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Stone’s celebrates 50 years in the hardware biz

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By Alice Du Pont

On April 17, 1959, Jim Stone opened a little hardware business in Bainbridge, Ga. He sold nails, nuts, bolts and a few other items such as electrical and plumbing supplies. Fifty years later, the company has expanded to nine stores, with two in Florida.

"We can build a house out of here now," said Daryl Summerford, who manages the Quincy store on West Jefferson Street.

The inventory includes an array of paints, lumber, doors, windows, plumbing supplies and lighting fixtures. Since joining F-R-M Feed Mill, Stone's offers gardening supplies, feed, seed and furtilizer.

"We can get our customers anything the big chain stores can get within 3 to 4 days. The chain stores don't have what we have and that's friendly, hometown service," Summerford said, adding, "we pride ourselves on customer service."

The friendliness translates into between 300 and 350 customers per day, and most of them are loyal, repeat customers. People, he said, want service from a staff that is knowledgeable of the products and someone who knows them.

"When our customers come through the door, we know if the wife has been sick or if the son is in the military. We know these folks and they know us. That's something a big chain can't offer. If they come in here and want to sit down and talk to the manager, they come in my office. Our business is straight and up front," Summerford said.

Hometown means a lot to Summerford and his staff. As a boy, his family left Quincy and moved to West Palm Beach several years because of his father's job. Summerford said he never enjoyed the big city and always wanted to return to Gadsden County. He landed a job at Stone's Home Center 9 years ago and worked his way up from clerk to manager.

There are two stores in Florida and both are in Gadsden County. Vic Vickers managers the Havana store, which celebrated the anniversary Wednesday. Each store will have an individual celebration and the founder, Jim Stone, is visiting each.

Stone's hasn't lasted 50 years without changes. Summerford said that maintaining the small town flavor is nice but they also must compete. Management is in the planning stages of offering do-it-yourself workshops and beefing up the inventory for emergency situations such as hurricanes and floods.

The company's management philosophy is mainly letting the individual stores’ management run the business. The managers have the autonomy to run the store the way they want to, with a few exceptions. Stone's has also played a more than average role in Summerford’s personal life.

"Nine years ago I met my wife, Jan, when she came in to have some keys made. I made her the keys and she took the key to my heart," he said.

He said he is confident that Stone's will last another 50 years.

"You can't put a price tag on good customer service and good people like the ones who work here. Every one of them is valuable to the store and to the company," he said.