Feb. 1, 2018 – West Bend, WI – What do you remember from 1981? Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a hit in the movie theatre, MTV was launched along with the first flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia and Phil Dhein started work at Tennies Hardware Store in West Bend.
“The third section of the store was newly built at the time and there was a large gift area and housewares and the tool department was very small – about an aisle and a half and maybe 8-feet of power tools,” he said.
Neighbors to the hardware store included Fields Fine Furniture across the street along with Fuge Plumbing, Hemauer Paint Store was in the triangle building, Campbell’s Department Store was down the street and “Sears and Roebuck was still open on the corner when I started working,” said Dhein.
In just a few short days Dhein will be hanging up his hammer and his red Ace Hardware shirt and after 36 years of helping customers solve their household repair projects he will glide into retirement.
Things have changed at the store over 36 years. Orders were submitted via the telephone and every item had to have a sticker on it for sale. “I stayed because I was lazy,” said Dhein. “I liked the job well enough and I just had no ambition to look for anything different.”
Dhein said the thing he liked best was “helping people.”
“I always thought it was more important to help a customer than sell them something,” he said.
Some sage hardware advice is “it always takes three trips to the hardware store when working on plumbing,” he said.
Coworkers like Carl Schmidt said Phil was the best guy someone could ever work with. “Phil would help you, his customers and you could always ask him anything,” Schmidt said. “His knowledge base is just hard to find.”
Dhein was hired by Herb Tennies. “This store was just like a family,” said Dhein. “We were only one store at the time and our Christmas parties were in Herb’s basement,” he said.
While hardware stores were highly regarded as the hub of a community Dhein said it wasn’t a snowstorm or the tornado that passed through town that drew the most people. “It was Cabbage Patch Dolls,” he said. “That was when we had a Christmas toy section and we had a handful of them.”
Store owner Todd Tennies was in high school when Dhein was first hired on and he had nothing but praise for how “Phil has become a fixture in the family business.”
“He certainly helped us grow to the three stores we are today,” said Todd Tennies. “Phil was well liked by his customers and coworkers. He’s a very reliable, trustworthy, and honorable honest employee and it’s not going to be easy as he exits the door for his final day.
“Phil was always been a good hard-working employee, his integrity and 36 years of knowledge will certainly be missed and you just can’t replace that.”
Tennies also praised Dhein for his knowledge with power tools. “Many manufacturers would come into the store and ask Phil if we would consider selling their tools,” he said. “Phil sold only the best name brand tools and accessories in the marketplace. His confidence, his integrity and his keen vision allowed him to become well-known to anybody wanting information about power tools and that obviously translated into sales.”
Tennies estimate that over 36 years Dhein has probably “cut more than 18,000 keys and assisted more than 168,000 customers in his working days.”