood Samaritan

They scattered like cockroaches, avoiding eye contact as they scurried away pretending not to see me. Where was I?

You got it. I was at The Low’s Depot (or something like that). I was picking up some glue on the way home and saw a gas firepit on display as I walked in. My little lady has been eyeing them for months and this would be perfect — I’ll score major points if I bring this home, I thought. The problem? It was high up on an eight-foot shelf and I needed someone to get it for me.

Then I endured an experience that reminded me why I try to avoid the big box stores. As much as I wanted to buy that gas firepit, it was impossible to flag down any of the nearby employees (scattering cockroaches). Are you kidding me? Whatever happened to the friendly neighborhood stores of the golden years?

They’re still here! Sutherlands, the 2020 and 2021 winner for Best Hardware Store, has been here for decades, and it is still the family-owned neighborhood store it has been since it first opened over 100 years ago.

I was lucky in that regard. Sutherlands first opened in Missouri, which is where I grew up. My father built custom furniture for a living, and Sutherland’s was always reliable and friendly. The lumber was always better and often more affordable than at box stores. (I am addicted to repairing broken furniture; I am always looking for my next fix.)

When my family moved west, a lot of things were different. But Sutherlands was, and still is, reliable and friendly, treating customers with kindness and respect.

Wayne Clausing, The Wood Samaritan

Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but to me business is just as much about the people as it is the product. The values of a business are a reflection of the people who run it. Wayne Clausing, the manager of our local Sutherlands, began working there as a stock boy at 16 and has been devoted to his customers ever since.

I asked Wayne what makes Sutherlands so special and what has kept him there all these years. He told me that the Sutherland family are “the best owners in the industry!” They do a few things differently than most hardware and lumber stores, and that makes a world of difference for customers like me.

Sutherland’s managers aren’t bound by incredibly strict rules. Every community is different, so Sutherland’s lets managers like Wayne run the store like it’s theirs. Decisions ranging from inventory, hours, and suppliers to marketing and staff are his to make. They trust the man on the ground to do what’s best for their store and their customers. That’s why there are plenty of employees like Wayne who stay with the company as long as they do. It’s also why Wayne didn’t lose any employees because of the COVID crisis.

As you would expect, a business with a culture that is this customer focused creates repeat customers. Wayne’s crew treats customers with the same kindness and respect whether they’re spending $1 or $1,000. I would know, after all. I’m a third-generation Sutherlands customer, and they’ve never run away from me when I wanted to give them money.