Rusty Clayton, left, former owner of Brooklyn True Value, is shown with the new owner, Brian Baumgartner, who purchased and took over the business on March 29. Since taking over the business, Baumgartner has changed the name to Brooklyn Hardware and is currently rearranging the location and adding merchandise.
by J.O. Parker
Brian Baumgartner was looking for other investments when the opportunity to purchase the Brooklyn True Value, “Kind of actually came out of nowhere,” he said.
“Rusty (Clayton) called me, said he was selling and wanted to know if I would be interested,” Baumgartner went on to say.
That call led to Baumgartner, owner of hardware stores in Belle Plaine and Knoxville, to purchase the Brooklyn True Value from Clayton, who had owned the business for 47 years.
“Things just quickly fell in line and here we are,” he said.
Baumgartner officially took over the business on March 29, with Clayton staying on for another month to help with the transition.
Baumgartner has been in the hardware business for 16 years. Before that, he spent 5.5 years as manager of Pamida, after graduating from college in December 1990.
He spent 10 years with Kum & Go Convenience stores, mostly supervising numerous stores, including time spent at the former Brooklyn location.
Along the way, Baumgartner took an interest in hardware stores, saying that it would be fun and a lower risk than owning a convenience store.
“So, during my travels with Kum & Go, I would stop at numerous hardware stores,” he said.
He purchased the Belle Plaine store, his first, in 2005 and added the Knoxville location in 2010.
“It has been a learning curve though,” Baumgartner said being an owner. “I wish 16 years ago I knew what I know today about hardware, paint, plumbing, etc. I have always been comfortable about managing and finances but it’s the product mix and staying in stock is what makes you successful, too. I think I have done okay but there are a lot of better hardware owners out there than me.”
One of the biggest changes since taking over the Brooklyn location is the name change. Baumgartner said he lost faith in True Value’s management about six years ago at his other two locations.
“I started looking to switch for a few years and then out of nowhere, True Value decided to sell the company to a private equity firm three years ago,” he said. “I switched my other two stores over to another hardware wholesaler, Do It Best, Inc., two years ago.”
Baumgartner said “Do It Best,” is a member owned company, which means he owns part of it, like it was previously with True Value.
“They are a nice company that I am having success with,” he said. “The other communities hardly noticed that I wasn’t True Value anymore. They actually have embraced the new paints and we hit the ground running. Think about it for a minute, we offer the same mix of product, just get it from someplace else. It has been a big win for us.”
When asked what changes are underway at the location, Baumgartner said he is committed to keeping everything that Rusty offered, including his extensive fabric selections, plus adding more.
“We have already started and will continue tightening the merchandise space up and actually add about 25 percent more merchandise,” said Baumgartner. “We gained a lot of space tearing out the old office and are just simply tightening space. I think it will actually be easier to shop too when done.”
“Change is part of the game,” he added. “I need to offer the public more items at fair prices to be successful. Rusty has done a nice job for 47 year. It is simply time for a new look and menu.”
When asked how important a store like his is to a small community like Brooklyn, Baumgartner said the COVID-19 outbreak proved just how valuable we are to the general success of a community.
“I just believe that, being a retail owner, I don’t expect everyone to buy everything I offer in the store. There are other hardware stores, big boxes, lumber yards, etc. Just try to buy some from everyone. Don’t just shut out your local store.”
Brooklyn Hardware currently has three employees. Baumgartner will be in the store every Sunday and Monday, plus another half day or two.
Store hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and now on Sundays, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
The store number is 641-522-7712.
“I love what I do or I would not have bought the Brooklyn store,” Baumartner said. “I am excited about working with the public on their needs that I can offer. We will make it better. We are going to widen the selection of merchandise, which will be a win for the community.”