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Peter's Paint and Flooring is a family business 110 years strong

by Elisha Morrison | April 17, 2016 at 4:00 a.m.

Peter's Paint and Flooring has been a family business serving Hot Springs and surrounding areas for 110 years, first with the Peters family and then with current owners, the Clems.

The original Peters Paint Co. was opened at 328 Ouachita Ave., in 1906 by Robert Leonard Peters. He was joined in the business by Robert Bernard Peters, who eventually took over ownership of the store.

In 1958, Richard Clem went to work for the younger Peters. At the time, they sold house paint, auto paint, glass, custom picture framing, wallpaper and canvas to cover wooden walls. Paints came in standard colors, but later tinting machines became available.

Richard married Margaret "Nane" Clem on April 20, 1952. They bought the store from the Peters in 1965. Margaret Clem, a former schoolteacher, started working in various positions at the store shortly after the couple bought it. Her duties included bookkeeper, occasional delivery person, paint mixer and picture framer. She said the only thing she never did was mix car paint.

Their sons, Brooks and Neill Clem, worked at the store with their parents before college.

Brooks Clem, current owner of Peter's, said the influence of his father still lives in the store. His said his father taught him to build relationships with his customers, who were to be treated with the utmost respect, even if it meant staying past closing to take care of their needs. Richard Clem told his son to always carry the product to the customer's car and load it for them.

Brooks Clem said his father was "the best paint man in Arkansas." Territorial Restoration, in Little Rock, would often come to Richard Clem when it needed to match a specific, historic paint color for restoration projects.

Richard Clem also believed in not letting any obstacle get in the way of getting to the store to serve the customer. Brooks Clem remembered fighting through ice and snow, even after crashing their truck, to be there for their customers.

"I owe much of our success in the paint and flooring business to the guiding principle established by my parents," he said.

In 1981, after receiving his degree in economics and accounting at Hendrix college, Brooks Clem came home to work in the store with his parents. While at Hendrix he met his wife, Nan, whom he married April 28, 1984.

After a few years teaching at Cutter Morning Star, Nan Clem joined her husband at Peter's when the couple bought the store from Richard and Margaret Clem in 1987.

A big change came to Peter's when they bought their first computer in 1986, and they transitioned from paper records. It had a 400 megabyte hard drive and cost $30,000. For years, the store would run a sale on the computer and finish the transaction on their antique cash register.

They eventually moved to only using the computer for sales and other record keeping. While they once used manual tint machines, they now have automatic mixers that allow them to match hundreds of thousands of colors. Before computers, they kept files of special colors in a card box. Now they only need to touch a button to access the formulas for the paint a customer wants.

Flooring was added to the products available at Peter's in 1988, which was a major factor in the store outgrowing its Ouachita Avenue location.

In 1993, Brooks Clem purchased the land at 1217 Malvern Ave. to create a larger store to accommodate Peter's offerings.

David French, of French Architects, designed Peter's unique and award winning paint can storefront, completed in 1994. It was originally the main building and two rental spaces, but additional rental spaces were added when Diana Bratton, of Cafe 1217, wanted to put her restaurant in the area.

The Malvern Avenue location, after taking in one of the rental spaces, is 13,000 square feet of space, compared to Ouachita Avenue's 1,600 square feet. The new location also made incoming and outgoing freight easier to handle.

Even after building the new location, Peter's was still growing. For some years, they had a flooring location on Valley Street that served as both storage and store front. Eventually, they built a warehouse behind the Malvern location to hold stock and moved flooring back.

They currently offer a variety of flooring, paint, window treatments, wallpaper, wall coverings and tile to suit most projects.

According to Brooks Clem, what has kept the business so successful is perseverance through the store's ups and downs and the staff members, which he says are the best anywhere.

"Our staff knows the value of our relationship with our customers and will treat them like family," he said.

Clem said he and his team are proud to be the only independently owned flooring and paint store in Hot Springs. This means they are free to decide what products to carry to best suit local customers, instead of being told what to do by a corporate owner.

"I am happy to be a Hot Springs resident and have a business where our friends are our customers and vice versa," he said. "There is a lot of satisfaction in getting to know our customers and their families. We really enjoy solving decorating challenges for them."

This summer Peter's Paint and Flooring will hold a weeklong 110th anniversary celebration. They will honor the customers who have contributed to the success. Each day of the week will have a different theme with a special sales event and a neighborhood cookout.

More details will be released in The Sentinel-Record and local media.

Tabloids on 04/17/2016

Print Headline: Peter's Paint and Flooring is a family business 110 years strong

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