Terrebonne hardware store has deep family roots

TGMC turns 60: Local hospital a place for all stages, conditions of life
February 24, 2015
Fleet Supply/Bayou Black Electric continue to evolve
February 24, 2015
TGMC turns 60: Local hospital a place for all stages, conditions of life
February 24, 2015
Fleet Supply/Bayou Black Electric continue to evolve
February 24, 2015

A.F. Davidson’s hardware store has been part of the Terrebonne Parish landscape during a span of three centuries – from 1885 to the present – and although there have been changes in its location, those who carry the torch for newer generations say it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

“The future for Davidson Hardware is bright because Davidson Hardware and its people want it to be,” said William J. Talbot II – known as “Mr. Billy” to most people – who began managing the single-site store at its current east Houma location on Tunnel Boulevard in 1969.

The variety of goods at the store – from wrenches to marine supplies to cooking kettles and too many other things to mention here – keeps the operation true to its roots. A new spinoff, Custom Control Cables, primarily an Internet operation, supplies cables and related specialty equipment at www.ccables.com.

Corey Hatton, the store’s general manager, is credited with growing that end of the business. William J. Talbot III handles book-keeping and other duties for the store and its divisions overall.

His father, Mr. Billy, shares his experience and knowledge when asked, and has also given lectures to assist students and taking on a business bent.

Over the years the store has served local government, major contractors like T Baker Smith, and a variety of other local firms, as well as homeowners in need of home-improvement and repair sundries.

Brittany Trosclair, a 21-year-old employee who has worked at the store for three years so far, finds the task of helping customers in emergency situations requiring tools or hardware a plus.

“I like how we can have chats with customers,” Trosclair said. “They will come here at their worst and we can cheer them up, make them feel better. If it’s something I can’t fix I can direct them to someone who can.”

The family-style management I like how it’s a family atmospehre. It’s easy to get along with people – good work environment.

When A.F. Davidson founded the store at a downtown Houma site in 1885, its general merchandise business included baby cribs, groceries and coffins. As noted in the store’s official history Davidson “was a man who definitely looked at the long range of his endeavors. He could help you start out in life, feed you while on earth, and finally lay you to rest.”

A native of Evansville, Indiana, Davidson traveled in 1880 to Dulac where he managed a plantation sawmill.

His own business, the retail store, began at the corner of leased property at Main and Roussell streets, where the Whitney Bank building stands today. In 1892 he bought that property and erected a two-story brick building, and also founded a bank.

Over the next two decades there were partners brought in and partnerships dissolved. There were also developments on the family front.

A.F. Davidson and his wife, the former Eva Brown, had seven children altogether. Bernice, Ethel, Gladys and Mignon were their daughters. Clarence, Norman and Percival were their sons.

In 1906 Percival, known as Percy, joined the business; three years later he married the former Culmeada Bienvenu. It was Percy who became general manager when A.F. Davidson passed on in 1924, continuing in that position until his death in 1948.

He and Culmeada had two sons, Percival Jr. and Charles Henry; Percival was killed in World War II.

Charles took on management of the store, at a time when the post-war economy made for new challenges. There were new stores popping up and new consumer demands. The store leaned more toward providing hardware and home appliances and in 1963 major change was afoot.

The store was moved from downtown to the new Tunnel Shopping Center on East Tunnel Blvd, where it has remained ever since.

While shepherding the business, Charles served as Houma’s mayor as well as on the Terrebonne Parish Council, following the parish’s governmental transformation from a police jury to a consolidated form of government with the city of Houma.

Mr. Billy and other family members keep the legacy alive.

“We have a unique advantage,” Mr. Billy said, when asked how a totally local store can keep its head above water with more competition than ever, particularly from chain stores. “We are family owned and we can decide this afternoon if we want to put in another line of merchandise. In the bigger operations they have to go through channels, it can take four or five months. We can certainly move a lot faster and address our inventory to the needs of the people we serve.”

Employees like Brittany, he said, are also a key to success.

“We have always tried to have an excellent employee base,” Mr. Billy said. “You don’t make a business by yourself, you need a group of people to help you. A business is built one customer at a time and you lose business one customer at a time.”

Customers, Mr. Billy said, provide something more than sales. They are the primary source of information crucial to running a successful business.

“Our philosophy has always been to listen to your customer,” Mr. Billy said. “It’s customers who will tell you what time to open and what time to close, what type of merchandise you should be stocking, who you should hire and who you should fire. It’s worked pretty well.”

As for continuing to keep the business in family hands, Mr. Billy said that William J. Talbot IV – now only 10-years-old – could continue the dynasty one day.

“We don’t know,” Mr. Billy said. “He’s very busy with sports and school. I am keeping my hopes up.”

The staff of A.F. Davidson Hardware & Supply pose behind the counter. Pictured from left are Keith Boudreaux, Brittany Troxclaire, Ryan Prewitt, Stephanie Hatton, John Foret, General Manager Cory Hatton and part-owner William “Billy” Talbot II. Not pictured are William Talbot III, Grant Courville, Ivan Shoffner, Joseph LeBoeuf, Gwen Talbot and Chuck Talbot.