By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer
Charlie and Norma Horn opened a small bargain store in Portales in 1958. Over half a century, the business has evolved from a small bargain and surplus store to a hardware store, and today, a home center.
Trader Horn’s True Value Hardware — now owned by Max and June Merrick — is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The icing on the cake to their golden anniversary celebration is that the Portales store is one of 13 True Value hardware stores nationwide which have been named “Best Hardware Store in Town” winners by the True Value Company. The announcement was made recently during True Value’s spring market general session in Orlando, Fla.
“I’ve grown up in this business. I’ve watched it go from a bargain store to Surplus City and then to Trader Horn’s True Value,” said June Merrick, who has co-owned the store on South Avenue D. with her husband Max since the couple purchased it from her parents in 2002.
“My dad would go to Army and Air bases and buy surplus supplies for the store,” June recalled. “When we had Surplus City, we sold everything from dishes to ammunition, and at one time, we even had caskets. We never knew what Dad was going to find at auctions.”
June said her parents began the store when she was only about a year old.
June said her sisters managed the store and were the ones who brought in True Value in 1971. Max said he was a building contractor who only knew about tools when he married June 29 years ago and came into the hardware business.
“ I had a banker tell me once that I was lucky to have June’s dad help me. It’s like having all of the answers to a test!” Max said. “I had no retail experience and didn’t know anything about advertising. He was a wealth of information. Marshall Stinnett (former publisher of the Portales News-Tribune) really helped me with advertising, too. I didn’t know anything about advertising.”
Max and June remember their humble beginnings when they were a small hardware store and how they used up all of their savings to buy the business from June’s parents.
“We didn’t even know if we’d even be able to pay ourselves,” June said.
Today, their business has grown from a payroll of five employees to 25 employees, and they own another retail store, Ashley Furniture Home Store, which is managed by June. The couple used to work together at their own store, but both agree that they like their working arrangement better now.
“There is no loser in our business. June is the boss at Ashley’s Furniture and I am over here at Trader Horn,” Max said.
June added with a laugh, “I think it’s better for a married couple to manage separate stores.”
Max credits their hard-earned success with good customer service. “Honest to God, retail is about more than the price. It is about good services and a nice environment,” Max said. “We’ve been able to compete against big chain stores by being competitive. People appreciate our service and our knowledgeable employees.”
The Merricks noted that they have several longtime employees.
“There is not much turnover,” Max said. “Were like family here. We have employees, Alan Roberts and Paul Duran, who have been here 15 years and another who just retired after being here for 20 years.”
Trader’s Horns True Value doubled in size when it moved to its new location on South Avenue D. in 2004, which the Merricks describe as a “scary move at the time.”
“When we moved to this location, we had twice as much inventory as before and then we found out that Lowe’s was opening in Clovis,” June said. “We decided that we would give people the best shopping experience we could.” And part of that shopping experience includes free coffee and car carryout.
The Merricks say they have also seen a huge change in their customer-base.
“We are now seeing a lot more women customers, single women and independent women. Our customers range from do-it-yourselfers to contractors to people in between,” June noted.
“The old hardware store customer has certainly changed,” Max agreed.
The Merricks have been married for 29 years and have two daughters and sons-in-law who also are involved in their businesses.
“Our kids are learning the business, and it will eventually evolve to where they are in charge,” Max said.