Growing up: From 1945 to 2015, a tradition expands
Back before the National Hardware Show required the vast square footage of the Las Vegas Convention Center — back even before it turned up yearly at Chicago’s McCormick Place — the event emerged from humble beginnings in New York City, where it could cater to hardware store owners scrambling to meet the demand created by the GI Bill.
With the industry’s most vaunted trade show celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, it’s worth considering how the National Hardware Show first came of age, setting the stage for a tradition that’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Gerald Weinstein, chairman emeritus of General Tools & Instruments and the descendant of NHS cofounder Charles Snitow, says he was just 6 years old when he attended his first show in Chicago. Kids weren’t allowed, but he snuck in.
His memories of NHS didn’t sharpen into focus until much later, when he was working for General Hardware as the packaging designer.
“It’s kind of exciting — you come into this town, you check in to a great hotel — it was the Palmer House for a while, and The Drake,” he said. “You arrive at the exhibit hall, and of course, putting up the booth is kind of exciting, like mounting a Broadway show. You have to break out these crates, and the booth is set up by the exhibit company, but you have to fill it up with all those products. And then it opens — it’s like opening day, literally. Crowds pour in and they look at your tools, and you have dinner. It’s an opportunity to meet all the far-flung sales people who work for you. You have sales meetings, and lots of jawboning.”
Weinstein says the show was originally started by his great uncle Charles Snitow, with the help of Weinstein’s grandfather Abe Rosenberg — both executives of General Hardware (now called General Tools & Instruments).
They decided that the hardware industry needed a show worthy of Broadway, and the first National Hardware Show came to fruition at the Grand Central Palace (no longer in existence), where it enjoyed immediate success.
Since then, the story has been one of persistent growth and adaptation. In the old days, said Weinstein, two-step wholesaling was the name of the game. The entry of the national home centers forever changed the landscape, he said.
Organizers are mindful of the past as they look ahead to the May event.
“For 70 great years, the Show has been the gathering place for a constantly evolving industry and serves as the focal point for innovation, new product introductions and networking,” said Rich Russo, Industry VP of the National Hardware Show. “The 2015 Show will be new in every way.”
History lesson: From New York City’s Grand Central Palace to the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Always new in Las Vegas: Products
There are many ways to describe the biggest show in home improvement. For one hardware and building supply dealer, a word that seems appropriate is “overwhelming.”
And that’s “overwhelming” in a positive way.
Gentry Hipp, a fourth-generation owner of Hipp Modern Building Supply with two locations in Arkansas, told Hardware + Building Supply Dealer that he was impressed by the “grand scale” of the merchandise assortment arranged throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“It was just the vast scale of it all that made an impression,” he said. “There were even products that you might not consider typical hardware store items — but that’s not saying you couldn’t sell them.”
Products are the lifeblood of the show, and in 2015 the merchandise presentation will evolve even further in its 70th anniversary running.
The show promotes itself as the industry source for products for the home, in the home and around the home — serving a $343 billion home improvement marketplace in the United States.
The show starts with products, but it offers more. “I really enjoyed some of the seminars and award presentations,” Hipp said, referring to the North American Hardware Association’s Top Gun Awards and Young Retailers of the Year, plus Hardware + Building Supply Dealer’s Golden Hammer Awards ceremony.
“Hearing from other industry professionals share their ideas is worth a lot,” he said. “When you hear from other people what makes them successful, it goes a long way toward making you successful.”
In 2015, networking is facilitated by the organization of the product categories and activities.
Lawn, Garden & Outdoor Living; Hardware & Tools; Pet Products; and Farm & Ranch are moving to a single location in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Outdoors, Tailgate & Recreation, a broad category that has seen significant growth since its introduction several years ago, will find a new home between the Central & South Hall. The new layout will sit in the heavily trafficked area between the show’s two halls.
And in another twist designed to improve buyer friendliness, each product category will highlight new exhibitors — offering an easy way to discover new brands.
Hipp represents a key demographic for the National Hardware Show audience: the hardware or building supply dealer. But as retailers and the retail industry have evolved, so has the show. Participants in 2015 will include a host of e-commerce players, including Amazon.com, Overstock.com and Wayfair, to name a few.
Meanwhile, supermarkets, department stores and specialty retailers will be represented by the likes of Boscov’s, Cost Plus World Market, Wegmans and Big Lots.
The 2015 National Hardware Show is expected to attract a worldwide audience of more than 27,000 industry professionals.
Hardware stores, home centers, lumberyards and retailers ranging from Amazon.com to Wegmans will roam the show floor in Las Vegas May 5-7.
Model of a modern store
Out In the upwardly mobile Chicago suburbs, a True Value store has taken the co-op’s Destination True Value format and run with it.
“Many people have said that when they walk in here, they don’t feel like they’re in a hardware store,” said Mike Lovitto, owner of Glenview True Value in Glenview, Illinois. “We have high ceilings; wider aisles. We’re trying to [create] a more pleasant shopping experience where people feel more comfortable in the store, so they spend more time in it.”
It’s no accident that the Glenview location is shaping up to be a poster child for the new True Value strategy. As True Value president and CEO John Hartmann explained in an interview with HBSDealer, “Glenview is a perfect example of a new modern True Value suburban store. It is a blend of the framework of a Destination True Value format, and the beautiful collaborative customization done by the independent hardware retailer.”
What that means in practice: Customers walking into Glenview True Value are looking at the end result of the several weeks Lovitto spent discussing his vision with the co-op. The local market there calls for a different type of hardware store — one that reflects the impulses of higher-income consumers who skew toward the female demographic.
One-third of the store layout is what Lovitto describes as “non-traditional hardware.” That includes upscale appliances and brands like Cuisinart and Le Creuset, as well as high-end candle, grill and smoker collections. There’s also a housewares department with its own wood floor that’s set up like a store within a store, and a single-queue checkout with 28 ft. of novelty impulse items.
It’s a cutting-edge ability, finding the sweet spot between carving out an individual identity and embracing the model set forth by the company. And it’s one that’s positioned Glenview for positive results, both in terms of its own local competitive advantage and True Value’s vision for the future.
The store also recently served as ground zero for the CBS television series “Undercover Boss,” in which Hartmann, disguised as an unkempt new hire, mixed with store employees to appraise their work ethic and dole out awards to the deserving. Lexi, Glenview’s helpful cashier, is now happily back in school thanks to Hartmann’s gift.
The co-op’s strategic plan is hardly being overshadowed by Glenview’s recent fame, however. The television branding campaign has certainly made a splash.
“People are coming in and looking for some of the items that are on TV,” Lovitto said. “It’s increased the awareness of True Value in general. Being in True Value and Ace’s backyard here, a lot of people wondered what happened to True Value. … People see us [on TV],” he said, “and they realize that True Value is still a brand.”