Hardware Store shows passion and perseverance
When Libby Murphy, of Gatlinburg Ace Hardware, began to describe to a reporter how she and her team In the aftermath of Gatlinburg's devastating firestorm gave away home-made ash sifters made out of Ace buckets, she had to pause and suppress the emotion.
Her passion for the community was showing again.
“This store was a place of healing and hope,” she said. And it still is.
Murphy and her team were congratulated during the co-op's recent convention for their pursuit of amazing service during the fire, a "perfect storm" that obliterated Gatlinburg on Nov. 28. Through luck, and relentless effort, the store was saved and up on its feet.
It was a close call. A Napa Auto Parts store three doors away was completely destroyed. And in a city of 4,000, some 2,500 homes and cabins were lost, along with 70 businesses. "It's unfathomable," she said.
It just so happened that a former store employee was part of the fire fighting crew. It just so happened that the wind seemed to shift at a right angle when it approached the store. And after the fire, it just so happened that Murphy's team had friends in the police department who agreed to allow an Ace truck loaded with clean-up products to pass through closed streets.
But Murphy doesn't believe it was luck. “We were just doing what we feel like we were called to do," she said.
One important objective was to get the hardware store open as soon as possible after the fire. “I called the mayor and explained that we’re a service to the community and we gotta be open,” she recalls. “ And he said, ‘you’re absolutely right.’”
In the aftermath, Libby managed an ad hoc relief fund, combining cash from the store’s till and a contribution from a distant church. Fifty dollars here, fifty dollars there, all for people in need, she said.
"It makes them feel like they're not alone and there are people in the community who want to help," she said. "We're absolutely in it for the long haul."
Ace CEO John Venhuizen described the store’s effort as committed to the community in a way that Amazon.com will never be. And that he said, is one of the greatest strengths of the independent hardware store.
Today Gatlinburg Ace continues to do what she can to support the community comeback. Promoting the slogan “Gatlinburg Strong” on the store’s marquee, keeping its workforce employed, and planning ways to reinvent itself as a retail business.
Meanwhile the sifter buckets have earned a place in Gatlinburg lore. “There were a lot of Children’s Miracle Network buckets with the Ace logo on them,” she said. “I wanted Ace to be visible because they were here to help.”
A Chink in Omnichannel’s Armor
With the rise of Amazon.com, there’s no shortage of interest in “omnichannel” retailing. It’s a favored buzzword at retail conferences and retail consultancies, and retail strategic plans.
But for an independent retailer, there are more important things to focus on, according to Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen.
In an interview with HBSDealer, the co-op chief had pointed to the struggling omnichannel giant Sears and its woes as evidence for his against-the-grain thinking.
“Everybody likes to talk about Omni-channel and sound real smart with these buzzwords,” he told HBSDealer. “But what I find interesting is that some of the retailers with the best omnichannel experience are struggling the most.”
One can argue that Sears has invested the most and has the most seamless onmichannel experience of any retailer in the U.S. And for years, Sears CEO Eddie Lampert has stressed the transition to an omni-channel format with an emphasis on a Shop Your Way loyalty plan.
And the result of that emphasis? On Wednesday Sears warned that it might not survive.
“Omni is not the answer to everything,” Venhuizen said. “ You have to manage the core value proposition first, or the omnichannel business is just chasing after what somebody else is good at.”
Venhuizen had previously stressed the three areas that Ace considers to be core: service, quality and convenience.
Beware, he said of consultants who attempt to terrify retailers about the power of Amazon, while suggesting that omnichannel retailer is the answer. One can waste a lot of money in that pursuit, he suggests.
“It’s about what your core value proposition is,” he said. “And the reason Sears is struggling is because that proposition is undefined. They spent a fortune to have a seamless integrated customer experience, but very few people care.”
Throwback Thursday: Back in the Family
The May 7, 2007 issue of Home Channel News, the forerunner of HBSDealer, shows Texas lumberman Scot Parker posing by a Parker Lumber truck.
Parker made headlines following a dramatic swing in ownership for the 10-location lumberyard company. Two years earlier in 2005, the company was purchased by Lanoga (eventually becoming Pro-Build Holdings). Scott Parker bought 10 of 13 chains back from Pro-Build in 2007. Pro-Build kept three.
“Almost every single person who was with me when I left is still there,” Parker told our Home Channel News reporter.
Another way Parker returned to prior form was by rejoining the Do it Best co-op. It has been a leading wholesaler purchaser for the co-op ever since.
In the decade since, Parker Lumber has expanded to 18 locations in Texas and 4 in California.
In late 2015, Parker’s was acquired by US LBM Holdings, where it continues to operate as a semi-autonomous entity. The same year brought a new name: Parker’s Building Supply, reflecting the company’s expanding portfolio of products and services.