Tom and Grif Glenn have been around hardware stores all their lives.
In 1919 their grandfather, Elder Glenn Sr., started what would eventually become Glenn Brothers Hardware in Chickamauga, Ga., when his brother, Byron, joined him in the business a few years later. In the 1950s their father, Elder Glenn Jr., took over the business and then in 1969 started his own company, now known as the Helpful Group.
Glenn Brothers Hardware was sold years later and has changed ownership several times since, but through the years Tom and Grif have thought about one day coming back to Chickamauga to open a store.
"When I was a little boy, I just have memories of going into the [Glenn Brothers Hardware] store," Grif said. "That's where I grew up, I went to school down there."
With the opening of the Ace Hardware in Chickamauga on Friday, the 17th Ace location for the brothers, the business has "come full circle," Tom said. Out of the 4,600 store Ace Hardware network, the Helpful Group is a top-10 member in terms of size, he said.
The brand new 14,000-square-foot hardware store on General Bushrod Johnson Avenue isn't just an additional location for the Glenns, it's a testament to the health of their business.
Increasing sales by 5 percent, the Helpful Group's Ace stores - scattered from North Georgia to Knoxville - have been shielded from much of the effects of the economic downturn. Two new stores and a remodeled East Brainerd store helped sales a little, but Grif has another theory for why the business has been able to weather the economic storm better than some of its competitors.
"If you're going to build a house, you're not going to come to us because we don't carry all the lumber," he said. "So when housing dropped off, I don't think it hurt us as much. ... When the economy comes back though, they may get a bigger boost than we will."
The Glenn brothers also attribute their success to a constant emphasis on customer service and trying to find the most helpful employees possible.
Steve Kelly, general manager and director of store operations, has been with the company for 25 years and echoed the sentiment that customer service is the No. 1 priority.
"We continue to try to enhance the way we approach customer service and be the best at it," he said. "We've even developed an extensive training plan for each associate, and 50 percent of our training is targeted toward customer service."
Growing at a pace of about two stores every three years, Tom said the company will continue to look at "a ring around Chattanooga" for possible growth opportunities in the future.
"If we're in close to Chattanooga or in close within a drive to Knoxville, there are a lot of economies we can realize," he said. "If we're about to continue to produce increases, it makes sense for us to keep growing."