A brighter outlook for mom and pops

In a slight reversal from the dominant narrative concerning big-box stores and their smaller competitors, independent hardware stores are seeing a bit of a revival across the United States as the economic outlook begins to brighten for the industry.

According to an IBISWorld report released in February, industry revenue has declined at an annualized rate of -0.4% over the last five years. However, IBISWorld estimates that revenue will finally trend toward the positive in 2013 at a growth rate of 2.0%, in addition to a 16.5% jump in consumer sentiment.

The report tempered the optimism a little by cautioning that though revenues were expected to grow and lift the tides of all boats, the overall number of firms operating in the industry is still expected to fall due to competition from big-box stores.

"The recovering housing market and increased spending on home improvement projects will help boost industry demand," said IBISWorld analyst Sean Windle. "Revenue growth and profit will remain low, however, because of continuing competition from home improvement stores and online retailers."

Despite the enduring problems this level of competition creates for smaller shops, Windle said that many independent stores have weathered the changes successfully by diversifying product lines and changing floor plans.

Small business owners interviewed by Philly.com maintained that their service and deep knowledge of the industry separated them from their corporate cousins. According to the source, small businesses that do not have the wherewithall to expand physically are offering services that respond to the needs of their local market.

Nick Sprowls, former owner of Sprowls Country Hardware in Claysville, Pa., was not one of the luckier mom-and-pop owners, but his experience is a testament to the gap in satisfactory service from big-box competitors, according to Observer-Reporter.com. The 122-year-old store officially shut down this year on April 30, but Sprowls had built a loyal following despite his inability to compete with stores like Home Depot and Lowe's.

"They nickel-and-dime you to death," Sprowls told the news source. "They go to Lowe's and spend 400 bucks on a project, and then they come here to buy a three-dollar fitting off of you, and you have to spend a half-hour explaining to them how to hook it up because nobody at Lowe's could."

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