I woke up today on October 21st, 2015 thinking about the future. Or the past. Or the present… I’m so confused.
We probably all know that today is the day that Marty McFly arrived in the future from 1985. In the first movie he drove his DeLorean 88 miles per hour to the year 1955. It struck me the other night as we were watching the movie with my children, that 1955 was the year that Howard Brothers opened its doors.
Back in 1955, Ed Howard took over a gas station and general store from his soon to be father-in-law. I can only imagine that the city of Norcross was similar in parts to What Hill Valley looked like. While I don’t think Norcross had a “town green” with the iconic clock tower, it had to be a neat area that centered around the railroad tracks and the train depot. Downtown Norcross was a hub of many small businesses similar to those seen in the movie. The gas station and general store that Ed Howard owned was a stop “on the way” towards Atlanta. I’ve heard many conversations from folks who would stop there on their way to working at the old General Motors plant in Doraville. They’d stop on the way south, and back on their way north. Some of the first neighborhoods in Gwinnett county were established around that Doraville location which saw the need for the store to transform to include more groceries and meat.
In 1972, Ed decided to get into the hardware business more and joined national True Value Hardware. He opened up a store next to the grocery that was small but had your basics. I wonder if he had any idea at the time of what his business would look like years later.
Fast forward to 1985 (Marty’s present day), when Ed’s sons, John and Doug Howard, are more involved in the business. They began looking north on Buford Highway to the city of Duluth as a potential location for a second store. They saw growth that was happening and were able to look into the future and see the need for another Hardware store similar to the one in Doraville. In 1987, Howard Brothers opened its second store about 7 miles from its original. At this time, Doug was already seeing the future of power equipment and made strategic decisions which would make Howard Brothers the area expert for small engines, mowers, and other types of power equipment.
But where are the hoverboards, flying cars, and other technology which Marty McFly encountered in the year 2015?
Let’s face it, Howard Brothers isn’t in the drone and cold fusion business. In the hardware stores, we still sell bolts and nuts, window glass, and hammers. Over in the equipment business, we still repair engines because of gasoline failures and people still use string trimmers to clean up in their yards. From the outside looking in, not a whole lot has changed in 30-50 years. Or has it?
- Look at power. It used to be that everything with a large engine had to be powered by gasoline and oil, but we continue to see commercial landscapers move to propane powered equipment. More and more homeowners (even some commercial landscapers) are going to battery powered equipment. This saves fuel costs and helps protect the environment. In Back to the Future 2, we see signs of a world which had its pollution problems, but was also trying to create ways to clean up the streets.
- Look at lighting. Lighting has changed so much in the past 5 years. Everyday, it seems like the latest/greatest bulb is produced which will both save energy and cost less to operate. We’ve seen incandescents almost totally eliminated by compact fluorescents and LEDs.
- Smart products are everywhere. I really can’t believe that someone hasn’t invented a wifi enabled hammer (I actually had to google that to make sure someone hasn’t.) Seriously, we have cordless drills which you can connect to the internet through wifi so that manufacturers can observe how they’re being used… How crazy is that!? Some Milwaukee Power Tools are able to be upgraded so that they run more efficiently and have fewer problems. Lawn mowers are becoming the same way. It is a normal day at Howard Brothers when I see one of our technicians plug a laptop into an engine on a mower (just like they do at auto dealers) to diagnose what is going on in the engine! That’s cool!
- Nylon grade. Bear with me on this, but this is really cool too. When I first started working in the hardware store, I was introduced to the many types of fasteners. I had to learn the difference between grade 2, grade 5, grade 8, stainless steel, and all the other types of materials which formed the over 5000 types of fasteners that we carry. You’ve probably heard of 3D printing and how one day, you’ll be able to print your own toilet flapper when your old one goes bad… but I get a little excited when I think of fasteners which will probably one day be nylon but have the same strength as a grade 8 bolt. We already see trends heading more towards this. It is going to happen…
- Chemicals. Here’s one that has a lot of unknowns, but also one that we all know is going to greatly change in the next few years. With folks becoming more environmentally friendly, they are more and more concerned with the chemicals we use on our lawn, food, and around the home. History has shown misuse and poor use of caustic chemicals which are more harmful than we thought. In some ways, the future is looking more like the past where we used natural/safer alternatives to pesticides and toxins. Since many of these products are staple items for hardware stores across this country…this will be an interesting discussion to listen in on over the next few years. It will likely transform the hardware store in ways we haven’t seen before.
- Wearables/portable tech – Who doesn’t have a smart phone? We’ve been seeing some amazing new products that are going to make you say, “Great Scott.” Recently at the True Value Fall Market in Chicago, we were stunned by a little camera by seek thermal. It is a thermal imaging camera that attaches to your smart phone and allows you to see heat variations. Home inspectors, electricians, plumbers and maintenance guys will love this thing… Coming soon to our stores, but think about how much our devices allow a world of new tech to become more cost effective and possible. Our smart phones are more part of our toolbox than anything.
I guess after today, all of the events of the Back to the Future movies will be in the past. As we look to the future of Metro Atlanta and North Georgia, I wonder what we’ll experience. How do you think our our lives be changed by the technology and innovation of today and tomorrow?
Want to learn more about Howard Brother’s History, check out this video from John and Doug Howard.