JAMESTOWN – Potter’s Ace Hardware started off with humble enough roots. Roots being the key word; the store, founded in 1946, first sold groceries.
But today, it’s all about building and home improvement. And leading the helm is Jamestown native Brandon Smith, the CEO/operations manager for the 20-location “chain” that covers Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. Smith works out of Potter’s corporate office in Jamestown, where he, wife Mahaliah and their two sons, Noah (14) and Nicholas (12), reside.
Potter’s was established 68 years ago by Smith’s great-grandfather, Elmer Potter, who began the business as a small grocery store. Smith’s grandparents, Bill and Jean Potter, decided to flip to script, taking things in a new direction – to hardware and building materials. Smith’s parents, Jeff and Teresa Smith, were instrumental in growing and developing the business over the years and are still actively involved today.
As for the latest Smith, he’s competitive; he wasted no time jumping into the family business – he stocked shelves as a youth but took on a leadership role immediately after his graduation from Tennessee Tech in 1997; and sports aspirations often don’t die: If he’s not in the office, you can probably catching him at a gym or ball park watching his sons compete. We caught up with him in August for a little Q-and-A. Here’s what we learned.
Q: Tell us about your first paying job? What did it entail?
A: My first job was stocking paint at our hardware store in Jamestown. This was back in the day when you had to attach the bails to the paint cans by hand. Now the paint bails (handles) come pre-attached, which makes it much easier and faster to stock the shelves.
Q: What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
A: Originally, I wanted to be a major league baseball player, but then, as I grew taller, I became more interested in basketball and even had the opportunity to play some college hoops. However, once I realized I was not going to make it to the NBA, I knew I needed to continue gaining experience in the family business so I would be ready to contribute.
Q: Potter’s has been in business since 1946; but besides its longevity, what makes it different from others in the region?
A: Potter’s Ace Center is a family-owned business. Although we now have 20 locations – within about a 100-mile radius of Jamestown – one of the owners still visits every location every week in person.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing your business at the moment?
A: All businesses face challenges like taxes, regulation, insurance costs, health care…I could go on and on. Business is challenging. Our biggest asset is our people, however, the biggest challenge is finding, training and keeping good people.
Q: Potter’s has grown to 20 locations in Tennessee and Kentucky. Are there plans for more?
A: We are always looking for opportunities. My grandfather has often said that the secret to success is to, “Find a need, and fill it.” I am sure there are more markets out there that have a need for a modern, convenient Ace Hardware location.
Q: If you weren’t in your current field, what other career path would you have pursued?
A: I’m not sure. My dream was to be a professional athlete – as lots of little boys who play sports dream of – but if I weren’t in hardware retail maybe sporting goods retail since I enjoy sports.
Q: Who has made the biggest impact on your career?
A: My family has had the biggest impact, but I have had a lot of good teachers, coaches and friends along the way. It’s hard to single one out.
Q: Running a business takes a lot of energy. How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
A: One, unless it’s Sunday morning, then I may have two or three before church.
Q: Where’s your favorite place to be outside the office?
A: I love watching my kids play sports or taking a three-day trip to somewhere sunny.
Q: Tell me something about yourself that would surprise people.
A: My favorite band is The Eagles. (Editor’s note: In answering another question, Smith said his go- to karaoke song would be an Eagles classic: Hotel California.)
Q: When you are stressed, what gets you back into balance?
Q: Use one word to describe yourself.