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Executive Q&A: Bryan Spangler moves a hardware store [The Wisconsin State Journal :: ]
[August 31, 2014]

Executive Q&A: Bryan Spangler moves a hardware store [The Wisconsin State Journal :: ]

(Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 31--MCFARLAND -- What had been home to a Family Dollar store, and prior to that a grocery store, is getting new life along with the rest of the McFarland Centre.

The 27,000-square-foot shopping center along Farwell Street is under new ownership as Bryan Spangler has moved his McFarland True Value hardware store into a 12,700-square-foot space on the shopping center's east end. In the coming weeks and months, more space in the strip mall will be filled with retail and office tenants, said Spangler, who spent $700,000 on the purchase and is spending another $500,000 on improvements to the center.

Since 2005, when Spangler purchased his business, he had been leasing a 12,500-square-foot store just down the street to the west of his new location. While the new space -- which sat vacant for nearly five years -- is only 200 square feet larger, it offers more flexibility by swapping storage room space for an additional 2,000 square feet of retail space. It also provides 1,500 more lineal feet of shelving and has a bigger parking lot.

Spangler has a strong hardware background. He worked at Aselson's True Value in Stoughton from 1993 to 2005, and his father spent 35 years with True Value corporate.

Spangler bought his McFarland store with the help of his grandmother and input from his father.

Q: Did you consider expanding your previous building? A: We didn't need more space, we needed to be more efficient because with more space comes more bills. With the store layout (at the old store), we would have had to remodel, which would have worked but we didn't have enough parking and that was our biggest downfall. In the spring, we would have people parking out on the street. It was just chaos because we had our greenhouse that took up some of our parking.

Q: What are the advantages of buying over leasing retail space? A: You can control your costs a little bit more. With leasing, you always have the unknown of what your next lease is going to be and how long it will be. It made sense for us to purchase (the shopping center). We looked into a lease, but the owner wanted to get out.

Q: But now you're a landlord in addition to running a hardware store. What will that be like? A: I never wanted to get into the business of being a landlord, but I'm pretty confident it will work out. The biggest thing it did was it added a part-time job for me.

Q: What's your vision for the shopping center? A: Right now, it's to fill it up. We don't have the funds to do a complete makeover so it will be a gradual process. We've done the simple things like painting the exterior and doing some of the maintenance issues. It used to be a focal point of McFarland. A lot of people are happy that there will be life back in town instead of mainly on Highway 51. We've had a lot of interest. We have The Little Gym coming in and we've had interest from a sub shop, a chiropractor, florist, a coffee shop and from people looking for office space.

Q: Did you look for space on Highway 51? A: We did. And nothing out on 51 fit what we could afford or offer the parking and a 12,000-square-foot building. I talk to a couple hundred people a day, and I've always got my ear open. They put a for-sale sign up ... and six months later I called. But we had to figure out where the down payment was coming from before I wasted their time. I wanted to put together a budget and make sure it wasn't something that would sink us. Fortunately, (McFarland State Bank) has faith in us .

Q: Do you feel the economy coming back and that it makes this project more doable? A: I'm not 100 percent confident that the economy is there and I'm not even 100 percent confident we're heading in the right direction but I think we've hit a plateau. I don't think we can go down any further so it's got to start going up from here. We factored in that even if we had a 50 percent occupancy, we'd still be able to make a go of it. We've got the community support, which is great. It's really been outstanding.

Q: Critique the hardware industry. Is this a good time to be in the hardware business? A: It's getting better. We bought the business (in 2005) and then everything tanked. So we've looked at that and said, "It's all uphill from that." The first five years were really a struggle.

Q: How did you make it through that time? A: You cut costs where you can. You work a lot of hours to keep your payroll in check. You look at every dollar that comes in and figure out how to shave that into bills. You talk to your bank and make sure you have a line of credit for the rough months. The biggest thing is to have a good relationship with your bank.

Q: How did you balance operating your store in the old location and remodeling and stocking the space for your new store? A: We had to go and purchase all new fixtures to put (in the new store) and invest a lot of money into inventory to stock it. It's a balancing act of trying not to be out of stock (at the old store) but you don't want to overstock because you have to move it to (the new store). It's been an interesting process. True Value sent us a project manager, and he was really a godsend.

Q: What didn't you know about running a hardware store that you now know? A: I think everybody goes into business thinking that you've hit the pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow, but that's a big myth. The pot of gold is not there. You never knew how many hours it took to run a business. It's not a 40-hour-a-week job. ... It's 70 hours a week and constant wondering. I never knew how many hours it was going to take.

Q: But you worked at Aselson's for many years and must have seen what it took to run a business.

A: It was 50 hours a week for me, but you never see the other side of it. I didn't deal with the books and the day-to-day issues. Every day is a balancing act. I have a 7- and 10-year-old, and I've missed a lot.

Q: So you do this because...? A: I love it. Fortunately, I have an understanding wife that knows that it's not a 9-to-5 job. When we go camping, we pick sites in the area because most of my mornings I'm commuting back and they stay and I come back later in the day. It's a struggle to balance family and work.

___ (c)2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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