For Andy Willoughby, or “Handy Andy” as many around town know him, growing up in Franklin was a different experience than it is today. The native and owner of Handy Hardware on Columbia Avenue remembers rows upon rows of crops that now give way to shops and restaurants, riding his dirt bike down what is now a busy intersection, and spending his weekends as a teenager working at the local hangout – the hardware shop.
“I remember a time when you would see more tractors, hay bales, and tobacco wagons than you would see cars going down Columbia Avenue. Times have changed,” he said. “But what makes Franklin so unique is that despite the growth, it has remained true to itself.”
Back in 1971, Dr. Joseph Willoughby, Calvin LeHew and Ronald Ligon purchased Wilkerson’s Hardware Store, an old shop on Main Street that had run its course. The trio relocated operations to the structure on Columbia Avenue – where it has stood the test of time for the past 40-plus years.
Andy Willoughby took over the management side 18 years ago, when his father asked him to step in. He says over the decades, the store has adapted some of its merchandise, but customers can always count on the regulars in the store that just come to swap a story or two.
“On any given day, you can come and listen to old tales, memories, and ‘remember when’ stories. Franklinites come and they sit on the rocking chairs and just reminisce,” he said. “The store still remains a gathering place for locals and is a nod to the past.”
Willoughby says he enjoys that the store is so engrained in to the neighborhood’s social scene, and thinks it anchors the city by supplying customers with old-fashioned customer service.
“We try to give every customer that comes through the doors our undivided attention. And you better believe we get all kinds of bizarre requests,” he said. “In the process of helping someone get the parts to fix their toilet, I always end up learning their whole story. It is inevitable. You cannot do good business without getting to know your customer.”
Besides delivering a personalized approach to retail, the store is home to an array of products, both traditional and unique. From a few lawnmowers, paint and tenpenny nails to saws, hatchets and repair parts, it’s everything you’d expect a hometown hardware operation to be.
Recently, Marketing and Merchandising Director Donna O’Neil – who is also Willoughby’s girlfriend – has implemented new products to appeal to both the tourists and the locals alike. She says what she’s really excited about is the line of all-natural soaps and body products the store launched this month, one that is infused with organic ingredients and essential oils.
“We’re becoming more of a one-stop shop. If you’re a local, you can pick up a wrench and Myers dish detergent. A visitor can pick up one of our gift sets,” said O’Neil, who formerly served as managing editor of the “Williamson Herald.” “And I think our ‘Handy Andy’ line of all-natural soap and body products for men and women is really going to take off.”
But the new hardware hoopla hasn’t stopped there. Last year, the business co-launched a weekly event to cast a wider net: it began hosting the “Viva! NashVegas Radio Show” every other Saturday morning. The George Hamilton V-led program streams live acoustic acts through Internet channels, and Willoughby said he has built a strong following through his alternative radio show.
In addition, the family-owned shop recently partnered with the local business Franklin on Foot, in order to raise awareness and expand current customer bases. The tour company’s bike tours now begin at the hardware store, bringing in fresh faces every week.
Willoughby says it’s all part of the strategy to engrain themselves further into the community.
For more information about Handy Hardware, visit its store at 731 Columbia Avenue or call 615-794-1471.
“Faces of Franklin” is a series that focuses upon merchants in downtown Franklin. To read more, visit www.downtownfranklintn.com.
Posted on: 6/5/2013