Many in Gardiner have been wondering what happened to Majestic Hardware and its very upbeat, affable, and community-minded owner, Michael Ciavolino. In brief, he found that operating a one-site hardware store became a great challenge, especially during the pandemic. As for Michael, he is still doing what he does best, this time creating a new service-oriented business called Majestic Firewood.
Michael came along with a vision of service, being the strength of such a business, and bought Majestic’s Hardware, which had been a mainstay in Gardiner for many generations. His vision was not only to be a hardware supplier, but to also become an integral part of the community in a variety of ways.
“We wanted to bring back a hometown hardware store feel but update it a little bit with some new items and new services that we could provide for our customers. The goal was to give it a little facelift, and provide some additional service like free delivery to our customers,” Michael told me during a recent interview.
He also quickly became a very visible and integral part of the community. He described a few of their efforts, “We worked with the church (in Gardiner). They feed the hungry every Thursday. We were going down there and picking up the food, and we were donating 1% of our gross sales each month to the church. That was the big thing that we did. People were coming from everywhere. Two years ago we donated turkeys for Thanksgiving.” Additionally, he told me, “We also supplied a Santa Claus. We paid for a photographer to come in and take pictures with Santa. We did that too. Ya know, like Sears.” Clearly, his community involvement and doing good for others made him happy.
In order to grow the business, he tried many things. He offered coffee to customers when there was nowhere in the hamlet to get a morning cup of coffee. He set up a hotdog cart and food trucks out front to attract customers. Most importantly, he, as well as his staff, went out of his way to be friendly and always helpful, the hallmark of a successful small town hardware store.
However, there were many challenges he described during our talk, “We didn’t increase our Stihl chainsaws sales. The problem is that other power dealers have a year to pay for the tools they buy. We only had 30 days. It’s difficult to sell higher priced items within 30 days, so we were constantly trying to catch up. I think that was a mistake we made because we just couldn’t compete with terms that were so unfavorable compared to our competitors, and with the mark-up so low. I didn’t achieve that goal,” Then came the pandemic and supply shortages, he said, “All of a sudden, my labor costs are going up 30% and I can’t get the goods I need. I had to figure out a business where we could get smaller and still get raw materials that we can sell.”
I know the issues Michael faced, as I grew up in a small, hard-goods, family business similar to Majestic Hardware. I would have been the fourth generation running it if not for my father’s insistence that I attend college and, as he would put it, “push a pencil” for the rest of my working days. I remembered the challenges my dad faced as far back as the late 1960s, when manufacturers would only ship a full train carload of goods to wholesalers and retailers. If you weren’t big enough to absorb that much, you had to buy from a middleman, thus cutting into your profits. Then came the big box stores, and, one by one, smaller hardware, lumber, electrical supply, and plumbing supply businesses disappeared. It seemed that the age of small family businesses, which prided themselves on service, sharing knowledge, and being a reliable fixture in the community were soon to vanish.
When asked if he would start again in a different location, Michael explained, “What I see in retail is that you have to grow or get “violently” small because all the major chains are growing each day, and you have the mid-majors like True Value and Ace Hardware. It’s very difficult to compete when you have one store and they have 5 or 10 stores. So what we did was become violently smaller.”
Not one to sit still, Michael now has a new business, firewood. He told me about it, saying, “Our firewood business was part of the hardware store. We have now transitioned full-time into the firewood business. We sell to campgrounds, we also sell to retailers, supermarkets, B&Bs, and private clients. So that feature, the service business, is the part that will continue to grow. We are very excited about it. People can order from our Instagram ‘Majestic Firewood’ or from our website, majesticfirewood.com, and what’s nice about our business, (the wood) is kiln-dried, it’s not just “seasoned”, so it contains no pests, no mold, no bugs and it’s hardwood; cherry, hickory, oak. That’s a critical difference that most of our competitors don’t have. We do free delivery and free stacking. All you a customer has to do is point (where they want it) and that’s it! Everything here is American made from our firewood to our fire starters. We don’t have to wait for a container from China.”
Michael’s final thought. “I want to thank the Majestic family for giving me an opportunity to buy the store. I want to thank “Father” Mike and Don for all their hard work.”
Author’s note: Majestic Firewood is located right behind what used to be the Majestic Hardware store. Why not stop by and say hello to the always friendly Michael Ciavolino?