West Orange’s Oldest Retail Store Goes Digital
Downtown West Orange Alliance video grant helps bring in new customers
Schneider Hardware is the oldest family-run retail business in West Orange and was the first business in town to participate in the Downtown West Orange Alliance’s grant program to help businesses create promotional videos. The grant is available to businesses in the Special Improvement District.
I spoke with Roger Schneider, one of the two-brother team that owns and operates the third-generation owned hardware store.
“For the past eight months, the video has been bringing in new customers,” Schneider said, adding the video has broadened the store’s exposure to other counties.
“We recognize our customers, even if they haven’t been in in years, and we recognize a new customer coming in for the first time,” Schneider said. “We’ve had a lot of new customers, thanks to the video.”
The store itself is a mix of past and present. Old signs and displays mix in with newer items. Pictures of the store’s history are displayed behind the register — Thomas Edison and his son were customers.
Schneider said he’s seen an increase people taking the do-it-yourself route over the past few years. “People are trying to save money where they can.”
“We sell a lot of the same things the box stores do,” Schneider said. “Our big advantage is that we are just down the street. You save money and time. And you don’t want to drive an hour, round-trip, out of town for an item that costs $20. You’d spend almost the same on gas.”
“And at the Big Box stores, you are taking a gamble on finding the right person who can help you,” Schneider added. The Schneiders have been helping customers with all kinds of projects for years.
As I was waiting at the counter, a member of the West Orange Fire Department came in and put some kind of flexible piping with connectors on the counter and asked Roger, “Do you have anything like this?” Schneider said, “I’ll see what I can find or put together.”
If they don’t have it, they have all the parts to make it. If they don’t have the parts, they will get them within a few days.
Schneider Hardware, unlike the bigger box do-it-yourself stores, specializes in hard-to-find items. They recognize that they are servicing an area with homes sometimes more than one hundred years old, as well as newer houses.
Schneider Hardware also rents hand and power tools; repairs snow blowers and lawn mowers; and offers sharpening services. They also cut and thread pipe to order, making it an invaluable resource for plumbing repair in older homes.
“We have residential customers and commercial customers. The box stores don’t cater to older-style homes.” When something in an older home needs repair, especially plumbing or mortise locks, it can be hard to find parts. The Big Box stores don’t carry them, so they would recommend replacing the entire plumbing with newer models.
Unfortunately, in addition to being expensive, sometimes replacing older systems with more modern ones can affect the aesthetics of a home.
“People come into the store and say, ‘I’ve been everywhere and I can’t find the [light] bulbs I need,’” Schneider said. “We can get most bulbs into the store within a few days. Because we are an independent retailer, we are not tied to one catalog. We buy from many different places.”
Another advantage is that when you call or come in, "you’ll always speak to an owner."
Finally, I asked Schneider what he and his brother do in the way of advertising and marketing, in addition to the recent video.
“I don’t do any advertising. What I’ve done for the past 20 years I call direct marketing. I go out to schools, banks, hospitals and talk to them directly,” Schneider said.
“I’m probably the most active person in West Orange,” Schneider said. “I’ve been an active member in the Lions Club for years; I was on the [Special Improvement District] board; and I’m a very active member of the Chamber of Commerce.”
Making yourself a part of the town is what the Schneider family has done for years. Maybe it's why they've been a West Orange staple since 1925.
Schneider Hardware is located at 276 Main St.