By DAVE GOSSETT
STEUBENVILLE - Tom Birney has gone fishing.
SAYING?GOODBYE — Scott Campbell, left, and Tom Birney, co-owners of the M&M True Value Hardware Store on Sunset Boulevard in Steubenville, stand next to a Husquavarna lawn tractor in the store. Birney has announced his retirement from the store after a 20-year partnership with Campbell. Birney said he is looking forward to a new challenge in his life. — Dave Gossett
The 55-year-old Birney isn't quite ready to embrace a life of retirement, but after 20 years as co-owner of the M&M True Value Hardware Store on Sunset Boulevard he is ready to take on a new challenge with a little fishing on the side.
"It was time for moving on. My two boys are in college and neither son expressed a desire to be in this business. So the time is right. I don't know what my next challenge will be, but I am open to all possibilities. I am looking forward to another challenge. I'm going fishing and see what I can catch or who will catch me," explained Birney.
But while Birney was ready to talk about his departure from the hardware business, he stopped chatting to help a customer find what he was looking for.
"It is still in me. I like to help people find what they need. That is what this store is all about and it is hard to just walk away from that philosophy," Birney explained.
Birney started his first career after college as an internal auditor for the Hoover Co.
"I was traveling the United States and Canada for two years and it was an excellent experience for me. Then I joined the Citizens Bank in Salineville," related Birney.
"As for Scott Campbell, we met at an event at the local Masonic Lodge and we became friends. It has been a friendship that has kept growing every year since we met. At one point Scott asked me if I would be interested in joining him if a business became available," Birney said.
"The M&M True Value Hardware store was up for sale in 1992, and we joined together to buy the business. Scott came in the store in January 1993 and I came in around the middle of February. We have been together here for 20 years, and I can tell you it has been a good ride for two farm boys," cited Birney.
"We have grown as friends and as a business every year for the past 20 years. We lived through the liquidation of Stambaugh's, where they were almost giving everything away, That was actually worse than the Lowe's grand opening. We faced challenges from the closing sales at Jim's Bargain Store in Weirton, Kuhn's Hardware Store in Toronto and Ardito's Hardware Store in Mingo Junction. Those were all challenges, but we worked hard together with our employees and we have been successful," said Campbell.
"Tom and I both had our roles in the store. Tom focused more on the financial side while I looked at marketing and sales. There were many times we would work all day, close the store at night and drive somewhere to buy snow blowers because it was snowing here and people were looking for a snow blower," recalled Campbell.
"The culture was different when we first started here," said Birney. "The sales techniques are the same but M&M for many years was a very customer-friendly store. I will miss the people who shop here and the people who work here. The employees became a part of our families. And, customers became good friends. There is a huge difference when you are a local business. People want to work here and people want to shop here. That says a lot about the store we have grown over two decades," stated Birney.
"I am going to be 56 years old in two weeks, so I am not retiring. I have projects at home I will be tackling and I will be stopping by this store to find the item I need for each project. I am too young to retire and I don't want to retire. I want a new challenge in my life," said Birney.
"I know Scott's two kids want to come into the business, and I also know they will drive him. They will be the energy that will help him remain successful as he moves forward. When we first came into the store it was all about being creative and giving back to the community. We have been successful in those two areas as well as restoring the old-fashioned hardware feeling of people ready to help other people. I know Scott's kids will help him stay creative and ready for new ideas," observed Birney.
"In today's world, when mom and pop leave the business it is usually forever. But, I believe mom and pop still have a lot to offer here. My children are very independent-minded and there will be times they will challenge me. But challenges make me work harder," noted Campbell.
"There were times I saw Tom more than I saw my own brother or sisters. In those first few years, we were together 12 to 14 hours a day, 52 weeks a year. We spent time talking about our families and recalling our days as farm kinds. Both of our fathers were in the military and regimented and that helped us relate to each other," Campbell explained.
"Tom officially retired Aug. 31, and I don't think I have felt the full effect yet. Right now I feel like he is on vacation and will be back to work in another few days. And, I don't hesitate to call him if I have a question. Tom is actually retiring from the business at a good time. This is our slow time between the holidays, so the transition is easier. But yes, I will definitely miss seeing Tom on a regular basis," said Campbell.
"There have been times when Tom and I didn't always see eye to eye on an issue. But once the final decision was made we were always in agreement. And, Tom has been very good about finding additional challenges for us to look at," Campbell said
"Tom and I started as stepchildren of the True Value Hardware company. They had a low opinion of the store when we started. Now, there is a lot of respect for this store," declared Campbell.
"I think people at True Value have learned from us that doing business the old-fashioned way is the best way. I want to thank everyone who has supported us for the past 20 years. It has been a lot of hard work, but also a very positive 20 years," Birney said.