Fam­ily busi­ness stay­ing strong

Four gen­er­a­tions in­volved in Val­ley Home Hard­ware stores


The era of big box stores has not re­placed fam­ily-owned busi­nesses in the Val­ley.

First-rate prod­ucts and cus­tomer ser­vice still mat­ters, and cer­tainly, the own­ers of the Palmer group of Home Hard­ware stores know that. They reg­u­larly turn fam­ily meals into busi­ness dis­cus­sions be­cause of the fo­cus they have on the six stores they op­er­ate.

John and Mar­garet Palmer of Mor­ris­town started with a small out­door sawmill in the 1950s. He logged his own trees dur­ing the win­ter and she han­dled the book­keep­ing.

He once re­called se­lect­ing the trees he’d cut with his cus­tomers.

“We would leave enough good growth to har­vest again in 20 to 25 years. With to­day’s clear cut­ting, it takes much longer to grow forests back.”

In time, the Palmers ex­panded, build­ing a small fac­tory to pro­duce ap­ple bins and boxes. Later, it was con­verted to pro­duce win­dow sashes and a line of hard­ware was added. The cou­ple of­ten loaded their truck with vinyl floor­ing, trav­el­ling as far as Digby and be­yond to make sales. By 1974, John E. Palmer Build­ing Sup­plies in Mor­ris­town was their sole con­cern.

The cou­ple’s three daugh­ters and their hus­bands all got in­volved with the busi­ness. They adopted new tech­nol­ogy, like a point-of-sale com­puter sys­tem, home de­sign soft­ware and the Val­ley’s first boom-truck ser­vice.

In 1996, the Palmers pur­chased Ra­fuse Build­ing Sup­plies in Wolfville and, later, an An­napo­lis Royal store. They pur­chased the Ber­wick Home Hard­ware store in 1998. In 2012, a merger took place with Ber­wick Build­ing Sup­plies af­ter a 2001 fire in Mor­ris­town.

The group also in­cludes Maple Leaf Home Hard­ware in Can­ning, an Antigo­nish store and its satel­lite op­er­a­tion in Sher­brooke, along with Rock­well Home Hard­ware in Kentville. The Kentville store was pur­chased back in Jan­uary and re­branded in May. They all carry the ban­ner of the Home Hard­ware co-op­er­a­tive, which is op­er­ated by more than 1,000 in­de­pen­dently owned stores na­tion­ally.

Com­mu­nity mat­ters

John and Mar­garet’s grand­daugh­ter, Jyl Bishop Veale, be­gan work­ing on in­ven­tory as a teenager and now her daugh­ter, Olivia, comes in to count stock, pick­ing up her first pay­cheque.

She’s not alone. Olivia’s cousin, Ben Smole­naars, has been work­ing part time for the past five years.

The fam­ily in­volve­ment, says Bishop Veale, “is part of who we are.”

She re­calls the bliz­zard known as White Juan in 2004, when there was no power for sev­eral days. Be­cause the Wolfville store was lo­cally owned, a way was found to open up and sell gen­er­a­tors to those who needed them.

“The fire de­part­ment with staff mem­ber Adam Forsythe came in and shone lights. I re­mem­ber those who were on cash had to guess at the prices. That’s one of the ben­e­fits of liv­ing in a com­mu­nity.”

Now that John Palmer is 94, the busi­ness group has six own­ers amongst the third gen­er­a­tion. Bishop Veale’s hus­band, Brian, works full time as a man­ager and her fa­ther, Ray Bishop, con­trib­utes his ac­count­ing skills. Her brother, An­drew, his wife, Melissa, and a cousin’s hus­band, Char­lie Smole­naars, all have years of ex­pe­ri­ence from the ware­house level up.

The firm has about 140 em­ploy­ees and they all wear the red Home Hard­ware uni­form. It is the own­ers who ac­cu­mu­late the most over­time.

“Most peo­ple work an eight hour day. Mine can stretch to 12 or 14 hours, but I love my job,” said Brian Veale. “The as­so­ci­a­tions, the staff, the cus­tomers and the ven­dors. We’re part of the com­mu­nity and proud of what we do.”

When asked what mo­ti­vates them, they all have a sim­i­lar an­swer. Ray Bishop says a car­ing com­mu­nity, Melissa Bishop says re­la­tion­ships and her hus­band, An­drew, adds the fact that the prof­its stay in the com­mu­nity is im­por­tant to him.

The var­ied char­i­ties the Palmer Group aids are all lo­cal, from the food banks to sports teams.

Three gen­er­a­tions ago, no one fore­saw the growth of big box stores. Char­lie Smole­naars adds change in the re­tail cli­mate that brought about the demise of chains like Sears and Rona could not have been imag­ined ei­ther.

For­tu­nately, these six in­tend on stay­ing cur­rent and flex­i­ble for the sake of lo­cal con­sumers.

“In this kind of (re­tail) en­vi­ron­ment you don’t know where things are go­ing to go,” said Bishop Veale.

Given the amount of lo­cal com­pe­ti­tion and so much busi­ness hap­pen­ing on­line, she says, the stores in­tend to stay rel­e­vant into the fu­ture.

The Palmer group, which op­er­ates six hard­ware op­er­a­tions in Nova Sco­tia, has more than three gen­er­a­tions of fam­ily in­volve­ment. The prin­ci­pals in­clude Char­lie and Kim­berly Smole­naars, left, Jyl Bishop Veale and Brian Veale, Melissa and An­drew Bishop.


John and Mar­garet Palmer of Mor­ris­town were pho­tographed more than 60 years ago when they were start­ing their own busi­ness.

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