Bruce Bauer Lumber Supply

Business of Excellence: Buffalo Hardware Store

by | Nov 17, 2020

  • Business: Buffalo Hardware Store
  • Location: Buffalo, South Dakota
  • Owner: Sam Olson
  • Years in business: 6 under current ownership

Buffalo, South Dakota is just about as simple and rural as life can get in the United States. But that doesn’t mean doing good business is easier than it is in any big city. In fact, running a successful hardware/lumber and building materials business out in the country might be harder because suppliers, technology, and even customers are scarcer and if there’s more than one location they’re often more spread out. Those obstacles didn’t deter 24-year-old Buffalo native Sam Olson from purchasing the local hardware store and using Paladin Data Corporation technology as the foundation for what has become a multi-store enterprise.

In the six years since buying the store with his parents during his senior year of college, Sam has become one of the most dynamic entrepreneurs in the region and was recently honored by the North American Retail Hardware Association as one of its Young Retailers of the Year. He says Paladin has played a big part in his success.

Sam was born and raised in Buffalo, a small town of 350 hardy souls in the northwest corner of the state. He jokes that the 50,000 head of cattle in the region easily out-number the 1,200 residents in Harding County. Even though it’s not exactly a technological mecca, Sam has used an entrepreneurial spirit learned from his parents Tim and Laura, who own a construction company, a business education from Black Hills State University, and retail technology to become a leader in his hometown.

“From sitting on the couch in my senior year to running a hardware store is quite a leap of faith,” Sam says, recalling his journey from college student to businessman. “We started the business my senior year of college and the first order of business was to find a point of sale system to run it on.”

Like any thoughtful budding entrepreneur, he studied ”between 10 and 15 business platforms” before choosing Paladin.

Taking over Buffalo Hardware was almost like starting from scratch. He remodeled the store, refurbished the exterior, and expanded the greenhouse and lumberyard.

The previous owner operated with a cash register, pen and paper. So, Sam not only had to update the technology, he had to implement an entirely new business operating plan. Paladin’s proprietary Market Driven Inventory Management™ helped him get a handle on his inventory, improve and set his margins, and eliminate dead stock. To say it was a success is an understatement. Buffalo Hardware’s sales tripled in Sam’s first year as owner and in 2019 the store notched over $2 million in sales.

He attributes some of that success to how easy it was to implement Paladin and teach it to his employees. The system’s simplicity and flexibility won Sam and his employees over.

“We had to overcome an employee fear level – we had some with no computer skills at all. With the touchscreens, having the simplicity of Paladin and the ability to point and click – it seems just about anybody can run it, which was big,” he explains.

Since purchasing Buffalo Hardware, Sam has opened or acquired three other businesses – Buffalo Ranch Supply, Olson Propane and Olson Fuels. He uses Paladin’s multistore capability to run all but one of his businesses and says he’ll switch that one over eventually. Paladin gives him the incredible flexibility to see how his stores run individually and as a whole.

“It was just a natural fit for me being able to use Paladin to sell these products,” he says. “The data you get from it is so clean, easy to get to, and easy to use. It has improved our processes in preparing quotes and filling orders.”

Buffalo Hardware also uses Paladin’s Mobile2Checkout, to serve customers in the greenhouse, lumberyard, or at remote locations. The Mobile2 suite of products allows store associates to take Paladin with them away from the checkout stand. Mobile2Deliver lets stores track deliveries, attach notes, photographs, and collect customer signatures.

Sam and his businesses are an integral part of life in Buffalo, a hometown he truly loves. He serves as president of the chamber of commerce, vice president of its economic development corporation, and is vice president of the Olson Livestock Foundation, which provides calves to young ranchers. The Olsons’ businesses employ close to 70 people.

This hasn’t been a great year for much of the country, but 2020 has been a banner year for Sam. In addition to being honored by the NRHA, he was married in January and has already welcomed his first child. He says he hopes his efforts keep Buffalo thriving so it can offer his children the same opportunities he has had.

“When you live in a rural community like this you can’t afford to lose a business. We felt we had to step up and do something to keep our small town alive,” he explains. “Buffalo has a great lifestyle, especially during COVID. We’ve been social distancing out here on the edge of the earth for a long time.”

Sam plans to start a fourth business, an auto parts store that would be tied to his fuel station, and someday wants to combine his hardware and ranch supply businesses at a single location. He feels that with Paladin, he’s well equipped to make those plans into reality.

“My goal was to make sure we had a system that would take us into the future. We had to have the technology to help us succeed. You don’t change systems every year, so we made sure we made the right decision. Paladin just gives us the data we need,” he explains.

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