Menards makes room for 'essentials' upfront

Customers entering the Menards store in Fort Wayne, Ind., pass through a turnstile and immediately confront a great wall — the wall of "household essentials & more."

Just beyond the shelves of chips and cereal and sparkling cider, the wall marks an increased presence for cleaning supplies. While not exactly standard fare for your typical home improvement giant, some experts say carrying everyday items makes perfect sense in today's retail environment.

Jeff Edelman, director of Retail and Consumer Advisory Services for McGladrey, said stores "irrespective of type" should continually search for ways to make space more productive and more profitable. "Smart managements are continually addressing this issue — by type of merchandise, sizes and brands," he said. "The goal is to increase the dollar size of the average transaction. Often floor placement will help drive the impulse purchase."

Known for its eclectic mix, Menards is regarded as a regional destination store where customers can find everything from lumber to groceries to cleaning products in one trip.

Menards, which features up to 10 categories of cleaning products, is not alone among hardware dealers that have expanded into this realm. Cleaning supplies generally have a strong presence at the co-op and distributor shows. And in December 2012, Home Depot launched its HDX private-label chemicals line, with products ranging from all-purpose cleaners with bleach to wood floor care cleaners.

"Our associates treat the cleaning aisle like any other aisle in the store, so if customers don't know how to handle a cleaning dilemma, we usually have that solution for them," said Melissa Richards, senior merchant for cleaning at The Home Depot. "Our customers usually start a project or end it by cleaning, which makes this category an important overall project solution."

Edelman said it makes sense for customers shopping in a home improvement store, who are there primarily for traditional products like power tools or batteries, to also pick up household items "just to make sure."

"So now the purchase becomes more of a want item than a need item, and so the customer is probably less interested in price comparison, and thus it is more profitable for the retailer," he said. "I doubt that a home improvement store would have been the original destination for that merchandise."

But by having it in stock, the retailer and customer win, he said. "It is easier in the one-stop environment where value is a function of many variables other than price … in this case convenience."

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