RON CROWDER, Owner, Crowder Brothers Ace Hardware - “I am not a good office person.”At Ron Crowder’s retail stores in Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, you can find supplies for home repair, buy a designer handbag and stock up on fudge. The merchandise range reflects the marketing strategy that Crowder, 58, has developed over four decades. Having a gift store as part of the hardware business has helped the company grow and made shopping “a family event,” he says. “It used to be that the husband would say he was going to the hardware store and the wife wouldn’t go. Now she says, ‘Wait for me.’” Crowder was 18 when he started working in the business founded by his father and uncle in 1955. He learned on the job how to help customers and also mastered the business side. After his father died in 1988, he purchased Crowder Brothers Hardware from the family estate. He has been sole owner since 1990 and a member of the Ace Hardware cooperative since 1998.

How’s business? We’re hanging in there. We have 85 employees. Annual revenues are over $9 million at two locations, where we actually have four stores. There is a Crowder Brothers Ace hardware store connected to Crowder’s Gifts & Gadgets on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton. In 2008 we opened Crowder Brothers Ace Hardware and Crowder’s Gifts & Gadgets at 2401 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

Why separate entrances for your gift and hardware stores? We had vendors who wouldn’t sell to us because we were a hardware business. So we separated the gift side from the hardware. Brighton would never talk to us before. But as soon as we built the Manatee Avenue store with separate entrances, we got them and Vera Bradley.

Explain the fudge. My mom used to make the fudge we sell. Now my wife makes it. We sell it in the stores and ship it all over the place.

Your favorite motto? Say what you will do and do what you say.

What do you do best? I’m better on the floor helping people and getting things done in the warehouse. I am not a good office person. We outsource HR and that has been a blessing.

Your proudest achievement? Continuing the success of the family business.

Goal not achieved? I would love to get financial independence so I could retire.

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