Gary McKay pauses and reflects on the past 46 years— time that has spanned far more than dining-room light dimmers. Best of all, it’s given him time to get enjoyment out of being a father.
“We’re never going to be the Rockefellers or anything,” McKay said, “but it’s a good living for us.
“And what makes it great is we get to do it as a family.”
Last June, Gary, who also has been a traveling hardware wholesaler, owner of a landscaping business and a volunteer firefighter, bought and re-opened a hardware store on the southeastern corner of Ray and Rural roads, now McKay’s True Value.
“It’s natural to do this,” McKay said. “It’s in our blood. I’ve tried to go away from the business but I keep getting sucked right back into it. I figured I might as well stay.”
Shortly after Gary opened his store in Chandler, he convinced his youngest son, Noah, 23, who was managing a pizza shop, to join him.
“We’re now three-generation, hardware-store people,” Gary said. “My brother and I followed our father into the business, and now both of my sons are in it, too.”
That makes this Father’s Day particularly special for Gary.
“It means a lot that boys have chosen to follow in my footsteps, which my father started,” Gary said. “We are a family working together. It feels good. It’s fun teaching him all the things I know. He has so many things to learn.”
Gary’s father and grandmother had sold their machine shop in Michigan in the 1970s. They were considering a hardware store or a motel as their next business.
“Dad put it to a vote of us kids, and we told him we didn’t want to be changing bed sheets the rest of our lives,” McKay said with a smile. “So I’ve been doing hardware for 46 years.”
McKay, who grew up working in his father’s store in South Haven, Mich., found his way to the Valley in 2002. His brother, Barry, already was here and the owner of two hardware stores himself in north-central Phoenix. Gary’s oldest son, Logan, 28, works in one of Barry’s stores, hoping one day to buy it.
Gary and his wife, Susan, live in Ahwatukee. She was running her business, Foothills Remodel and Design, which specializes in bathrooms and kitchens, from their home. She now has space in the hardware store, which stocks more than the norm in floor covering as a result. Like Noah, she also is learning the hardware-store business. Gary also employs three part timers.
Noah typically reports for work accompanied by his dog, Tucson, who roams the premises and interacts with customers, especially younger ones.
“It takes long hours to ensure success,” Noah said. “It’s especially hard on him, being the owner of the business. This is his retirement. He doesn’t want to sit at home or go play golf. He likes helping people. Most of our customers are because of his knowledge.
“It’s actually really cool to be able to work with my dad every day, and obviously bring my dog in to work every day.”
That means more to Gary than every inch of his unusually large spray-paint section, all 24 feet of it, and the 30,000 items he stocks in his store.
He knew the area was ripe for a mom-and-pop hardware store run by a knowledgeable owner dedicated to providing one-on-one customer service that big-box competitors do not provide.
He’d called on the previous owner while in the wholesale business. He’d done a demographic report. He knew the area was affluent with a good mix of do-it-yourselfers and those who need guidance with home projects.
He beefed up the grilling and outdoor department and the fastener department and the made-to-order screen department for them.
The response has been overwhelming and favorable, Gary said.
“We wanted to do a few things over the top,” he said. He plans to expand to lawnmower and chainsaw repair and then to tool rental.
He loves working with customers, gratified by stories like the elderly lady who’d lost her husband. She brought in cookies and brownies after he told her how to fix a leaky toilet, and she went home and did it herself.
“I enjoy those kind of rewards,” he said. “It’s enjoyable. I don’t consider that I’m working. I consider that I’m retired and get to help people.
“My brother and I always told my boys what my dad told us:
This is going to be one job where you’re going to get paid to get educated in. You’re going to take away from this more than you ever give to it, because you’ll learn things you’re going use the rest of your life.”
McKay’s True Value, where you’ll find McKay and family hanging out most days, is at 4939 W. Ray Road, Chandler.