Stores sign off on new designs

Indufesa Do it Center of Honduras is the first fully branded Signature store outside of the United States.

Famous buildings often have a focus point. The dome of St. Peter’s. The spire of the Chrysler Building. The hole in the roof of Texas Stadium.

But when asked for a defining feature of their Signature Store Design program, the answer from both Do it Best executives and retailers who run the stores focused on the intangibles.

“It’s just the whole concept,” said Ernesto Bendek of Indufesa in Honduras, the company’s first international member to test the waters of the program.

“It allows the member to put the owner’s signature on the store,” said Bill Zielke, Do it Best’s vp-marketing and international development.

“I think the simplest way to summarize is to say we would do it again,” said Brian Secor, Do it Best Secor Home & Hardware, in Newark, N.Y.

This kind of holistic design is catching on for the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based hardware co-op. There are about 200 stores in some stage of participation in Signature Store Design, the co-op’s three-tier, have-it-your-way store development program. The first Signature Store rolled out in late 2005 in Indianapolis.

But the more significant stat—to dealers and headquarters—is sales growth. Dealers describe sales surpassing projections, and Zielke quantified growth as ranging anywhere from 18 percent to 108 percent.

“The idea was to improve store performance,” Zielke said. “That has been our objective from the very beginning.”

Do it Best’s approach is to match the right store design to the right location. The process begins with a fact-finding mission, goal assessment and a selection of one of the three tiers: member branded, co-branded or fully branded. Fully branded is most closely associated with the Do it Best national brand, and the member-branded option is most closely associated with the dealer’s own unique brand.

“One of the things that was critical with a store design program is the idea of members building a brand at a local level,” said Brian Kimball, store development manager. “The store itself is a primary brand-building tool.”

And it is building brands for a wide range of retailers, from pro-focused multi-location operations with generations of community involvement to brand new hardware stores. Several described their new designs as protection from a poor economy.

“I think if anything, we’ve seen our members use the program as a method to get through this,” said Kimball. “And it’s working very nicely.”

Here’s how a handful of Do it Best members describe their store design and their business.

• Indufesa Do it Center, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

The sign outside the Indofesa Do it Center reads “Do it Best,” but inside, it’s “Agando bien,” the loose Spanish translation. The family owned business is a fully branded store that converted to its new design in October 2007.

The Indufesa store underwent a radical change from the over-the-counter model of customer interaction to the wide aisle, help-yourself approach. “Customers like it very much,” said owner Ernesto Bendeck. “It’s a very nice store and very well organized. The store is very easy to shop.”

The best selling item is cement for the Tegucigalpa-based four-unit hardware store. And bathroom accessories are the biggest seller in the DIY side of the business, which has enjoyed a housing boom in the past three years and has “slowed down quite a bit” in the last few months.

The timing of the upgrade turned out to be a big benefit, and the sales increase has led to a new way of thinking. “It has made us think it’s a better format,” Bendeck said.

• Springfield Do it Center, Springfield, Mich.

For a brand new store, the choice to go with the fully branded tier of the Signature Store Design program was an easy one. “We had to defer to Big Brother, and Big Brother had done the research,” said Tom Crandell, co-owner.

The Springfield Do it Center in Springfield, Mich., was built from the ground up on a former brownfield site co-owned by Tom and his brother Dan.

“Everything about the design inside the store, the branding all made sense,” Crandell said. “From the outside all the way to the back. We knew they had that one nailed, they based it on solid consumer research. We know that consumers have their preferences, and if you give them their preferences, you’ll win them.”

Michigan’s housing and economic woes are well documented, but Crandell has his reasons, and his math, for optimism. “In 9 percent unemployment, that still means 91 percent are still working,” he said. Also, the largest investment in most people’s lives is their house. “They’re going to take care of that investment. In good times we do well, in bad times we’ll do OK.”

In addition to putting the finishing touches on the lawn and garden center, Springfield Do it Best is developing a couple of green-related niche markets. One is canning supplies. Another is a homemade glass cleaner product, blended on premises. Customers refill their bottles in the store, too. “People love dollar items, people love to buy American, and people like to avoid filling landfills,” he said.

• Do it Best Secor Home & Hardware, Newark, N.Y.

In Newark, N.Y., Secor Home & Hardware became the first co-branded store in the program when it converted in April 2007. The company had an established name in the community but was entering a new location. “So we wanted to bring some of our history along with us, and at the same time, we were entering a new location,” said owner Brian Secor. “We brought the Do it Best label to the forefront.”

In addition to the name, Secor Home & Hardware brought what Secor describes as a whole package and process of opening a store. “ We didn’t have to spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel,” he said.

When asked to point to a signature feature, Secor pointed to the overall package. “It’s comfortable, shopper friendly, easy to navigate.” He gave an emphasis on the photo murals that decorate the exterior. “One look at the building from the outside, and you know what it is.”

• Sullivan Hardware & Garden, Indianapolis

The early adopter of the Signature program is Pat Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Hardware in Indianapolis, and also a board member of the Do it Best co-op. Being located a short drive from the Indianapolis Convention Center, the store has attracted numerous bus tours organized by the co-op. Does Sullivan mind?

“Not at all,” he answered. “What’s your house like when you have company over for a visit. It looks pretty clean, doesn’t it?”

At Sullivan, the member-branded approach brings Sullivan’s tradition inside the store and outside on the sign—a big improvement over the old Do it Center branded approach to store design, he said. And he credits the conversion for boosting sales well above plan.

“Each Do it Best member is going after something different,” he said. “We’re going out after seasonal, lawn and garden and the women shoppers,” All the while, the company prides itself on being a “good, basic hardware store.”

• Gordon Lumber, Genoa, Ohio

Greg Dear of Gordon Lumber unveiled a Signature look in his 11-unit company’s Genoa, Ohio, location in February of this year. The timing was very fortuitous, he said, as the DIY element has boosted foot traffic during the home-building downturn.

“Right now it has helped us because the housing market is down,” Dear said. “We see more DIY, more remodeling instead of building, and this design helps that.”

For one simple move, the store was able to bring in more merchandise in the same amount of floor space by raising gondolas from six feet to seven feet. Other adjustments were visual, the tan-on-tan color scheme led customers to ask if the store added lights. (The store did not.)

Even more dramatic was artwork and signage inside, he said. “That’s one of the nice things about Do it Best,” he said. “They encouraged us to get the pictures and mural type things from the community—old pictures of houses, old downtown buildings. I think that really helped with the sense of community.”

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