James H. Dunklin IV grew up in Greenville, Alabama – just like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather.
That kind of intertwining of a family and a place has a powerful pull.
“I could never shake Greenville,” said the fifth-generation Jim Dunklin, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University. For six years after college, he resisted the draw of his hometown and worked in banking and sales in Birmingham and Gadsden.
In 1993, he bought back the hardware store his great-grandfather J.H. Dunklin II founded in 1891.
“I always wanted to raise children in Greenville,” said Dunklin. Rearing his three children in his Butler County hometown of 8,000 residents “was exactly what I had hoped.”
Like many small-town hardware and general stores, the motto at J.H. Dunklin & Co. Inc. is “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” While some tried to convince Dunklin he should change the store’s advertising slogan to “if we don’t have it, we’ll get it for you,” he said no. “The whole point is we’ve got everything.”
Selling what the community and its customers need has been a reality for Greenville Hardware, the company’s doing-business-as name, since the beginning.
A 1931 advertorial in the local newspaper described what was then known as J.H. Dunklin & Co. as “a bulwark of commercial activity in Greenville.”
Forty years earlier, the second J.H. Dunklin, who went to Auburn University, bought out the hardware department of a general mercantile business where he had been working and set up shop across the street near the Butler County Courthouse.
In this 1929 photo, the second James H. Dunklin (1866-1932) is pictured with his two sons, James (1897-1966) and Rush (1901-1965). James was in charge of outside contracting and undertaking. Rush was the store’s manager and buyer. (contributor)
Furniture was added to the mix, then the founder moved the business back across the street to the building where his hardware career started and that’s where Greenville Hardware remains – at 515 East Commerce St.
At the time of the 1931 article, the building, which is older than the 129-year-old store it houses, had listed its business offerings in this order: hardware, furniture, undertaking, plumbing, roofing and farm implement and supply departments.
The second J.H. Dunklin had two sons, one who ran the hardware portion of the business and the other who ran the funeral home. When they died in the 1960s, they sold the hardware store and someone other than the Dunklins operated both businesses.
Dunklin’s father, a physician, considering his profession, thought it wise to sell the funeral home portion of the business.
In the 1970s, the new owners of the hardware store established relationships with local industries and began using the economy of scale to buy in bulk supplies those industries needed.
“Instead of buying 10, we would buy 1,000 and sell 250 at a time to the industrial account and sell onesies and twosies in the store,” Dunklin said.
While those industries remained in Greenville, Dunklin continued those accounts once he came on the scene.
“I walked the floors for 11 years,” said Dunklin, who since 2003 has been an off-site owner. He went back into banking as a primary profession, now as regional president of First Citizens Bank of Luverne.
“I was there nonstop, 10-hour days, plus Saturdays,” he said. He still goes by the hardware store every day, either in the morning or evening. “I take all the bills home and write the checks,” he said. The store’s general manager, Joe Rhodes, has worked there 38 years.
Today, the store’s biggest sellers are plumbing and electrical goods sold to contractors, but it continues to sell the obvious and hard-to-find hardware items, plus some industrial supplies.
Greenville Hardware, like most hardware stores, sells severe-weather-related items that are tax-free in Alabama during the last full weekend of February.
“The largest month we’ve ever had in the history of the store since I’ve owned it” came after the 100 mph winds of Hurricane Ivan ripped through Greenville in September 2004, Dunklin said. “We are only two hours from the Gulf,” so when a major hurricane comes through, “it’s pretty bad here,” he said.
In that one month, Greenville Hardware sold a lot of tarps and generators, but those items are available year-round, and Dunklin recommends stocking up on emergency supplies Feb. 21-23 when many of those items are tax-free.
Greenville Hardware at 515 East Commerce St. in downtown Greenville is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
This story originally appeared in The Alabama Retailer.