Jayson Twombly and Melissa McCarthy unpacking and getting The Studio in Laconia ready for Black Friday shoppers on Wednesday afternoon. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
Locally owned businesses focus on customer service for survival
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL
LACONIA — In this age of big box stores and internet sales, many small, locally owned businesses have found themselves unable to compete or adapt in order to survive. Those that are successful have found a way to offer something unique — even something as traditional as good customer service.
“I don’t try to be a Lowe’s,” said Pamela Langlitz, who, with her husband, Mark, owns Trustworthy Hardware at 1084 Union Ave. “I tell my people we sell service. They can’t get that on the internet. They can’t see how to put it together or ask to see how it works.”
“Hands down, it’s customer service, every day for every hour,” said Bethany Stockman who, with her brother, Brett Varnum, own the Laconia Pet Center at 1343 Union Ave. “You have to be listening to your customer, offering correct and consistent information.”
Both Trustworthy Hardware and Laconia Pet Center are second-generation family businesses with four decades in the community. The Studio, at 598 Main St., is only 5 years old, but it has found its niche in offering unique gifts.
“Almost everything we have is stuff no one else carries,” said Melissa McCarthy, who owns the business with Jayson Twombly. “We have fun gifts, and really nice gifts. It depends on what you’re looking for.”
Among the interesting items The Studio carries are American-made jewelry featuring a front magnetic clasp for those with mobility problems. Blue Q products, with snarky or sweet messages, are popular items, along with stocking stuffers such as Flying Wish Paper and car fresheners from Natural Life.
“We have a lot of toys made of wood, which is a nice alternative to fidgets,” McCarthy said. Space coasters and gifts for babies and youths also are on The Studio shelves.
“Business has been wonderful,” McCarthy said. “We’re looking forward to Small Business Saturday, and, personally, we’re getting ready to celebrate our 598th day at 598 Main St.”
Stockman said her parents, Ted and Jennifer Varnum, opened Laconia Pet Center 43 years ago and now she and her brother operate the store.
“We’ve been here over 40 years, and we would like to be here for another 40 years, and into a third generation,” Stockman said. “There are not a lot of generational businesses left.”
She said the store carries the same products as the large chain companies, but excels with product knowledge.
“We have a multitude of things that are available here in our local store, so you don’t have to go to the internet,” she said. “Chain stores don’t have the staff to talk to customers who need a little bit of education on what a product does.”
She said the latest trend is people looking to feed their pets healthy meals and dietary supplements.
“If a family is eating healthier, they want to do the same for their pets,” Stockman said. Laconia Pet Center carries vitamins, goat’s milk, and even CBD (cannabinoid) oil for dogs.
Collars that include health monitors have been introduced to the market, but Stockman sees no interest in such expensive items. Instead, video monitoring systems that allow people to monitor what their pet is doing have become very popular.
Just this week, Laconia Pet Center opened a do-it-yourself dog wash, supplying shampoo, towels, tub, and a professional grooming hair dryer for owners to use. An hour-long appointment costs $15, she said, urging people to make reservations.
For Trustworthy Hardware, it is not so much new and innovative products as it is good-quality everyday items that won’t fall apart, said Langlitz.
“People are willing to pay a little more for a product in well-known lines,” she said. “We pride ourselves in being here and having the product.”
The range of items available at the store is huge, with big sellers being Benjamin Moore paints and Weber grills. Trustworthy also has an extensive plumbing department with some of the best pricing in the area, she said.
The store also sells propane, from small tanks for grills to on-board tanks in motor homes.
Trustworthy offers a unique plan for those with pellet stoves, allowing people to buy by the ton but storing the pellets for them so they can pick up the pellets in smaller quantities when they need them.
“We’re always looking to fill a niche that’s not being filled,” she said.
Trustworthy Hardware is very involved in the community and is a Toys for Tots dropoff spot.
“We usually empty our box twice or even three times in a season,” Langlitz said.
The store has supported the Turkey Plunge for the Salvation Army and promotes “anything local on our Facebook page,” she said.
“We’re still a little bit small-town enough to talk about the project we helped you with,” Langlitz said.
Raina Welch chooses two dog jackets for Domino while shopping with her parents Chris and Samantha Welch and puppy Oreo at the Laconia Pet Center on Union Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)