Boston -- Orgill dealers who spoke with a roving reporter during the Boston Fall Dealer Market late last month shared a wide variety of interests and viewpoints on home improvement retailing. If there was any consistent theme out in Orgill nation, it was that business was pretty good back at the home office. Several dealers were talking about remodeling or expanding – and many expressed that their stores were headed in a positive direction, even if they didn’t speak at length.
One of dealers with renovation on his mind was Marty Sanchez from Gonzales, Louisiana. The town of Gonzalez has changed significantly over the last decade, thanks largely to an influx of people displaced from Hurricane Katrina. The store is changing with it.
"Today, we are less rural and more suburban, and so we have to match the market.”“We’re getting in and changing three or four aisles at a time, giving us a new look as we’re adding some new departments,” said Sanchez. Regarding the city’s demographic change, Sanchez says: “Our area has changed a lot in the last ten years. Since Katrina, we had 30,000 people move in almost overnight. So it changed the whole dynamic. Today, we are less rural and more suburban, and so we have to match the market. We’re trying to bring in items that make us a very seasonal store, and we’re trying to eliminate the peaks and valleys and make business more steady.”
Back in North Carolina, Mike Scarboro, owner of Norwood Hardware is branching out to his second store -- a century-old beauty named Brown’s Hardware Old Timey General Store and Mercantile. “It’s been featured in our state magazine,” said Scarboro. “it’s 110 years old. It’s got the tin ceiling and the ladders that roll down the walls. The whole bit.”
His plan, along with his wife, Lynn, is to maintain the historic feel of the old store while adding a level of practicality. “We need to revamp the hardware section in a major way,” he said. “But then there’s stuff we can put upstairs for the old look. We’re going to make the downstairs area more home-owner and pro-friendly.”
The Scarboros’ old-fashioned second store is located in Mount Gilliad.
Every dealer in attendance has a unique viewpoint on the market, but some stores are more unique than others. And Billy Brownlee is convinced that his store – H. N. Williams in Dorset, Vermont -- is unlike any other in the Orgill fleet.
First off – it’s a sixth-generation business founded in 1840. There aren’t many of those in the country. Secondly, the store sells a lot of clothing, and it even has a delicatessen. And another unique feature – it’s considering expanding the enterprise by adding a gas station.
“Mom and pop stores, which is essentially what we are, are dying very quickly,” said Brownlee, a direct descendant of the company founder. “So we’re trying to come up with ways of remaining relevant. We bought the property next door to us, and we actually want to add a gas station to the mix as a foot-traffic driver that connects everything into the existing store.“
The business enjoyed a 15-year streak of sales growth, and then business began to slow and even decline. One reason: pressure from the digital realm.
“We sell a lot of clothing, and clothing is getting hammered right now,” Brownlee said. “And it’s not just Amazon, it’s manufacturers. [Many] of these companies are going direct and they’re going direct because they make more margins.
H.N. Williams is certainly unusual, but it was far from the only unique retail business to take part in Orgill's Boston market. Consider Silva International S.A., -- or SINSA -- with 20 total stores operating in the Central American nation of Nicaragua.
“We’re creating two new stores,” said Jose Antonio Rodriguez. “We're introducing the Dollar program and also getting some of the new worldwide sourcing planograms.”
How are things back in Nicaragua, he was asked. “Things are going well.”