Darrell Scott (left) and son-in-law Levi Wallin are the men behind man store Bottom Dollar Tools.
Women have shoe shops. Women have plant nurseries. Women have houseware stores.
There had to be something for men. That’s why there’s Bottom Dollar Tools.
Bottom Dollar, located on Highway 136 West in Trenton, is Testosterone Central, Man Paradise, and Darrell Scott and his son-in-law, Levi Wallin, who run the place, know all about it. “You’re responsible for getting my check every week,” their customers tell them; “I came in after one thing”; and: “You’re just a toy store.”
Painters come in looking for brushes, carpenters come in after power tools, mechanics come in for wrenches—then everybody stays to sift through the bargains and there’s no telling what anybody will leave with. “Essentially, you don’t know what you’re going to get here because we’re always rotating new stock, and the price is always going to be good,” said Wallin.
“The closeouts are what bring people in, because they can always find a deal in it,” said Scott.
Closeouts, says Scott, who founded Bottom Dollar in 2002, are what Bottom Dollar is all about. “When companies overstock or are scaling back or going out of business, they get rid of their stuff at a fraction of the price sometimes,” he said. “They’ll call me. I’ll bid on it and if they want to get moving large amounts of stuff, they’ll accept my bid.”
It makes for heavy stock, says Scott, because he has to deal in huge amounts to get prices down. “I’ll buy a big volume of one item, and sometimes I may have it for three or four or five years,” he said. “But I’ll have that at such a price that I can pass that on to customers.”
For example, said Scott: “Walmart, the cheapest place around, sells a Campbell-Hausfeld high-torque impact wrench for $75. We can sell the same one brand new for $39. But after that deal’s over, it’s gone.”
(Not for a while though. “I bought like pallets of it,” he added.)
Another bargain today is extension cords. Wallin shows The Planet a table piled high with all colors and lengths. “It’s all brand-new cord that they had special-made, but they didn’t pick it up so we got it,” he said. The most popular lengths are the 50-foot coil, which sells for $25, says Wallin, and the 100-foot, which costs $49.
There’s Minwax, a popular brand of polyurethane that Bottom Dollar prides itself on selling cheaper than anyone else, and carries in all size cans with an even deeper discount for buying the case; there are compressors; there are screwdrivers; and then there is a Great Wall of Tarps, tarpaulins in all sizes from 5 X 7- to 40 X 60, costing $1.75 to $99.95. “In town, I don’t think there’s anyone who even comes close to the selection we have or the prices on them,” said Wallin.
As the tour continues—"This one is regularly priced at $35; we sell it for $19. This one is $75 for $39. This is regularly priced at $99 without the nail gun. We sell it with the nail gun and with the add-ons for $79”—The Planet stops trying to grasp what anything is. Though on fairly solid ground with tarps and extension cords (and nowhere near girly enough to enjoy shoe stores), The Planet went a little cross-eyed at “high-torque impact,” stumbled at “tire shine”—do people really shine tires? and gave up all hope trying to suss out what the hell a nail gun would be an add-on to. Must be a man thing, The Planet figures.
Levi Wallin says the man thing is an issue he’s addressing. “I would like to get more female customers in the store,” he said. He’s added to inventory chalk paints, which seem popular with women—they give furniture that “old look,” he explained—plus a variety of acrylic paints that also sell well to female hobbyists. And The Planet does notice a woman at the counter, asking where she can find “that little thing that has a magnet on it.” (Wallin knows exactly what she means, and fetches one forthwith.)
Even with times a-changing as they are, tool stores do tend to be mostly the domain of the XY chromosome crowd. But Darrell Scott says a tool store was not what he intended starting out. The store opened as Bottom Dollar General Merchandise, in the northernmost of the three metal buildings on South Main. “I didn’t know which way I was going,” he said.
He just knew he had to go somewhere else. Scott had been a supervisor in the shipping and inspection departments at Wheland Foundry, and like so many others he got his walking papers in 2002 as the venerable Chattanooga institution faltered and died.
So Scott had to do something, and he got the idea of a career in overstock from a buddy who’d been laid off from Combustion and turned himself into a sock wheeler-dealer out of Fort Payne, then the proud sock capital of the world. “He would trade the socks on a port in Chicago for merchandise and he would bring it down here,” said Scott. Scott had dabbled a little in peddling his friend’s merchandise while still at Wheland, and when the axe fell, he said, “I thought, well, I’ll try that.”
The first question was where. Scott lived on Lookout Mountain and preferred to open shop close to home. “I was asking around about opening a business in Trenton and everybody I talked to said you can’t make it in Trenton, go to Fort O,” said Scott. “I just took the other route. I said, I’m going to make it here.”
So Scott rented the metal building and began the scary process of draining his retirement and 401(k) accounts from Wheland to stock it with merchandise. “I filled up half that store and blocked off the other half,” he said.
Filled half the store with what? That was the second question. Scott denies he bought just general stuff; he tried to get stuff he thought would sell as opposed to stuff that wouldn’t. But he knew tools better than he knew what he calls “the figurines and things like that” and might have slanted a little more in that direction. And even then he must have had a feeling for What Men Want because he had the sense to put big mighty tools like engine hoists in the window to attract attention as he fixed up the store.
He did try to lure in the fairer sex as well. “Back then, everything with a rooster on it would appeal to the women,” said Scott. “I had a great big old rooster I put in the window, maybe a week or two before we opened.”
Anyway. Whether it was the rooster or the engine hoists, Bottom Dollar succeeded in piquing Dade’s interest. “People were circling that store waiting on it to open,” said Scott. “It came off a big success right off the bat. I thought, well, maybe I could make it.”
So Scott filled up the other half of the store and eventually even rented another of the metal buildings, the one the Artzy Café now occupies, which he used first as an additional showroom and then as a warehouse. From there, the store continued to grow quickly though Scott specifies ruefully: “I wasn’t making as much as people thought I was because I was gradually putting my own money in it, until I’d pretty much invested all of it.” Which was worrisome but not as bad, he feels strongly, as going the other way. “The main thing in business to never do is try to borrow money to make a business work,” said Scott.
In 2006, Scott built the current 8000-square-foot storefront on 136 West, and when he reopened in the new space he changed the name to Bottom Dollar Tools, shifting the store’s emphasis accordingly. “I learned from the people and what they asked for,” he said. “When several people ask for the same item, it’s a hint that it might be something to look for.”
Levi Wallin, meanwhile, began working at Bottom Dollar as the high school sweetheart of Scott’s daughter, Heather. “I guess he felt sorry for me,” said Wallin. He clerked at the store off and on through college, after which he lived in Atlanta and worked as a geographer in GIS (geographic information system) technology. He married Heather in June 2011—then was laid off in July 2011, two weeks after returning from his honeymoon.
It was a blow. The young couple came back to Dade and Wallin went back to work with his father-in-law as he looked for a job in geography. “I was working with him just until I could find something, was the original plan,” said Wallin. “But I got more and more involved with the store and I thought, I’ll just do this.”
“He’s got some fresh ideas,” said Scott.
“I guess I can do more of the technology type stuff he wasn’t doing,” said Wallin.
Fathers- and sons-in-law are not famous for getting along but Scott and Wallin work pretty well together, though Scott says they have their moments. “We like to rub it in when we’re right,” he said. “If he says something and I say naw, that won’t sell, that won’t work, and it works, then I have to eat crow on it.”
Wallin says he eats his share of crow, too.
Both agree that they want to stay away from selling hardware. Their staff is mostly family: Scott’s wife, Larondia, Wallin’s mother, Susan, and Scott’s buddy Terry from Wheland days, who’s been around so long he might as well be kin. There are just not sufficient employees to help customers track down some tiny metal piece that costs under a dollar. “But because of the public—they’re constantly asking for some hardware items, we’ve got some hardware items relating to the tools, like a pipe wrench,” said Scott.
“Like we sell the drills so we figured we’d sell screws to go with the drills,” said Wallin.
But Wallin admires the follow-the-red-tile organization of hardware stores and wants to impose more of that kind of order on Bottom Dollar’s happy masculine jumble of shiny steel and gleaming rubber. Shelves to get merchandise off the floor and out of traffic, say, and signs to number the aisles. “Just so I can point people in the right direction,” said Wallin. “Directions are apparently hard to follow. I tell them to go straight back and to the right and they go left.”
That kind of order, Scott is quick to point out, works fine for hardware stores with fixed inventories. “Ours changes so much, you’re constantly having to move things around,” he said.
But their biggest point of divergence is future expansion. “We’ve got enough inventory, we could stock a second store no problem,” said Wallin. “I feel like we have enough people getting drawn in from out of this area that we could already have name recognition somewhere else.”
“I just don’t want to take that on,” said Scott. His idea now, said Scott, is to ease himself gradually into retirement, relax, maybe travel a little, and let his son-in-law take the reins.
But like Wallin, Scott has also been thrilled to see Bottom Dollar drawing men from Chattanooga and far beyond. Once he invited some south Georgia customers to drop back in the next time they happened to be in the neighborhood, only to learn that they weren’t just passing through, Bottom Dollar had been their destination.
He hears enough of that kind of comment to think a second store in South Pittsburg, or maybe Ringgold, might not be a bad idea. Maybe in five or 10 years, or when he and Wallin can figure out how to manage it.
“How many times have we heard, I wish we had a store like this in my area?” said Scott.