Published: September 2006
Success Magazine sat down with Wally Allerdice and learned how a friend's act of faith allowed him to found one of the region's most successful business.
Success Magazine: Every successful person has goals that he sets, both short and long term. What are some of yours?
Wally Allerdice: My main goal has always been to find a way to bring up my family in Saratoga Springs. My great grandfather came here from Scotland in 1860. In that way, I would be proud if my family continued here. I try to give to all of the things that make Saratoga Springs so special, that way, it helps the city to grow and prosper. I work toward making a living above the norm, to be able to help as many local charities as I can. They are a large part of what makes this city so special. And, with that, I feel that I have an obligation to teach these values to my two sons, Wallace III (28) and William (22). Our family also has an obligation to our employees to help them in their respective jobs to succeed, so they can help their families in the same way. In business, as in life, it is hard to keep status quo. You have to keep moving forward or you will slip backward. Toward these goals I have given over 20 years (way more than 2000 hours of personal time) to the Saratoga Springs Planning Board, and as a company given to many local charities, ball teams, boy scouts and the arts. As much as I could do at the time. I work to encourage others to do the same.
SM: You have a reputation for philanthropy, but many of your co-workers and friends say you like to stay out of the limelight.
WA: Yes, I suppose that is true. Sometimes when I am asked for a donation, it is on the condition of not being honored. I enjoy being mentioned in print that I gave, but please honor someone who appreciates being singled out. That is not me.
SM: What do you attribute that to, humility?
WA: It's just my way of doing it. Perhaps the way I was brought up, or just being shy. I enjoy most of the things I do for not-for-profits almost as much as I enjoy trying to turn a profit in my businesses. Remember, without a profit, there can be no gift. I really like to do some sort of matching gift, as it encourages others to give. I also believe in rewarding for a job well done. For example, last year my company sponsored a little league team. The team was having a terrible season but had a great game near the end and got to be in the finals for the Mayor's cup. A parent told me about their success and I said to tell the team that if they won there would be a nice reward. The next day, they won the Mayor's cup! Allerdice got the publicity for our team winning, and when the parent told me, he suggested taking the kids to pizza hut for their reward. But since they won, I thought they deserved a little more, so I sent the whole team to the Great Escape for a day. Happy team, happy sponsor.
SM: You have definitely given back to society but what about your business'? Now you are involved in glass, commercial doors, electrical supplies, lumber, building supplies, hardware, and paint in the region, each of which are expanding. How did you get involved with them?
WA: I started my career as a computer programmer for New York State Department of Transportation in 1964. In 1980 I left to work full time in a welding business that I started in 1975. In 1982 a good friend of mine, Bill Grande approached me about buying the old Milliman and Hall Lumber Co. on Walworth St. in Saratoga Springs, which he and his family had owned for a number of years. It was not doing well but Bill thought it would be a great opportunity for me. After several meetings with him, telling him that although I had a degree in Business and Economics, I had no experience of any kind in the retail business.
I did have a large interest in building and construction and had completely remodeled an old burned out home into a 2 family, but selling building supplies is much different than using them. A few days later Mr.Grande called me to say that he had another offer from a company in Glens Falls and I would have to decide by the next day. After staying up all night analyzing the deal and chance of success, I met him at 10:00 AM. I told him that due to my lack of experience in retail and the fact the business was not doing well enough to even make the mortgage payment, I had to decline the offer. Bill said, "I am very sorry to hear that decision. What can I do to make you change your mind? If you buy this and do well you will give back to the community, so I would rather sell it to you than see it owned by someone who doesn't care about Saratoga. My reply - 'I don't think you can'. He said 'How about if I agree to take it back after one year if you are not happy?' I said 'but I need to borrow a lot of money just to increase inventory and pay other costs of making the business profitable.' Bill said, 'so I will sign those loans, to a certain amount - now do we have a deal?' My reply, 'How can I say no to that.' His reply 'I knew I could change your mind.'
This was October. We had set a closing on November 10. Bill called me on Nov 10 and asked to meet him at his home. When I got there, he asked that I go with him to Milliman & Hall. We went in, got the checkbook and he told the manager that I was the new owner. We continued on to the Adirondack Trust Co. where he closed the old account and I opened a new account. We each signed a note for an agreed amount that I may need to get the business going and I said, 'What now?' He said, 'I suggest you go to work at your new lumber yard. The lawyers will catch up in a couple of months for the down payment and a closing.' When I asked why I should be trusted like this, Bill simply said, "I am not worried, you won't let it fail."
SM: What else do you contribute your business' success to?
WA: On Thanksgiving day, Keith Potter and Anthony (TR) Pennell came to me looking for a job after the hardware store they were working at burned down. They each were brought up in the hardware business and each had about 10 years experience. They wanted to be salaried. No hourly pay and no overtime, but to have a guaranteed amount each week. I agreed. They were so interested in helping to build a successful hardware store, that we each put in about 90 hours a week for the next 5 years as we rebuilt and stocked the old buildings. Without the Grande family, Keith, TR, and The Adirondack Trust Co., I would not be where I am today. Keith and TR's attitude about fast, friendly, and knowledgeable customer service has made our stores popular, and known as the place to go for helpful customer service.
When Lowes and Home Depot announced that they were coming to town, I got a little worried and decided to look for a related business to add to make up for the possible loss of customers. I found a friendly, knowledgeable, person who knew the commercial door business (interior doors and hardware for commercial buildings). Something the boxes do not do. That business grew as the boxes came, so our sales stayed in a steady direction. Then along came a friend who had 25 years experience in the glass business. My commercial door dept. manager thought it would be a good fit since most commercial building plans have some glasswork on them and we could also pick up some retail glass business, which further strengthened our position. About this time, Bill Dake (the owner of Stewarts Ice Cream, Inc.) called me and suggested I try a small hardware store next to one of his Stewarts stores.
I tried the one at Saratoga Lake and it has worked, however we are still trying to find the right product mix for a small store. In 2004 I decided to build a store in Milton because it seemed like an under served area. If I didn't do it, someone else would. The response has been very good and we find one person a day that doesn't know about our Saratoga store. Then, in mid 2005, another friend, who happened to be a knowledgeable electrical supplies person, came to me after a bad experience elsewhere and wanted me to expand into wholesale electric supplies. He could bring other talented people with him and after analyzing all aspects of the situation I decided to try it. It is working out nicely but only because I have the right people. Allerdice Crane Service came from my 1970's welding business. My wife's brother has been my crane operator for about 30 years. Allerdice Rent-All is a tool and party rent-all business that Keith Potter, TR Pennell and myself started in 1995, each being 1/3 owner. In my mind diversification is a good thing.
SM: Why do you think you have so many great workers in an industry where people are seldom characterized as sociable?
WA: It is primarily because of TR's attitude about customer service- fast and friendly with product knowledge. You need to hire friendly people who enjoy helping people, and who have some mechanical ability. Then you can teach them the products you sell. I also believe that if the salesperson that solves your problem also cashes you out and is friendly to you, you will remember the experience and come back. I never fault a sales person for spending too much time with a customer to solve a problem. The more time spent for the smallest sale, the more the customer appreciates our store. We will even call competitors to find an item for a customer. We try to do as much for a customer as possible. I recently received a thank you letter from a customer who asked to bring her new dog in the store to help him get used to people again, he had been abused by his previous owner. She said that my help played a major role in re-training her dog. The good part is that my help felt comfortable about doing this on their own, without asking me.
SM: What do you see on the horizon for yourself and your business?
WA: I am always open to new opportunities. I would like to see my two sons continue to work at and slowly take over our business so that I can concentrate on developing a retail, office, and apartment project I have been planning on Excelsior Ave. As for expanding our retail business, that all depends on what people we find in the future. If the right people come, we may expand to something else but you must have the right people first. It is always your friends, employees, and customers that take you where you are going.
SM: What else do you think are the requirements for success?
WA: You have to be well liked and respected, which you must earn. You need to have common sense and be willing to listen to all sides of a situation before making a judgement. You must surround yourself with the right people who know more than you do about what you are trying to accomplish.
SM: What helped you measure your success along the way?
WA: Above all, do not think you are successful before you are! My family and I may be on the road to success, but we are not there yet. Success is a very relative thing to be judged by each individual. If you keep doing business in a fair and honest way and try to keep going in a positive direction the road to success can be a lot of fun.