Seven Secrets of the Hardware Store All-Stars

Terry and Lynda Congleton stand at the helm of their store in Beattyville, Ky., where customers can find niche items like small engine parts and collector knives.

Guadalupe Lumber in San Antonio has a reputation for its eclectic product mix. “Jackets, boots and all sorts of stuff,” said Kyle Grothues, fourth-generation general manager of the three-store hardware home center retailer. “We ended up with a lot of statues of the Virgin Mary one year.”

And the results? “We sold all of them.”

The ability to seize merchandise opportunities is one of the common themes among the crop of 2013 Hardware Store All-Stars.

HCN editors identified seven such “secrets” that are reflected by the business of the 2013 All-Star Hardware Stores.

1. In it for the customers: The most consistent trait of a stand-out store is almost always customer service. All-Star staff are often cited for being more knowledgeable than the big boxes (and occasionally carrying historical parts for old homes in the community, like Fairfax Hardware in Delaware). Halls Ace Hardware & Lumber in Florida even gives a welcome package to first-time customers.

2. Community cornerstone: The hardware store of the good old days was an integral community fixture. Luckily, that hasn’t changed all that much. Many All-Stars are beloved neighborhood hubs that participate in local charity events and causes. Pete’s Ace Hardware in California offers dog training for the disabled, specialty services and “Rent a Husband” on-site contracting, for example.

3. Serving the pro: If a store can earn the reputation of “where the pros go,” that trickles down to a DIY audience. In Texas, Guadalupe Lumber is wowing pros with a new drive-through lumberyard. Hinton (Okla.) Hardware’s DeWayne Tripp speaks the language. He was a plumbing/electrical/ HVAC contractor when he bought Hinton Hardware in 1998.

4. Marketing basics: Companies like Budget Build Home Center in Louisiana have embraced the gamut of social media options. (The store broadcasts new inventory on Twitter.) All-Stars are adroit on Facebook, but they also score points face to face. Bomberger’s in Pennsylvania has shown special skills in parade floats and grill giveaways.

5. Niche-building instinct: A natural home for odds and ends, the best hardware store manages to serve the general needs of customers while doing one thing really well — whether it be catering to the farm and ranch community; doubling as a tourist hotspot; or serving the hungry health food market, like Sol Foods, Hardware & Camping in Utah.

6. All in the family: Stores passed down from generation to generation operate as if they have a historical mission to succeed. Because they do. At Marcus Lumber Co. in Iowa, four fourth-generation family members are in the business. At 125-year-old Kellogg & Lawrence in New York, 40-year employee Jeff Kellogg is the great grandson of founder Henry Kellogg.

7. Metamorphosis: It’s not easy to renovate a store. But All-Stars recognize that what worked in the past might not work in the future — a theory that applies especially to store design. In Portland, Ore., Parkrose Hardware completed an extensive remodel in 2012. “The results have been quite impressive,” said COO Michael Nelson, “both aesthetically, and to our bottom line.”

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