When you walk into McGuckin Hardware in Boulder, Colo., look for one of the many employees in green vests and ask for the tool department. But you'd better plan on spending some time there--you won't want to leave. On the way, you'll pass through a world-class selection of hardware leading to an amazing array of tools and accessories. Then ask for Rob Knight, or just look for the tall, 6'5" tooldude cruising the floor. Even though he's been McGuckin's tool buyer for years, Knight still helps longtime customers choose their tools.

McGuckin's is a perfect example of a local tool distributor that's found a way to survive catalog sales, big-box discounters, and the Internet. Ironically, it's the 45-year-old company's old-fashioned customer service that keeps the locals loyal. First, there's the inventory. Not only does the tool department compete on price, it stocks a huge selection. "We have just about all the manufacturers' best models in stock," Knight says.

"I also have a green light to get the latest tools I think our customers will want." That includes the newest power and hand tools, blades and bits, pneumatic nailers and compressors, ladders and staging, and even industrial stationary equipment.

Right now Knight's scrambling to keep up with changes in cordless tools and laser levels. But he doesn't buy a tool line just because it's new; he's got to be convinced it'll do what the manufacturer says it will. And, if it doesn't, Knight will send it back to where it came from faster than you can say "bummer."

Any store can build up a big inventory; McGuckin's really stands out in its personalized service before and after the sale. "Our contractor customers have done their homework before they come in," Knight says, "so we've got to be sharp to help them finalize their decisions." And if there is a problem, Knight and his fellow tool specialists are there to help out--no questions asked.

And talk about tracking trends. "I don't know how these companies can keep coming up with all these features and still keep the costs down," Knight says. It's just as hard for McGuckin's tool staff to keep up with the tool companies. Knight cites rapid changes in laser level products, cordless tools, and even changes in tools you wouldn't expect to change--like recip and circular saws as examples.

So, if you're in the West and want to check out one of the best tool departments anywhere, head to Boulder. You'll find a wide selection of new tools and old parts, knowledgeable salespeople, legendary customer service, and very fair prices. As Knight puts it, "You're safe when you're in my department."