James H. Dunklin IV grew up in Greenville, Alabama – just like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, all also named James H. Dunklin.
That kind of intertwining of a family and a place has a powerful pull.
“I could never shake Greenville,” said the fifth-generation Jim Dunklin, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University. For six years after college, he resisted the draw of his hometown and worked in banking and sales in northern Birmingham and Gadsden.
Then in 1993, he bought back the hardware store his great-grandfather J.H. Dunklin II founded in 1891.
“I always wanted to raise children in Greenville,” said Jim, and he did. Rearing his three children in his Butler County hometown of 8,000 residents “was exactly what I had hoped.”
Like many small-town hardware and general stores, the motto at J.H. Dunklin & Co. Inc. is “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” While some tried to convince Jim, he should change the store’s advertising slogan to “if we don’t have it, we’ll get it for you,” he said no. “The whole point is we’ve got everything.”
Selling what the community and its customers need has been a reality for Greenville Hardware, the company’s doing-business-as name, since the beginning.
A 1931 advertorial in the local newspaper described what was then known as J.H. Dunklin & Co. as “a bulwark of commercial activity in Greenville.”
Forty years earlier, the second J.H. Dunklin, who went to Auburn University, bought out the hardware department of a general mercantile business where he had been working and set up shop across the street near Greenville’s courthouse square.
Furniture was added to the mix, then the founder moved the business back across the street to the building where his hardware career started and that’s where Greenville Hardware remains – at 515 E. Commerce St.
At the time of the 1931 article, the building, which is older than the 129-year-old store it houses, had, listed in this order: hardware, furniture, undertaking, plumbing, roofing and farm implement and supply departments.
The second J.H. Dunklin had two sons, one who ran the hardware portion of the business and the other who ran the funeral home. When they died in the 1960s, they sold the hardware store and someone other than the Dunklins operated both businesses.
Jim’s father, a physician, considering his profession, thought it wise to also sell the funeral home portion of the business.
In the 1970s, the new owners of the hardware store established relationships with local industries and began using the economy of scale to buy in bulk supplies those industries needed. “Instead of buying 10, we would buy 1,000 and sell 250 at a time to the industrial account and sell onesies and twosies in the store,” said Jim.
While those industries remained in Greenville, Jim continued those accounts once he came on the scene.
“I walked the floors for 11 years,” said Jim, who since 2003 has been an off-site owner. He went back into banking as a primary profession, now serving as regional president of First Citizens Bank of Luverne.
“I was there nonstop, 10-hour days, plus Saturdays,” he said. He still goes by the hardware store every day, either in the morning or evening. “I take all the bills home and write the checks,” he said. The store’s general manager, Joe Rhodes, has worked there for 38 years.
Today, the store’s biggest sellers are plumbing and electrical goods sold to contractors, but it continues to sell the obvious and hard-to-find hardware items, plus some industrial supplies.
Greenville Hardware, like most hardware stores, also sells the severe-weather-related items that are tax free during the last full weekend of February in Alabama.
“The largest month we’ve ever had in the history of the store since I’ve owned it” came after the 100 mph winds of Hurricane Ivan ripped through Greenville in September 2004, Jim said. “We are only two hours from the Gulf,” so when a major hurricane comes through, “it’s pretty bad here,” he said.
In that one month, Greenville Hardware sold a lot of tarps and generators, but those items are available year-round, and Jim recommends stocking up on emergency supplies Feb. 21-23 when many of those items are tax free.
Story by Nancy King Dennis
A shortened version of this story appears on Page 17
of the February 2020 Alabama Retailer