Editor's Note: This story was published in the Oct. 10 News-Press.
Whether its a shoe or a swatch, Mercer’s Hardware in downtown Nebraska City can find a paint that matches. And that’s just one of numerous services provided by the 47-year-old store owned by Gene Mercer and his son, Mark.
Thursday’s ribbon cutting at Mercer’s Hardware marked the completion of its renovations and a statement of continued to commitment to a brand of service that has endeared the Mercers to the city and to the surrounding area.
Pam Frana of Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce, who was on hand for the ribbon cutting, remembered a time when she had a paint-related challenged for Gene. Pam’s daughter, Jillian, had a specific color she wanted to paint her room, one represented by a shoe that Pam took to the store, and then asked Gene, not just for an estimation of that color, but for an exact match.
Gene’s response? “I can do that.”
Pam says that Gene came through with, pardon the phrase, flying colors.
Jillian loved the paint.
And Gene loved the challenge. Earlier that same day, Gene says he matched paint to an egg. He matches customers with other things too. It’s a task that Gene believes family businesses are uniquely equipped to perform.
“Family businesses can do things a little different,” Gene said. “We are known for a lot of hard to find items.”
Some of the items are small, with a cost under a $1 and sometimes the items are larger or more expensive, but the goal of matching a customer with his or her need is one aimed at saving the customer the cost and the time of driving to Lincoln or Omaha to find the same thing.
This directive of service for the Mercers dates back to when they opened their store at 803 Central, the current site of Borns Financial Planning, Inc. Mercers stayed at that location for 10 years and then moved to 723 Central where the Mercers have operated for 37 years.
Through most of that time, little changed at Mercer’s as far as store layout goes.
When a decision was made to close the basement, the plan for merchandise changed a bit.
“Originally, the basement was open,” Gene said. “People didn’t want to go up and down stairs anymore.
“When we closed the stairway, then we could lay out the fixtures differently,” Gene said. “It was getting to be a hodge podge the way were doing it.”
So a new format was chosen
That new format allowed more room on the floor and a bit of a different plan for merchandise.
“This also gave us a bunch of room to add a ton of stuff and organize better,” Mark said. “We’ve added thousands of items.”
Gene said the change in lay out allowed for signage that indicated departments and made it easy for customers to find what they needed.
In terms of the types of merchandise in the store, Mercer’s Hardware changed its plan away from one that included knick·knacks and giftware meant to lure in customers.
“We beefed up the hardware, the plumbing and the electrical,” Gene said.
All the changes at the store, from the signage out front to the lay out of the sales floor are striking. Gene and Mark say the public feedback for the changes has been positive.
It all came together with a lot of work.
“We had to unload every single fixture and rotate them one by one and then put all the merchandise back on them,” Mark said.
That process, which happened over the course of the year, also allowed Mercer’s to re-do their floors, ripping up carpet and exposing beautiful 100-year-old maple floors.
With the work done, the Mercers are happy with the results and glad the process is in the rear view mirror.
And the family is happy to keep serving the people of Nebraska City.
“I think it has been a privilege to serve the people,” Gene said.
“The second generation is taking over. I see it going good for a long time. As long as you’ve got knowledgeable, good service and the right merchandise—I see a great future.”
“Forty-seven years. We plan to be here for another 47,” he said.