Walking into Builders Supplyland and asking, which guy is Gordie Ryder is like walking into Tim Hortons and asking if they sell coffee.
After a brief pause, the young clerk pointed out a spry man in a ball cap scooting down a crammed aisle.
“It’s that old guy there,” he said with a laugh.
By the time I made it down the adjacent aisle, Ryder was back at the counter chatting with a customer.
It’s the secret to his 42 years of success.
“We give personal service, and people appreciate that,” he said.
“And I enjoy the service industry — meeting people, helping people and making them smile.”
A woman was standing a few feet from the counter, looking around at the bins of bolts and shelves of hardware.
“Do you need help finding something,” said Ryder.
She’d already been helped, but the woman joked with Ryder about her truck while she waited to pay.
“We listen to our customers,” said Ryder, who knows many of them on a first-name basis.
“And what they ask for, we try to stock.”
But stock has changed since Ryder and his older brother bought the business in 1965.
Take table legs.
A few weeks ago a fellow came in a looking for a set.
Ryder didn’t have what he needed.
“But 30 years ago, we had all types of table legs,” he said.
“Back then, people used to build their own furniture.”
In the last three decades, stock isn’t the only thing that’s changed.
Getting it shipped north is proving more and more costly.
Until it stopped chugging into town in 1981, Ryder used to ship his loads of hardware up on the White Pass freight line.
“It used to cost about $5 per hundred pounds when I first started,” he said.
“Now it costs between $35 and $40 per hundred pounds.”
The cost of shipping makes it hard for Ryder to keep up with his big-box competitors.
But when it comes to service, he has them beat.
On Tuesday morning, Ryder and three other staff manned the tiny store. And every customer coming through the door received personal attention.
“We’re more people-based,” said Ryder.
“But you go into a bigger store and that’s disappearing.”
The bigger stores have affected Ryder’s business, but he’s kept a steady clientele.
“We don’t cater to the bigger contractors,” he said.
“But we have some smaller contractors who we see daily.”
Builders Supplyland’s mainstay is paint.
Lumber and yard tools are seasonal, but people paint all year, said Ryder.
Hunched over, Brent Scramstad was cleaning the paint-mixing machine.
Over the last 30 years, he’s worked for Ryder four times.
“It’s a good place to work,” he said.
Trained by General Paint in Edmonton, Scramstad has an excellent knowledge of colours.
And he can match almost any hue that’s brought in.
“I can match competitor’s colours, often by eye,” he said.
“And this is a lost art — nowadays almost everything is done by computers.”
Because Ryder’s been in business 42 years, lots of older people know him and come in, added Scramstad.
“And younger people don’t know him, but that’s changing.”
The trouble is shipping, he said.
“You get a good price from down south and then the freight kills you.
“If we didn’t have that issue, we’d all be millionaires.”
The staff shortage isn’t helping, said Ryder.
“We end up working longer hours.”
That’s why the store is such a mess, he added, gesturing at a door leaning against shelves of doweling, rakes, a wheelbarrow tire and antique tiles.
“Those big stores, they have signs above the aisles telling you where stuff is,” said Gabe Berman-Good.
“But here one of us have to show you where things are.”
Standing behind the counter, the 18-year-old clerk admitted that, after a year, he’s still discovering new items in the store.
“Just last week, a guy came in looking for these metal strips for decking, so no screw holes show,” he said.
Ryder knew exactly where the stripping was.
“I didn’t even know we had something like that,” said Bergman-Good.
“We have a little bit of everything,” said Ryder with a grin.
Upstairs, looking for paint in the stock room, Bergman-Good has come across cans of paint from the early 1960s.
“A lot of people come in and say this place should be turned into a museum just because Gordie has all that old crap,” he said.
Greeting customers as they walked through the door, Ryder’s staff seemed as friendly and helpful as the boss.
“I just try and lead by example,” said Ryder.
“If you work with someone who’s friendly, it rubs off on you.
“And if I was here cranky all day, I’m sure they’d be cranky too.”
Ryder was 29 when he and his brother bid on the store, after Husky Building Supplies went bankrupt.
At that point, he wasn’t sure where life would take him.
“I was young,” he said.
Now 71, Ryder could retire.
But he isn’t about to.
“I’m still kicking,” he said.
“And I still look forward to coming to work.”
It’s the family philosophy, said Ryder.
“If you don’t enjoy what you’re working at, then get out of it and do something else.”