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My wife’s family live in Carmarthen, which is about 20 miles off the western end of the M4. It’s a nice enough Welsh town, but unremarkable other than that it has a fascinating – to me, at least – shop.

It’s called Towy Works, and it’s a hardware shop.

There’s also a B&Q in Carmarthen, but although they’re both hardware shops, that’s where the similarity ends. I’m sure you’ve been to B&Q: a functional shop with a wide range of goods – ideal for picking up the 15mm compression fitting you need for that plumbing job.

Towy Works is different.

It’s spread over multiple floors, and shopping there is a delight. Nooks and crannies with a not-quite-sure-what-it-is in the corner on the second floor. Tools to do things that I didn’t even know needed doing. And that traditional hardware shop smell.

I thought hardware shops were a boy thing, but my wife loves the place too.

Best of all are the staff. For a start, they wear brown coats, a national symbol of knowledge and experience in all things DIY.

They know what that thing on the second floor is for, and as soon as they’ve explained it, you know you need to have one too.

But the biggest difference between B&Q and Towy Works is that one focuses on problems and the other on solutions.

The B&Q staff are great at telling me in which of the numerous aisles I’ll find the 15mm compression fittings. B&Q have solutions.But only when I know what I need.

In Towy Works, I can describe the problem I’m trying to solve. I can show them the not-very-good photo, explain what’s going wrong, and they’ll know what I’m talking about. They’ll know exactly what I will need to fix it, and they’ll give me some solid advice too – “If I were you, sir, I’d fit a penny valve while you’re doing that. Let me show you…”

I come away from Towy Works with exactly what I need: the tools for the job and the knowledge to fix my problem.

So which would you rather go to? The impersonal mega-store that can sell you the solution you’ve selected, or the store with the knowledge and experience to help you solve the problem you have?

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