Drill bits, lawn fertilizer, door bells, sump pumps, dog houses.

Campbell’s hardware stores, with locations in Madison, Skowhegan, Winslow and Farmingdale, are earning a profit by selling small, everyday items such as these — allowing it to revamp its stores and hire more employees.

Nationwide, sales at large home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot have dropped, but Campbell’s saw a 5.8 percent increase in revenues in 2009, owner Brent Burger said.

“Anything north of being flat is something worth being proud over,” he said.

The growth prompted the company to undergo nearly $700,000 worth of renovations at its Madison and Skowhegan locations over the past six months. While the stores have been open during the work, the last of the hammers, paint cans and staple guns should be on their correct shelves today, Burger said.

The growth has also spurred the company to employ new workers. The company has hired two full-time employees at the Skowhegan store and plans to hire one soon at the Winslow store.

Campbell’s True Value at 66 Main St. in Madison was the first of the Campbell’s stores, opening in 1972. It recently got a floor-to-ceiling remodel and now has new product lines, as well as a new sign and siding on the outside of the building.

The Skowhegan store at 398 Madison Ave., called Campbell’s Agway True Value, now has an additional 10,000 square feet of retail space for its paint, electrical, plumbing, hardware, automotive and houseware merchandise.

A number of factors have prompted the Maine company’s growth in the face of the recession, Burger said. Home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot have building centers geared toward large construction projects, he said, but people are not making large-scale improvements to their homes, preferring to fix the essentials. That’s where Campbell’s comes in, with its focus on maintenance supplies and home and garden items.

In 2009 the sales at Home Depot stores open at least a year dropped 8.5 percent, and they dropped 9.5 percent at Lowe’s, compared to the previous year, according to an August article in the New York Times. Sales of more expensive wares at those stores declined even more.

“Sometimes being small serves you better,” Burger said.

Sales are also affected by this year’s weather. Warmer temperatures have prompted people to buy their seeds early, giving the store a boost after the traditionally low-selling month of January. The company, by the end of February, sold the amount of seeds it normally doesn’t sell until the end of March, said Bruce Thebarge, store manager in Skowhegan. People are also buying mulch, stone and fertilizer early, he said.

Burger said he chalks up the company’s success to its staff. “We’re certainly not infallible, but our commitment is to have unparalleled service,” he said. The revamped stores will have their grand reopenings April 24.


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