Eight months after Home Depot opened a store in Lemon Creek, its competitors say they're surviving the arrival of the big box store.
In a small town like Juneau, contractors have long-standing relationships with suppliers that are hard nuts for the new guy, Home Depot, to crack.
Take local developer Sandy Bicknell, who has a history of working with Don Abel Building Supply and Valley Lumber & Building Supply.
"Our loyalties are to those guys who helped us through some hard times," Bicknell said.
"That's not to say," he added, "that we haven't gone up there and bought some stuff."
Bicknell gets most of his big orders from out of town anyway, he said. But he accounts for a sizable amount of local business. And wherever his employees can get the best price for the best value, he said, that's where they'll go - to a limit.
"I'm not out there to see who has the cheapest two-by-four," he said. "And they don't offer anything extra special that the other guys wouldn't have."
That's not to say that local business owners haven't noticed dips and turns in their business that they attribute partly to Home Depot's presence.
"We used to have the largest inventory of appliances in Juneau," said Bruce Abel, who owns the Don Abel hardware store on Industrial Boulevard. "Now we do special order only."
Prices are competitive enough that he doesn't have a problem closing a sale, he said, once people are in the store. But there has been a change in how many come in. Still, he said, he's more than staying afloat.
"We're operating ahead of plan," he said. "We did our homework prior to their opening, and so far things have met or exceeded our expectations."
Home Depot's influence on the market is potentially as broad as its selection. It supplies commercial and industrial construction, residential renovations, weekend do-it-yourself projects, home gardens and more.
Businesses that specialize in one part of that spectrum reported general health.
"Hasn't affected me at all," said Caroline Shivers, owner of Arctic Carpet.
Bill Searls, owner of Carpet Source, said the gossip from other franchises boded well for him.
"Across the board, they tell me that when Home Depot comes in, it actually improves your business," he said.
"Where we can trump them all day is service," he said, noting that the box store is still flying up floor installers from the Lower 48, whereas his workers are in town.
Comfortable in his niche, Searls is not categorically against Home Depot.
"Home Depot's not a bad place if you're going up there to just pick stuff up off the shelf," he said.
That echoes the sentiments of other business owners who maintained that what they provide is different than what the big box store offers.
For instance, Alaska Industrial Hardware store manager Dennis Watson said he seemed to observe Home Depot moving away from the construction industry and toward the general consumer industry. That works for him, since much of his own business is commercial and high-end. He sells items such as 8-foot-long levels and heavy tools worth thousands of dollars.
He said he thought Home Depot would find its place in the market. Yet business people like himself need to keep a vigilant eye on Home Depot's strengths, he said.
"It's not a worry," he said. "But you've got to watch. You need to look at your customer counts every day. You've got to look at your revenue every day."
Another business owner who is not too worried is Craig Good of downtown Juneau's Good Hardware. He doesn't sell cute rubber totes, or fish shower curtains, or painted ceramic shelves - the sort of thing Home Depot sells and sells well, he said.
"When something breaks," he said, "you can come down and find something to fix it."
Overall, Good said, sales are down slightly. But he can't say how much of that is from the box store, and how much is from the general economic downturn. Nonetheless, he hasn't had to make any great shifts in his merchandise mix to account for a sudden burst of competition.
Part of his offerings: quick service from people who know something about fixing things.
But another part of his niche is the store's small-town character. Taped to a cash register is picture of a sewage truck with a sign saying, "Caution: Vehicle may be transporting political promises!" Thank-you notes hang on the walls. The employees have no dress code. And they are happy to provide their opinions about the world, along with the change from the register.
"I try to let the employees be who they are," he said. "They can have good days and bad days. And most people accept that."
Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or email@example.com.
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