DELHI, La. (AP) — Frank Earl Maxwell Sr. was a traveling route salesman for Shapleigh Hardware Co. of St. Louis when he decided to open his own store in Delhi. Prospects weren't exactly promising: he opened during the Great Depression.
"I read a letter from his sales manager at Shapleigh advising him not to do it," said Frank Maxwell Jr., 86. "It said, 'There's no way you can make it.'"
Maxwell Hardware and Co. is celebrating its 80th anniversary, now with Frank Maxwell III at the helm.
"It's really unusual to sustain a business for three generations, and it's something in which our family takes great pride," Maxwell said.
The founder opened his 1,250-square-foot store on U.S. 80 about two blocks west of Louisiana 17. Today Maxwell Hardware and Lumber occupies 70,000 square feet of covered space at its current location just west of Delhi on U.S. 80.
But Frank Maxwell III wasn't keen on continuing the family business as a young man. The University of Louisiana at Monroe Hall of Famer (he played from 1973-76 and was inducted in 2005) had his sights set on the NFL, and was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as a wide receiver.
"After my fifth concussion, the doctors told me I couldn't take another one, so I came home," Maxwell said. "And I'm glad I did."
Maxwell went to work for his dad and took over sole ownership in 2000.
"He's done a great job," Maxwell's father said. "He's doing three times the volume I was."
The son credits his father with setting the foundation that enabled the company's survival as big box retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's came onto the scene.
"He really was a visionary," Maxwell said.
Frank Maxwell Jr. was one of the founders of what is now Allied Building Stores, which is headquartered in the Monroe Air Industrial Park and supplies more than 200 independent stores in 15 states.
"It gave us the buying power we needed to compete on price," Frank Maxwell Jr. said. "Negotiating as a group gave us more buying clout."
"We wouldn't be here without it," Frank III said.
Once the playing field was leveled on price, the Maxwells said their service and staff expertise elevated the company's relevance to its customers, both contractors and walk-ins.
Many of the 28 staffers are longtime employees like Cindy Jinks and Bruce Weems. Both have worked there for 36 years. Others have been there 20 years or more.
"We don't have much turnover, and our employees are the best," Frank III said. "Our customers know when they come to Maxwell Hardware they're going to get top customer service."
And Frank Maxwell III doesn't believe that tradition will end when he retires. His son, Frank Earl Maxwell IV, a senior at Delhi Charter School, is interested in the family business.
"It's a big responsibility, but I'll be proud if he chooses to take the path of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather," Frank III said.
Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com