What makes a business prosper? In these times of ours when over 80% of all small businesses fail, what makes one succeed?
What makes one withstand the onslaught of government regulations, difficult employee relations, and self-doubt? In the case of Bigari's Hardware, I have to speculate the answer is hard work and strength of character. For twenty years Ernie Bigari ran an electrical, plumbing and refrigeration business. His expertise, honesty, and dependability nourished his reputation as one who could be trusted. He dreamed, however, of a retail shop. We all have a longing to create, to see something we've made with our own hands and say to ourselves, "this is good". Ernie's creation was a hardware store.
Lacking the capital to secure adequate loans himself, he took on a partner and in 1975, along with his son Nick, opened his first store. Working twelve hour days and learning as they went along, they opened the store in record time. It soon acquired the reputation for being a place from which one could obtain sound advice on any plumbing, hardware, or electrical project along with any materials you might need. Although the business thrived, the partnership failed, and in 1978 Ernie pulled out of the hardware business. He had truly built the competition.
At that time, Ernie also owned a small empty store front on Genesee Street in downtown Iron River. The building was old and in a state of disrepair. One day, as he was replacing tile on the floor, he contemplated what he would do with his life. Should he try another retail business? Should he return to service work? His thoughts were interrupted when Nick walked in. After a brief discussion, it was decided they would, again, build a quality hardware store. Ernie's oldest son Ron joined the team. Convinced that people would come to a store that treated their customers with respect and offered the best advice in town, they opened a family hardware store that same year in that modest storefront of just over 1100 square feet. Working a steady diet of ten hour days, often seven days a week, together they built a successful business. Customers liked the family atmosphere Ernie fostered. He enjoyed people and was drawn to the customers as much as they were drawn to him. Patrons seemed to enjoy rummaging through the overstocked shelves and were always amazed when Ernie, Nick, or Ron would know exactly where a particular screw or o-ring was located in what would appear to most people to be an unorganized mess. It was painfully apparent they needed more room. They expanded the building once but even that wasn't enough.
They searched for adequate space in the downtown area. Finding none, they purchased the current property on Seldon Road. Once again, starting from scratch, they worked to build a store of which they could be proud. Once again there were questions. Would people come this far from town to do business? Could they possibly do enough business to cover the expenses of this new endeavor? Was it worth risking what they had worked so hard to attain for the chance for something better? Once again the answers were the same. If they worked hard, if they were honest and helpful, if they treated their customers with respect and sincerity, they would not fail. In 1992 they realized the result of Ernie's vision. Ernie's, Ron's, and Nick's hard work resulted in their current establishment on Seldon Road, a store over seventeen times the size of their little shop on Genesee Street.
- Terese Bigari Collins