After 47 years and five months, Rusty Clayton, owner of the Brooklyn True Value, is retiring. He has sold the business to Brian Baumgartner, who owns hardware stores in Belle Plaine and Knoxville. Clayton said listening to others has been key to his success in the business. His last day as owner is Monday, March 29. He will remain with the store throughout April to help with the transition.
by J.O. Parker
Taking a moment to reflect on his long career in the hardware business, Rusty Clayton said when he was starting out, he didn’t know anything about the business.
“My customers taught me the business,” he said. “The old farmers would come in and they taught me a lot. All I had to do was listen.”
That is what Clayton has been doing in the years since, listening and meeting his customer’s needs.
After 47 years and five months, Clayton has decided to retire. He has sold the Brooklyn True Value at 118 Front St. to Brian Baumgartner, who owns hardware stores in Belle Plaine and Knoxville.
His last day as owner is March 29, but he plans to stay around for another month to help with the transition.
After graduating in 1969 from BGM High School, Clayton attend Marshalltown Community College for two years, then farmed for two more years with his grandfather. In the fall of 1973, he learned that Roy and Alta McCluskey, who owned the ma and pa hardware store in town, were looking to sell. The couple was in their 80s and wanted to retire.
“I took out a loan through the Small Business Administration and purchased the building and started building the inventory,” Clayton said.
He said the McCluskey’s didn’t have much inventory. In fact, he said with chuckle, “I could have gotten everything they had in the back of my van.”
In January 1974, Clayton joined forces with Coast to Coast and ran the hardware store through that franchise until the company merged with True Value in 1999.
“They (True Value) decided we should all wear the same flag,” said Clayton of the store name change.
Clayton said when he first joined Coast to Coast, he was the youngest owner of a franchise with that company at the time.
In the 1975-76 time frame, Clayton purchased the former Brooklyn Post Office building adjoining his store. He remodeled the old post office and knocked a hole in the wall to connect the two buildings.
He sold household goods from the new addition for a number of years until opening a fabric store in 1990.
“I saw a need and thought that was a good fit,” he said of the fabric store. “It has brought a lot of quilters and people from out of town.”
And sometime along the way, he added an additional 16-feet to the back of his store to better serve his customers.
When asked what one of his biggest orders was, Clayton said the former Victor Plastics ordered 6,500 keys. The company was making plastic tool boxes and needed the keys.
“They would buy 50, then 100 and 250,” he recalled. “It took me a little over a month to cut all the keys.”
Clayton specialized in everything hardware and more. If you needed it, it was a sure bet he had it.
“We just have stuff people need,” said Clayton. “We coach people on how-to projects.”
The business currently has one full-time and two part-time staff.
Clayton also operates a successful commercial business, selling hardware supplies to area businesses. That portion of the business is included with the sale of the store.
In addition to the hardware business, Clayton founded the Ruritan Club in Brooklyn in January 1977 and has remained active in the organization to this day.
“We signed the charter on Jan. 20, 1977,” he said. “My wife said before we put the charter in a frame, we should smear a little peanut butter on it (in honor of Jimmy Carter becoming President on that day).”
He has also remained active in the Brooklyn business community and has worked tirelessly to promote the community and build the business base.
Clayton and his wife, Jeanne, have two children, Lauren, who lives in Washington, D.C. and works as a senior advisor for Senator Amy Klobuchar and a son, Reed, who resides in Portland and works for REI, a recreational equipment coop.
“We meet in the middle in Iowa at Christmastime,” said Clayton.
When asked what he is going to miss about the hardware business, Clayton said the customers who stop in to visit and make a purchase.
“I’ve always had a listening ear,” he said.