Tech, tools go hand-in-hand at hometown hardware store

Thursday, July 27, 2017 - 10:24
  • Star photo by Kirsten Swann Co-owner Gordy Banfield works outside Trustworthy Hardware in Eagle River on July 24, 2017. The local hardware store is renovating and expanding following a recent change in ownership.
  • A sign outside Trustworthy Hardware in Eagle River on July 24, 2017. The local hardware store is renovating and expanding following a recent change in ownership. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Star photo by Kirsten Swann Owner Justin Phillips, right, chats with a customer outside Eagle River Trustworthy Hardware in Eagle River on July 24, 2017. The local hardware store is renovating and expanding following a recent change in ownership.
  • Star photo by Kirsten Swann Owner Gordy Banfield takes a call outside Eagle River Trustworthy Hardware in Eagle River on July 24, 2017. The local hardware store is renovating and expanding following a recent change in ownership.
  • Star photo by Kirsten Swann A woman enters Trustworthy Hardware in Eagle River on July 24, 2017. The local hardware store is renovating and expanding following a recent change in ownership.

Gordy Banfield never expected the video to go as far as it did.

“Hey everyone, this is Gordy at Trustworthy Hardware,” he says in the beginning. “I’ve been here pretty much my whole life and I’ve seen this crime kind of increase recently. We have cameras on our house and the other day somebody came up my driveway, and not only did they check the doors on my vehicles, they checked the doors on my house. And that’s a real concern, is that this petty little theft of breaking into vehicles has increased to breaking into homes. One of our buddies had somebody try to kick in his door the other day. We want to do something to help you out.”

For the next three minutes, he demonstrates how to reinforce deadbolts and replace standard screws with thicker, stronger, longer fasteners. Speaking directly to the camera, off-the-cuff and confident, he wears camouflage cargo shorts and a t-shirt featuring a retro Nintendo NES controller and the words “Back in the Day.” The camera pans down to show a detached door in a frame. A drill buzzes, and Banfield talks viewers through a few simple home safety tips and tricks.

“Just come down, mention this video, come down and we’re gonna give you a couple of these screws,” he offers, dumping a Ziploc bag of screws into his palm. “There’s gonna be three big ones and two small ones.”

The three-and-a-half minute video clip is like all of Gordy Banfield’s videos – spur-of-the-moment and informational, filmed by his wife, Michelle, and posted to the hardware store’s Facebook page. But this video was different: Within a day, it had been shared by hundreds of people around Anchorage. Within two days, it had been viewed approximately 20,000 times.

It’s a new experience for an old business reinventing itself through teamwork and technology.

“The first time I owned the store, there was no Facebook,” said Justin Phillips, who co-owns the local hardware store with his wife, Kelsey, and the Banfields. “It’s definitely a huge game-changer.”

Trustworthy Hardware is an Eagle River staple, in business for decades and beloved by regulars. Phillips began working there when he was 15. He bought the business in 2006, he said, only to be forced into bankruptcy following a string of bad luck (“one thing after another,” he said) a few years later. When the business went up for sale again last year, he decided to give it another try. Lately, he said, things have been looking up.

“It’s good to see the store getting where it needs to be,” Phillips said on a recent Monday morning.

Tucked back off North Eagle River Loop Road next to a salon and a church, the Trustworthy storefront carries all the trappings of a small-town hardware hub. Dipnets and bags of charcoal and lawn tools sit next to the big ice box out front. Inside, thousands of parts and pieces pack long, high shelves throughout the store. Nuts and bolts are just the beginning: The hardware store sells everything from propane to fresh eggs from local hens.

While Phillips has spent most of his life in hardware stores, his latest business partner is a computer engineer by trade. But Gordy Banfield is also known for spontaneity – that’s how he got into the hardware store business in the first place.

“I came down and was pretty much buying my wife a cup of coffee,” he said. “And I bought the hardware store.”

It’s a pattern.

“Last time I went to go get her a bag of ice and I came back with a Hummer; I went to go buy her some shoes and I came back with a four-seater RZR.”

A Chugiak High School graduate, Banfield is a career entrepreneur: He’s previously owned a local computer services shop and a video game cafe. The hardware store is a different beast entirely.

“And it keeps evolving and evolving,” Banfield said.

Since buying into the business a month, he said, he puts in more than 10 hours a day, seven days a week, working to renovate a World War II-era rail car in the front parking lot, expand the store’s tool rental program and revamp store inventory, preparing to offer everything from brewing supplies to hydroponic gardening equipment to reverse osmosis ice.

“That’s going to be one of my videos: What is reverse osmosis and why is it so important?” Banfield said. “I’m super excited about the reverse osmosis.”

As the store grows, chasing sales and social media views, managing it all feels a little “like drinking from a fire hose,” Banfield said. He rarely stays still, even during the down times, taking phone calls and helping customers and planning with his wife, who handles the books, and Justin — who handles most everything else. The Banfields’ two daughters, 16 and 11, pitch in, too.

The work seems to be paying off, Gordy said. People are coming by in growing numbers. Nearly all are repeat customers, storeowners said. Some are lured in by the simple message on the big sign out front: “JUSTIN IS BACK.”

Phillips, who’d worked in the store since high school, had developed a loyal following among Chugiak-Eagle River handymen and women, some of whom pulled u-turns in the middle of Eagle River Road after seeing the message on the Trustworthy Hardware marquee. For some customers, his name is synonymous with the store itself.

“I gotta go down to Justin’s,” Eagle River resident Bob Deal tells his wife, he said.

“Without Justin, there would be no hardware store,” Gordy Banfield said.

It’s a team effort between the families, Phillips said.

“Between the two of us, we probably know everybody in Eagle River,” he said.

The business revolves around Phillips’ industry acumen and practical know-how, Banfield said. But the Facebook videos were his idea. He’d like to start filming more videos about do-it-yourself projects, he said; he’s already shot informational videos about dipnets and grills. None have been nearly as popular as the door security video – three days after it was posted, it had been shared by more than 300 people and viewed more than 22,000 times.

Banfield said they filmed it after attending a recent neighborhood meeting at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center in Eagle River. Neighbors were worried about recent home break-ins, he said. So are many other Chugiak-Eagle River residents, who voice concerns about petty theft and property crime in online forums and public meetings.

That got Banfield thinking. Eagle River is where he was born and raised, he said. He’s raising his own family here. Phillips, too. And Trustworthy Hardware is a family store, they said.

So on July 22, Gordy Banfield faced the camera and dished out some of his best door security advice.

“Be conscious, be aware, be safe,” he says at the end of the video. “Just want to do our little part to take care of the community.”

Email reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

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