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Solon Trustworthy Hardware celebrates 40 years of business

Carolyn Trump with her son, Tom Trump. The two own Solon Trustworthy Hardware, which Carolyn bought in 1975 with her late husband, Dean Trump. (photo by Jen Moore)

SOLON– Walking into his parents’ hardware store, Tom Trump wasn’t quite prepared for the display of pink step stools, toolboxes and tools that greeted him in the front window. It seemed out of place for a store that sold lawn mower parts, plumbing supplies and other home improvement tools.
Immediately, he knew this was his mother, Carolyn’s, doing.
“What are you going to do with that?” he recalled asking her.
But Carolyn held her tongue, as she always did whenever her son or late husband, Dean, ribbed her about her product or display choices. She would let the store’s sales do the talking.
“And I’ll be damned if she didn’t sell the snot out of them,” Tom admitted.
In the 40 years Solon Trustworthy Hardware has been in business, Carolyn Trump had always had an innate ability to know what customers wanted, whether her family liked to admit it or not.
She recalled a time years ago, when her husband thought she wasn’t paying attention, and told a friend in a hushed voice that his wife had “an inborn talent of knowing what people will want to buy.” He added that he did his best to not interfere with her work.
And though there were plenty of opportunities for Carolyn to gloat, not once, since the family purchased the store in 1975, did she ever say, “I told you so.”
Carolyn was born and raised in Lisbon, while Dean was from Mechanicsville. They met, married, moved to Cedar Rapids and, after giving up on the idea of having children, were blessed with Tom. Dean had always worked in the industrial field and his goal was to work his way up to management. He was a hard worker and what Carolyn calls “a self-made man.” Though he never went to college, he finally achieved his dream of making it up the ladder.
Except there was one problem: he hated it.
One night, Carolyn approached her husband and asked him “Dean, if you had a choice, what would you really like to do with the rest of your life?”
He thought for a moment and replied, “Well, if you’re game, I’d like to open a hardware store.”
Without hesitation, Carolyn agreed and the process of finding the perfect location began. They looked at several possible places around Iowa and finally settled on Solon. They felt it was in an advantageous location, situated between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, and liked that it had an apartment right above the shop that the family of three could move into.
But that didn’t mean running the store was without its challenges. When the couple purchased the shop it was “a lot of blue sky,” both Tom and Carolyn said. The inventory basically had to be rebuilt from scratch, which was a daunting task for two new business owners.
But in some ways, Carolyn felt it was almost an advantage. It meant they could stock it with whatever they thought would be most profitable and they could get input from customers about what they wanted most.
Dean purchased products from a hardware distributor in Cedar Rapids, but if customers came to his store and couldn’t find what they wanted, he would pick it up in Cedar Rapids along with the rest of his order. If enough people requested an item, it was permanently added to the list.
And though it’s a small store, the owners also made sure they stocked all the parts for every piece of equipment they sold, so a customer could come in, fix a lawn mower and mow the grass all in the same day.
“People would call and just be flabbergasted that we stocked parts and didn’t have to order it,” Tom said. “That’s something I noticed in the last 10 years.”
The couple also added more services to the store once they took over. Instead of just selling parts and supplies, they did plumbing repairs and maintainence, lawn mower repairs, and, eventually, window installation.
This would become the shop’s bread and butter and one of the biggest reasons, Tom said, for why the store is still so successful, despite the growing popularity of big box stores like Menards or Lowes.
“Over the years we noticed the small hardware stores that just tried to live off what they sold didn’t do as well as those that did other services,” Tom said. “We call that bringing money in the back door.”
Tom, Carolyn, and their small staff take time to teach customers how to use their products, instead of just sending them on their way once the purchase is made. They also offer free pick up and delivery for all mower repairs.
Though the store stopped doing plumbing repairs when Dean passed away, Tom has kept up with the other services. He became an expert after years of learning from his father.
Tom was 11 when his parents purchased the hardware store and since day one he was a fixture in the shop. He would help his mother take inventory, mark prices and assist with the day-to-day activities.
Once Tom was old enough, Dean began teaching him more about the repair side of things, though he recalls his father having a very particular and sometimes frustrating method of teaching. Instead of showing Tom how things were done, it would be up to Tom to pay attention and watch how his father did things. And though he might ask Tom for his opinion on how to do a particular repair, Tom soon learned that it was better just to keep quiet.
“When I would tell him what I thought we should do, he would always pick the other way,” Tom said. “So I learned to say, ‘I don’t care, [do it] however you want to do it. If I did that then nine times out of 10 we’d do it the way I wanted.”
However, disagreements never lasted too long between the two of them. Both father and son were volunteer firemen and once the next call came in, the two were back to normal.
After years of working together, Tom and Carolyn have also perfected a system to keep from getting on each other’s nerves.
They adhere to the rule of never offering unsolicited advice (or if you do, make sure to leave the room quickly) and only give help when asked.
For example, Tom knows his mother is a whiz at varnishing and staining wood and he has no problem asking her for a hand. But for the most part the two have their own separate, but equally important roles; Carolyn makes sure the store is running smoothly while Tom takes care of the service end.
Their perfected roles have allowed the hardware store to become a Solon staple, one where a family of out-of-towners have become some of the most well-known people in the area, something not everyone originally thought was possible.
“We had one guy who was rather boastful and told Dean, ‘you’ll never make it in this town’…that man lived to eat his words,” Carolyn said, and then finally admitted to the one time she actually offered a mild “I told you so” moment.
“And that I did kind of gloat on it to my husband.”