Second Place: Lowe's
Third Place: Home Depot
Pleasants Hardware, a downtown fixture since 1915, was supposed to be obsolete by now. Lowe's and Home Depot should have buried the smaller, family-run Richmond chain. But Pleasants contracted with Ace Hardware, now its primary supplier, and buckled down on customer service. It honed its niche in difficult-to-find fixtures and somehow survived the recent recession; today there are seven retail stores in the Richmond area. "The retail model has shown, for us [that] if you have the right location and keep your costs under control, you can be successful," says James Hatcher, president of the hardware chain. "Convenience is really our competitive advantage." With Richmond icons in short supply these days, luckily there's still Pleasants.