After 34 years of owning, developing and operating Nilson’s Hardware and Rent-It Center in Swanville, founder Randy Nilson has decided it is time to retire. It has been a fun journey filled with delightful challenges.
“It’s been fun trying new things,” he said. When you have a hardware store, you’re basically in the problem-solving business, since people come to you with their problems in hope you can fix it.”
Passing on the baton to new owners, Rob and Quentin Bryce, Randy mentors the father-son team through the process. It is their first time owning a retail business and took over Nilson’s Hardware, Sept. 1.
“Randy has been a huge help to us,” Rob said.
It is also a dream come true for Rob, who previously owned a construction business for 24 years,
“I enjoyed being a small business owner, but I have dreamed of owning a hardware store for the least 10 years,” Rob said.
Rob said he looked at several other businesses, but was immediately drawn to Nilson’s Hardware and Rent-It Center. The store has everything he is interested in — hardware, a rental center and sales of Ice Castle fish houses. It is also located in a small community.
“I love being a part of a small town and community,” he said. “I also want my kids to grow up in a small community, so for a lot of reasons, this was a good fit.
Rob and his wife, Joyce, plan to move to Swanville within the next two years. The two have eight children, ages ranging from 7 to 28. At 22, Quentin is his third oldest, he said.
Before Rob and Quentin formed a business partnership, neither knew of the other’s aspirations to own a retail business.
Rob said he asked Quentin to partner with him.
“I knew his great skill set of working with people, his education and talents would be beneficial to the business,” Rob said of Quentin. “I thought that bringing both of our talents together would be a really good combination.”
Quentin graduated from St. Cloud State University in 2015, with a bachelor’s degree in business operations.
When Rob and Quentin visited Nilson’s Hardware Rob said he was particularly impressed by the excellent customer service an employee provided to a customer. The employee was showing a customer one of the Traeger grills for sale. The customer was visibly very interested in purchasing it, but said he was unable to since he had brought his car to the store and not his truck.
“The employee said it wasn’t a problem, that he knew where he lived and said he would be happy to deliver it to him that evening after work,” Rob said. “That’s the kind of people I want. The people here are very customer service oriented and truly care about the individual.”
Taking over the business has been a smooth process.
“It’s been a lot easier than I expected, because of the staff here and the training we have received. They’ve been very helpful and patient with us,” Quentin said.
There is a lot to learn about the business. Nilson’s Hardware is more advanced technologically behind the store front scene.
“I don’t think most people realize the extent of our Internet sales and in the back office,” Randy said.
About one third of the business is in Internet sales.
“The business is run very professionally. That is very impressive to me,” Rob said. “The biggest challenge for me is to wrap my mind around everything that is going on from a technological standpoint. Everything is so current.”
As they have gotten to know the personnel better, Rob said there is no doubt the people he is working with at Nilson’s Hardware are top notch people.
Even though the employees at Nilson’s Hardware will miss Randy, they are embracing the change.
Lloyd Fellbaum, who has worked at the store for four years and primarily handles Internet sales, said he really likes the new owners.
“It is sad to see Randy go, but at the same time, it is also good to see change,” he said.
Jesse Hollermann has a long history working with Randy. He has worked at the store for 13 years, handling a little bit of everything, but primarily taking care of the rental center.
“I’m happy for Randy, since he’ll have more time to enjoy others things he likes, but it’s also sad to see him go,” he said.
Hollermann contributes much of the smooth transition to the fact that Rob and Quentin are good listeners and are willing to learn.
Many of the store’s customers have met the new owners.
Mike Day, a longtime resident of Swanville, shops at the store several times a month. He hopes the store will remain relatively the same with the new ownership.
“I’ve been coming into this store for as long as I can remember. It’s sad to see Randy go, but hopefully this change is good,” he said.
Bryan Allen, owner of Red’s Irish Pub in Swanville, is another regular customer. He has met Rob and Quentin several times.
“The new owners are wonderful people. It’s difficult to see Randy go, because he is very good for the community. But we’re also excited to see new people come into town and see if they can make any changes for the better,” he said.
Randy’s wife, Sheila, is enjoying the opportunity to spend more time with her husband. She’s also happy to see him pursue some of the things he likes to do, such as fishing.
She also likes that he can now come with her to various celebrations he couldn’t before, because he was tied up at work.
With her husband and son running the business together, Joyce has noticed a stronger bond form between father and son.
“It’s great,” she said.
It’s something Rob has taken notice of, as well, and as a father, it means a lot to him.
Joyce said she is looking forward to moving to Swanville.
“I was there visiting before we bought the store. They were very welcoming. People came up and introduced themselves. You feel like you’re already at home,” she said.
In celebration of Randy’s retirement and the new owners taking over the business, a grand opening will be held Saturday, Oct. 22, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Nilson’s Hardware and Rent-It Center, at 207 DeGraff Avenue in Swanville.
Appetizers will be served and prizes will be given away during the day.
The celebration continues from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Red’s Irish Pub at 24 Third Street in Swanville.