Nevada City Advocate
Driving down Ridge Road toward Rough and Ready Highway you’ll find a hardware store that for 35 years has epitomized the hometown family-run business.
Dan Wheat purchased the business in 1984 and now with his son, Dan Jr., and his daughter, April, A to Z has built a strong customer base and a reputation for having those hard-to-find-goods and having the employee that knows how to get that item.
It is not unusual to see a customer and an employee out in the parking lot discussing a plumbing fixture in the back of a pickup truck, down in the basement looking for just the right window covering, or over at the Garden Center discussing organic seeds. And that is what Wheat feels makes the A to Z difference.
“We do go that extra mile,” said Dan Jr. “A particular item at Brand X store might be sitting on the shelf, but sometimes an employee might not want to go there, go that extra mile. I think that’s one of the things that we excel at.”
With a strong background in the area of plumbing supply and equipment business (Dan’s Plumbing Supply, Familian Pipe and Supply) Dan Sr. has built on a reputation for service to help A to Z flourish.
“When we took it over back then it was a tiny little store doing in a year what we do now in two weeks,” he said. “I knew it would be a good fit. We had a great following in the community already for 15 years. When we came over here a lot of customers followed us.”
With the help of his father and Dan Jr. (who had been working with his father since he was eight, and who became a 50 percent owner in the business upon graduation from high school) A to Z was on its feet after about a year.
Over the years the business has grown, adding employees, hardware products and expanding the garden center but the emphasis on customer relations has remained.
“We have a reputation for having things you can’t find somewhere else,” said Dan. Sr. “If we don’t have it, we’ll order it for you. A lot of places in town just won’t take the time to do the research, or do special orders. We’ve always excelled at that. A lot of times a customer will bring something in and say ‘I need one of these in inch and a half, call me when it comes in.’ And they’re down the road, they don’t want to take the time to run all over town. They know we’re going to take care of them.”
He noted that A to Z is now seeing second-generation customers coming to the store, adults who came into the store when they were kids. A strong community outreach through Little League, 4H, Boy Scouts and other groups has always been part of A to Z through the years.
Wheat feels that just having a knowledgeable employee does not always guarantee good service for the customer, and many bigger stores often overlook the customer who might be wandering up and down the aisles looking for something.
“You can’t be in the door here for 30 seconds without someone greeting you and wanting to know what it is you want. Even on the busiest days, we acknowledge someone coming through the door. It’s hard to find that in other stores.”
One of the unique products that you might be surprised to see at the store is beekeeping supplies and information. Dan Sr. became “bitten by the bug” after doing research and hearing about the role of bees in agriculture.
“I started reading and figuring out what was going on and took a beekeeping class. I got fascinated by the whole thing. It’s not like playing golf, it’s one of those things you have to keep focused on to be a good beekeeper.”
Besides supplies, there are several varieties of home-grown honey at the store, and a Beginning Beekeeping class is offered (check Garden Center for dates).
With the business doing well, the family has considered expanding and moving from it’s present three-acre site. Even though parcels of land and architectural plans have been discussed, there have been no concrete decisions made yet. And there’s also the issue of a new facility possibly losing the “atmosphere” of the present store – jampacked aisles, nooks and crannies, the subterranean basement – it’s a unique experience.
“We’ve talked about that a lot. It is a concern. We think we would be able to do some things like a wood façade front on the new store. And then inside, you have to be really careful about how you set the store up, so you don’t lose that ‘homeiness,” Dan Sr. said.
The most exciting part of a new store is that we can expand many of the departments we have here and offer a much wider array of products. For example, we have that 4,000 square feet downstairs, and it would be nice to have that all up on the same level,” he said, adding that a larger facility would allow more lumber products.
This year, A to Z has a 35-year anniversary coming up and the Wheats are planning special events to celebrate the occasion, and its loyal customers.
“We’re going to start in May,” said Dan Sr. “We’re going to be giving away a lot of stuff, like BBQs and such. The kick-off weekend will be May 4.”
For more information or to get on the A to Z email list or receive a newsletter, call 530-273-6608.
About the Photos:
Dan Wheat Jr. and Dan Wheat Sr. stand outside A to Z Supply.
Photo by Andrew Wedgbury
Need a part? It's probably here.
Photo by Andrew Wedgbury