Like a wise neighborhood pharmacist who dispenses free advice, your local hardware store clerk is a pro on demand—and in demand. So don't wait until you're renovating to get on his radar. Make his place of business a regular pit stop for essentials on the way home from work or in the afternoon; avoid Saturday mornings. Make friends in his down time, and you're guaranteed special attention when you need it. "A lot of people start a project and get in over their heads," says John Olson, owner of Home Hardware, a 53-year-old business in Waldwick, New Jersey. "We're happy to help out. And if they're a regular, we'll open up a tab and guide them from demolition to finishing."