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STRENGTH: West End Hardware excels for decades with personal service, customers appreciation

(Editor’s note: This is one of a series of stories published this weekend in Part 4 “STRENGTH” of The Port Arthur News’ 2020 Vision For Success series. The series appears each weekend in April and can also be read at panews.com.) 

GROVES — West End Hardware is still an independent retail hardware store, and that’s the way Gerard Drago and Danny Hernandez like it, as a family-owned business.

The pair runs the business, a part of the Drago family’s legacy as hardware retailers, with a main focus on personal service and meeting the needs of their customers.

West End Hardware stocks plumbing, electrical, lawn and garden supplies, lawn mower parts, pipe fittings in galvanized, stainless steel, black iron and brass, PVC fittings in schedule 40 and schedule 80, tools, and is a Schaeffer Oil retailer. That usually means if the packed aisles don’t have the product a customer is looking for, Hernandez and Drago are going to find a way to get it.

West End began selling a few Schaeffer Oil items nearly three years ago. Now they sell their whole product line. (Brad Robichaux/The News)

“We might lose a sale once, but it’s highly unlikely we’re going to lose a sale twice, because if you come in and ask for a red thingamajig, and I don’t have it and I’ve never carried it, next week I’m going to have a red thingamajig,” Hernandez said. “If it’s available to me, I’m going to do everything in my power to pick up that red thingamajig. We’ve got those little niche things down.”

Gerard’s father Anthony Drago opened at the 5110 Twin City Highway location in Groves in 1986. The business was a spin-off of the hardware business his brothers, Joe Drago Jr. and Phillip Drago Sr., started in 1931. Joe Drago Jr. later joined his brother Anthony Drago to focus on retail hardware as a separate entity, while their brother Phillip Drago Sr. went into the industrial supply business.

West End Hardware has its own industrial customer base, too, though business has slacked due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and projects have been shut down.

“We’ve got our consumers, we’ve got our contractors, we’ve got our plumbers, we have industrial, and we even have marine accounts,” Gerard Drago said. “We still have charge accounts here, and you never know what’s going to happen. Today we’re getting busy, though a lot of the plants that are idling down right now are just working smaller crews.”

West End Hardware has been receiving a supply of hand sanitizer from EcoWerks, which has retooled to produce the much-needed cleanser locally. (Courtesy photo)

Hernandez says industrial customers and contractors are often their biggest sources of business.

“We lean on our contractors heavily, but you never forget your residential customers because that’s what built our foundation for as long as we’ve been here.”

Residential customers have been carrying the store’s business since the pandemic, with lots of folks working on home improvement projects while they wait out their social-distancing obligations.

When things get back to normal, though, West End will be ready to provide for all returning business.

The pandemic is also taking a toll on what products Hernandez and Drago can find. Supplies of disinfecting materials and bathroom tissue are sporadic. Hernandez said that the store sold out of nearly 500 rolls of bathroom tissue last week within 45 minutes, even thought they limited supplies to five per customer.

“If a hurricane hits our area, it’s a small area that’s affected compared to the United States, or the world for that matter,” he said. “Our products are still available to us in our time of need because we can outsource from Illinois, from Tennessee and from California. We can still get products. With this worldwide pandemic, on the other hand, there’s just nothing available. What we are selling is just what we can get our hands on.”

They’ve managed to secure a supply of hand sanitizer from EcoWerks, which owner Michael Laws has retooled in order to get sanitizer to places like West End to sell or to donate to first responders. Gallon jugs of sanitizer are in stock while supplies last.

Danny Hernandez stands with a supply of Schaeffer Oil products.

“We’ve been here in the community, been here for the people and we strive on customer service, especially with the times that have changed,” Gerard Drago said. “People like a little curbside service, so we accommodate everybody with their needs. We’re still that independent hardware store, and we’ve grown from a small business to a store with over 6,000 square feet to better serve our customers with a much better and larger selection.

Hernandez, a co-owner with Gerard, came to the business when he was 18, hired by Anthony Drago right out of high school. Hernandez went to college with Anthony Drago’s support and stayed with the business until Anthony left it to him along with Gerard when he passed away.

“Mr. Anthony used to always tell me, ‘This ain’t no get-rich-quick scheme, this is a way to make an honest living,’ and fortunately for me, I had an interest in what I was doing,” Hernandez said. “I do enjoy my job. I love interacting with people, and Mr. Anthony realized that, which is why he left me with the opportunity to continue his legacy.”