Without local hardware, lower expectations are just the beginning

DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET: This is a man measuring out loose nails at a hardware store. Yes, people actually do that. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER.
DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET: This is a man measuring out loose nails at a hardware store. Yes, people actually do that. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER.

OPINION: BETWEEN THE LINES

A box on the bargain counter at Hardex in Fairy Meadow offers a cut price deal on secateur spring replacements – just a buck as part of a clearance sale. Sadly, the Princes Hwy business is going the way of the proverbial Persian rug store (but for real).

Who would buy such a spring? Why not just drive off to Bunnings and get a new set of clippers for just a dollar more? 

Well here’s the news. Plenty of us prefer to fix things. We’re the same folks who love a hardware shop in the neighbourhood, as opposed to the big-box industrial parks on the edge of town.

We distrust tools that have a run-life measured in minutes. We value workers who will give good advice about materials and tools, not just forcibly greet you even when you try to slip past.

We can hang around in hardware stores for hours, enjoying the smell of timber, and sawdust, WD40 and galvanised steel. Not just that potting-mix smell that seems to permeate all furniture from China.

We’re glad there are some places where you can buy loose bolts, screws and nails – weighed up on scales and served in paper bags. We remember being wide-eyed kids in places, before they all changed their names.

There’s one less now René Tummers has called time on Hardex. Like Jackson’s in Thirroul, which closed in 2014, accepting its real estate fate as gift stores and boutiques. 

We are the poorer for their loss. Where the local knew its people, the warehouse model gets suppliers to stock the shelves, and gets the customer to do the work.

If Bunnings doesn’t have what you need, or its timber is too twisty, or the store’s far away, what’s the alternative? Utter dominance by one player distorts the market and strips customers of their power.

Capitalism requires competition and choice. If one retailer controls the market, why would they improve range or prices?

Perhaps in this brave new big box world, lower expectations are just the beginning.