Until recently, I lived just up the road from Fitch Lumber, a century-old hardware store. It’s the sort of deep-rooted place around which a town grows. A ma and pa joint that predated the likes of Home Depot or Lowe’s. A place with an actual bell hanging from the doorknob. An old-timey spot where personal shopping and good service has never been a business strategy Ñ it’s just what they do.

Out front of Fitch’s nondescript building is one of those old school changeable marquee signs. On a regular basis, one of their store employees maneuvers an electric lift beside it and removes one illuminated capital letter at a time until the board is blank. Then, they install a fresh slogan to catch folks’ attention.

After years of witnessing this marketing ritual, I started to notice a trend. Fitch used their modest billboard differently than other local businesses. Similar sandwich boards attempted to bait customers with money-saving promises or kitchy catch-phrases. Fitch, however, wasn’t into gimmicks. They kept it simple. Over the years my favorite message was the one I saw posted most often. Three words to advertise one of their least profitable items. It simply said: “WE MAKE KEYS.”

I don’t know anything about the profit margin on keys. But probably with the time it takes to place a key order, maintain a key inventory and pay the key cutter, most of the green is a wash, at best. Keys are definitely not keeping Fitch in business Ñ and yet it’s their most often used calling card.


A Metaphor for Merchandising

WE MAKE KEYS, to me, means far more than the obvious. WE MAKE KEYS is a metaphor for what Fitch believes most strongly in.

Fitch is the sort of business that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. If they ever were an ego-driven venture, they let go of that baggage a long time ago (100 years will do that). They don’t bother using big-ticket items as a grab. WE MAKE KEYS tells the world Fitch believes the small stuff matters. Keys, sure, but also the other small details that make a local business stay relevant for a long, long time.

All you need to do is walk in to realize their dedication to the small details that add up to your experience. Here’s how it usually shakes out:

The door swings open and a soft jingle announces your entry. You respond to a greeting staffer who’ll undoubtedly check in on you again. Your immediate line of sight is clean and strategic. It affords views of all the expected departments Ñ paint, plumbing, nuts and bolts, tools, outdoor items and seasonal inventory. The store’s aesthetic blocking and merchandising savviness makes it impossible to lose your way. In fact, it makes it impossible to not want to browse.


Shoppable and Accommodating

It’s also obvious that time and care has been taken to ensure areas are shoppable. Aisles between racks are wide enough to accommodate the rare shopper who uses one of the store’s five carts and the product on shelves is arranged neatly to keep options uncomplicated. The lighting isn’t the best, but it doesn’t really matter. The space is in perfect alignment with the shop’s humility. Their cosmology is evident Ñ and that feels good.

I like to think that WE MAKE KEYS is Fitch’s secret code for quality and commitment. Maybe it’s something they say at staff meetings to trigger excellence in their day-to-day. WE MAKE KEYS prompts exceptional customer service. WE MAKE KEYS inspires the store layout. WE MAKE KEYS sparks clear and innovative ways to display an inventory selection. And all this meticulous care makes folks suddenly enamored by that shiny red snow shovel or freshly dusted box of nails stacked just-so.

WE MAKE KEYS is never about just keys. But when it is, they are absolutely ready to turn a no-profit experience into something unforgettable.