ON THE FRONT LINE Rick Cantelmi of Cantelmi’s Hardware

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Rick Cantelmi owns Cantelmi’s Hardware stores in South Bethlehem and Forks Township. The third-generation business is part of the Ace Hardware network and its website is www.cantelmihardware.com. Cantelmi this year is celebrating his 40th year working full time at the store.

What’s your take on the local economy?

The local economy bottomed out in 2009 and has been on a slow but steady recovery since. I track economic conditions on sales of certain items, and in the Forks Township store, for instance, propane sales were greatly improved this summer, meaning recreational use of backyard grills, and entertaining, was up.

But transversely in 2006, we used to fill a continual amount of 100-pound propane tanks, which, today, rarely anyone fills. Those large tanks were used in new-home building, in heating new homes and drying drywall. We have not seen a recovery in sales of those large tanks since 2009.

Changes in the 91-year-old Bethlehem anchor store translate to a clientele base that has remained flat, but average ticket sales have increased. Much of the business in Bethlehem is what we call industrial commercial. Forks has remained steady, and the customer count has gone up, which I also consider to be growth.

On the Southside [Bethlehem] with Sands Casino and SteelStacks, there is much potential for retail growth as a destination. I think it will be huge, as far as that goes for us; we don’t help build those big buildings, but we do supply them with products when they build. In 2008, we earned “Supplier of the Year” from Alvin H. Butz for supplying them with their building of the Sands Casino.

What’s the prime indicator for how well your business will do?

Ironically, what is good for business in Easton [Forks Township] is not necessarily good for business in South Bethlehem.

We have had two years with no snow or ice, and that is very bad for business, as when there is snow and ice, we can sell truckloads of rock salt [and] the amount of ice and snow shovels we can sell. For instance, my dad [the late Louis Cantelmi] always said if we have a snowstorm before Dec. 8, we have a very good year. Ice is actually very good for business, as there were years when we had to actually ration rock salt and other ice melters.

On the other hand, nice weather is good for business in our Forks Township store; nice weather particularly between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In Forks Township, the customers want more decorative lights every year. There are young families, most with two incomes in that area.

What advice would you give to someone who runs a small business?

I’ve learned that the owner has to have a presence, to be on-site to expect and to inspect. My father always said you lose 10 percent of the business if the owner is not there. People used to come into the store just to see my father. Customers would make the trip just to talk to him and greet him. Personally knowing your customer and vice versa help a business tremendously.

Also, shop your banks, and shop your insurance every year, whether it’s health, property or worker’s compensation insurance. You can save much capital when you shop around for these services each and every year.

How is Obamacare affecting – or how will it affect – your business and/or your employees?

Cantelmi’s Hardware has always provided health care to our employees that are full time, and we will not be reducing hours to skirt under the 32-hour limit. We have more than 100 years plus combined hardware store experience in our Bethlehem store, which is highly important to the industrial commercial customer. Experience and service are our legacy.

However, at the Easton [Forks Township] store, most of my employees are younger people; many are students and are part time. In Bethlehem, due to the industrial commercial business here, we have always supplied our full-time workers with health care.

At tax time, Obamacare resulted in a rebate for us last year. Overall, Obamacare will certainly help people with pre-existing health care problems.

Editor’s note: “On the Front Line” appears periodically and offers insight on running a small business in the region. If you have a suggestion for a subject for “On the Front Line,” please email Bill Kline at billk@lvb.com.

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