Ace concludes Helpful Places campaign
On Dec. 3, Ace Hardware surprised the Camp Fire USA North Central Montana Council in Great Falls, Mont., with a $10,000 makeover, completing the “New Faces for Helpful Places” campaign for 2008.
Ace awarded money and makeover services to a total of 10 community organizations over the last several weeks, each receiving a surprise visit from Lou Manfredini, Ace’s “Helpful Hardware Man,” as well as a group of area Ace store owners and managers.
The contest began in August, when the Oak Brook, Ill.-based co-op began receiving entries from community organizations in need of a facelift. The 10 winners were chosen from more than 2,600 entries.
The renovation projects will take place in early 2009, and each project will be led by Manfredini and a group of local volunteers from each local market.
In addition to Camp Fire USA, other winning entries were as follows: Santa Maria Urban Ministry (San Jose, Calif.); Rio Vista Center (Phoenix, Ariz.); Macon Teen Challenge (Macon, Ga.); The Salvation Army of Lee County (Fort Myers, Fla.); Chattanooga Rescue Mission (Chattanooga, Tenn.); Springtides (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Kids Kicking Cancer (Detroit, Mich.); First Step Home (Cincinnati, Ohio); and The Little Angel Fund (Farmingville, N.Y.).
Hardware stores embrace layaway
Facing the prospects of a weak holiday selling season, many hardware stores are trying to boost sales the old-fashioned way: by offering a layaway plan.
This pay-as-you-go way of making purchases, made popular during the Great Depression, fell out of fashion with the rise of credit cards and instant gratification. But the credit crunch is giving Americans a new appreciation for a more responsible way of doing business.
“Customers are looking for ways to keep from using their credit cards, and a layaway program can certainly help,” said Jessica Bettencourt, general manager of Klem’s Ace Hardware in Spencer, Mass. “I believe this year customers will utilize the program more. We have already had around 10 layaways this fall, far above last year’s three or four.”
Bettencourt says layaway, which her store has been doing for at least 20 years, can be a win-win for the hardware store owner and customer. If the program is set up correctly, it takes little maintenance and is a value-added service the store can offer its customers. On the other side, when the customer comes into the store every two weeks to make a payment, the hope is that he or she will buy additional items during the visit.
The downside to a layaway program includes the extra effort required to store the merchandise on layaway and track the payments. Klem’s has an employee in charge of monitoring the program and making sure the payments are made. The layaway items — which range from apparel, shoes and housewares to larger-ticket items like pellet stoves, boats, and aquariums — are kept in a locked room with limited access and audited once a week during the holiday season. All holiday layaways are to be picked up one week before Christmas, a rule that is printed on the layaway slips and all signage.
Slavens True Value in Cortez, Colo., has been doing layaway for at least 22 years with a rule of 20 percent down and the item paid off in 90 days, according to store manager Karla Robson. She expects the program to be particularly popular this year, especially with major retailers like K-Mart advertising layaway plans.
“I feel it gives customers a chance to pay a little at a time when they have money, with no finance charges applied, such as with a regular charge account,” she said. “Plus, for big Christmas items, we ‘hide’ it here, so they don’t have to worry about where to keep the item.”
Sears posts $146 million loss
Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears Holdings Corp. posted a third-quarter loss of $146 million, compared to a profit of $4 million in the same quarter last year. Same-store sales declined 10.6 percent at Sears department stores in the United States and were down 7 percent at Kmart.
The company’s revenues dropped more than 8 percent to $10.66 billion.
The company’s results included a charge of $101 million related to costs associated with the closure of 14 stores. Additionally, the company is closing eight underperforming stores and considering more closings.
“We believe we have positioned ourselves well for a difficult holiday shopping season,” said W. Bruce Johnson, Sears Holdings’ interim chief executive officer and president.
“We have reduced our inventory levels, cut expenses and announced the closing of select underperforming stores as part of our ongoing review.”
The company said its comparable-store sales declines continue to be driven by categories directly affected by housing market conditions and a slowdown in consumers’ discretionary spending (including home and household goods and apparel at both Sears Domestic and Kmart and lawn and garden at Sears Domestic).
The company also said Tuesday that Scott Freidheim, 43, formerly chief administrative officer at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., will be its new executive vp-operating and support businesses.