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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

Dykemans celebrates 100 years of success

Updated: Sep 23, 2021


Published Thursday May 5, 2011 in the Telegraph Journal   Photo: Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal Dave Veale interviews Don and Bob Shaw, Dykeman’s Hardware as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

“The Six Success Factors” for starting a small business are self-motivation, business and industry knowledge, organization and management capabilities, marketing skill, customer/vendor relations and vision.

– According to studies conducted by the Bank of Montreal Institute for Small Business,

Now imagine what it takes to keep a small business growing and thriving for 100 years.

Don (left, in the photo) and Bob Shaw, owners of Dykeman’s Hardware Store in Saint John, know a bit on this topic – their family-owned business just celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Originally named R.G. Dykeman (opened by their grandfather on April 20th, 1911), it was incorporated in 1965 and became Dykeman’s Hardware Limited.

Business failure statistics show that only 70 per cent of small businesses survive to celebrate their five-year anniversary, let alone their 100th anniversary. I sat down with Don and Bob to learn what they believe has supported their business in reaching the century mark.

Q: Tell me about the important milestone that Dykeman’s Hardware recently reached.

Bob: Last month, April 20th, was our 100th birthday.

Q: You have a book in front of me, what is it?

Don: Starting inventory book, dated April 20th, 1911. It lists total inventory consisting mostly of groceries and everyday necessity needs of $233.30.

Q: So your grandfather started Dykeman’s?

Don: His passion was to start his own business. He was 21 or 22 years old at the time. Dykeman’s started by selling feed/flour and, in the early years, a lot of his customers were farmers from the Kingston Peninsula. There would be teams of horses with wagons and it was a two-day trip. They would come here and unhook their horses and back them into the warehouse where my grandfather would keep the team of horses overnight. Then the farmers would go and get their supplies and stay at a hotel on Main Street.

Q: I understand that your father took over from your grandfather?

Bob: Yeah, after the war dad came in and was on and off for 60 some years. He married the boss’ daughter. He was originally scheduled to go to Chicago and my grandfather, not wanting to lose his daughter, asked dad if he would consider working here. So he took his three-piece suit off and put on a pair of overalls and came over and started lifting feed and cement.

Q: What have you learned over the years, in terms of running a successful business?

Don: My grandfather gave me a neat tip when I first started and I was just a young guy. He said “Don, let me tell you something. If you are going to be working in business remember people’s names. It is very, very important – people like to be called by name.” Treat people the way that you want to be treated yourself.

Bob: Another lesson is to have a broad knowledge base. Prices are important to a certain degree but, as Don mentioned, service is everything. We have been blessed with great staff and they have been with us for years. They are trustworthy, honest and very knowledgeable.

Q: What else has helped you survive in such a competitive landscape?

Don: You have to be competitive in your pricing and affiliated with a buying group in order to survive. Lee’s Hardware is one of the largest hardware distributors in the world and we hook on to their purchasing powers, if you will. We can buy what we want, not what we are told to buy.

Bob: This also allows us to maintain our independence completely and we dictate which direction we want to go. We never want to give that up. Independence is huge for us.

Q: Since the business started more than 100 years ago, it’s gone through a lot of changes. How do you guys embrace change?

Bob: You have to evolve according to what your surroundings are. We are not about to take on the Wal-Marts and Canadian Tires. We have our own niche hardware products and niche marine products. We have specialized – it gives us an advantage.

Q: So evolving with customer demand and finding niche product lines has been the key to your success?

Bob: We’ve had the same location for 100 years which is kind of unique. We just evolved and morphed into a different building from one door to the next but we have basically had the same address for 100 years.

Don: I’ve worked here for 44 years. When I started here I think there was something like 15 stores like ours in the city and I can’t think of any that are left except for Dykeman’s.

Q: What does the future hold for Dykeman’s?

Bob: It will end at three generations in our family – there is no interest from our kids to continue with the store. So the family part will end at three generations. We would like to think that it has a future and business has been strong for the last couple years so that’s encouraging. We just haven’t figured out what that form is yet.

Q: If you could give other entrepreneurs out there one piece of advice, what would it be?

Bob: There are certain things that you may have to eliminate from a business because you just can’t compete anymore and you have to accept it. We couldn’t exist in just the houseware business that this business was founded on.

Don: Don’t spread yourself too thin trying to please everyone.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>

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