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Highlights of a Golden Panel

BY Ken Clark

It started out as an exercise in benchmarking of an economic recovery, turned to an examination of best practices for independent retailers and concluded with a celebration of family-retailing values.

It was the second-annual Golden Hammer Retailer Award Panel held during the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas last month. Officially titled, “The Recovery: Is it real, and what to do about it?” the discussion also flowed from specific business tips to general economic outlooks.

Delivering the goods were honorees of the 28th Golden Hammer Awards: Hall of Fame inductee Bob Taylor, CEO of Do it Best Corp.; M. Marcus Moran Jr., CEO of Aubuchon Hardware, Retailer of the Year; and Brad McDaniel, owner of McDaniel’s Do-It Center, Tools of the Trade honoree.

Here were some of the highlights extracted from the presentation:

On the economy

Bob Taylor: “We are moving in a more positive direction. That said, expecting anything more than the 700,000 to 750,000 housing starts range will be a stretch.

“But it is moving in a positive direction. The folks who have managed their business well during the downturn have positioned themselves well now for the road ahead.”

M. Marcus Moran Jr.: “There are deals out there in real estate for purchasing a hardware store. And in a difficult period, with an aging owner who probably has no succession plan and probably with college-educated children who are going to work elsewhere. Their exit plan is limited. And what we do is we provide a package that normally pleases them.”

Brad McDaniel: “For most of the 2000s, advertising was really easy. It seemed whatever circular we bought from Do it Best, we would mail it out and it brought people in. If we threw something at the newspaper, that would bring them in, too. It’s been tougher, though, in the last couple years. So one thing we’re working on in our market is getting together with other Do it Best members and trying to do some group advertising.”

Taylor: “On the fuel price side, any time fuel gets above $4 per gallon or in the range, it impacts distribution costs. And it also affects people psychologically every week at the pump, when they see the impact the price has. Another cautionary piece and even more troubling, is the uncertainty. A lot of it does fall on Washington, D.C., and either the activity or lack thereof, depending on your perspective. Just what’s coming next in terms of tax policy, regulation might have a muting effect on the recovery.”

On competing with big boxes

McDaniel: “When we found out the box stores were coming, one of the things that really helped us compete successfully was the brand names. One was Benjamin Moore, because people know that name, and the magazines show that name.” 

Marcus: “[Benjamin Moore] has been a great partner — about two full years of diligent work on their part and our part. Now not only do we have a strong paint department, but we are able to focus on color and color advice. We’re running seminars for our employees on color, and we’re going to accelerate it. It takes repetition, and it takes everyone in the store to get engaged with color.”

McDaniel: “The advantage that we independents have is that we learn people’s names. We know people’s families. Their dad shopped at the store, their grandfather shopped at the store. I have employees who have been with us a long time and know them — that also helps us in the fight.”

Marcus: “We had neighborhoods that have deteriorated. We have had big boxes that have put our lights out so to speak, or dimmed them, and it’s time to move on because that capital is no longer productive. Our source of funding acquisitions is just sometimes taking our mistakes or our misfortunes and picking up our marbles and finding somewhere else [to operate]. So, it’s a big chess game out there, and you have got to know where to put your investments.”

On the family business

Marcus: “Obviously, I think the business would not be as strong if we didn’t have good family members who have been in place a long time. The first generation and the second generation have passed on. In the third generation, each of us has a little more than 40 years experience. But more importantly, we have a strong, educated fourth generation.”

Taylor: “When you talk about family members coming into the business, that doesn’t happen unless they see growing up, an environment that worked for their parents. And one of the things that I’ve certainly enjoyed for 37 years is that this is a relationship industry. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much as I did.”

Marcus: “We’re tagged as a family business because of the family ownership. But again, there are some very important people in our management, and they are rather young, and one is in charge of all retail operations at age 30. I could go on with other stories. We’re a family business, but as a corporate family, we have blood members and non-blood members who together are all called family. And they are all holding key positions. So even though we are family-held, we are broadly managed.”

On the joys of hardware retailing

Taylor: “I think that’s great when the excitement continues. And we continue to attract great young people — and it’s especially nice when they’re family members — into this business.”

McDaniel: “When the sun comes out and everybody is in a good mood and stuff is flying off the shelves, retail is a lot of fun. A couple weeks ago on a Saturday — our first beautiful sunny Saturday in Seattle in a few months — it was just unreal. Cars were backed up at the parking lot, lines at the register. So I texted the wife and said, ‘Bring as many of the boys as you can.’ Three of [my sons] showed up, they grabbed the vest … even my 9 year old, he’s stacking fertilizer and grabbing shopping carts. That’s what makes it fun and to see them excited about the business too. And that’s also what makes me very optimistic.”

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NHS 2012: Editor’s Picks

BY Brae Canlen

Between the North and South halls, New Product World and Inventors Spotlight, attendees at the 2012 National Hardware Show were once again presented with the fruits of innovation derived from hours of toil in garage workshops and corporate labs. It’s always hard to pick just a few favorites; the only way to see them all is to wander the aisles, shake your head, and say, “Why didn’t somebody think of that before?”

Chic on the cheap
Coach House Accents (Coachhouseaccents.com) looks like high-end garage doors — multi-paned windows, decorative handles and hinges — but really it’s just a façade that you put on your exiting garage door. It’s a great add-on sales opportunity for window and door installers.

All my girlfriends will want one
A great impulse purchase, Jeweler in the Dishwasher (Jewelerinthedishwasher.com) makes a plastic basket with special compartments that cleans rings, bracelets and necklaces in a regular dishwasher. It provides clear instructions on which precious stones are suitable and which aren’t.

Best toilet enhancement
There were an astonishing number of contenders this year. It’s hard to pass over the obvious appeal of the Miracle Seat, which uses slits and a fan to ventilate odors and remove germs (Miracleseat.com). But having replaced any number of broken fill valves, leaking flappers and other malfunctioning toilet parts over the years, my vote goes to the Toilet Guardian (Aquaone.com), which pinpoints problems and then shuts off the water to prevent overflows or running toilets.

Looks like it will work
Say goodbye to the caulking gun and the messy wet index finger with this “peel and stick” trim that can be used in bathrooms and kitchens. Corner Flex (Cornerflex.com) can also bend around corners.

Roller derby
The paint sundries category is, hands down, my top pick for innovation year after year. Cleaning and reusing paint rollers is one of the biggest challenges, and the NHS 2012 offerings brought out many great inventions: the Roller Keeper by Obvious Solutions (Rollerkeeper.com), an airtight container that removes and stores wet paint rollers, was one of my favorites.

Dog’s worst friend
StayDri Pet Wash Shower System looks like a large incubator made of PVC pipes and clear plastic sheeting. There are portals to insert your arms. It’s portable and collapsible, an important feature for dogs who tend to bolt at bath time. (Creative Technology Industries / Ctecglobal.com)

The best Christmas tree stand ever
Every year, without fail, inventors come to the show with a better contraption to hold up your Christmas tree. I counted three this year, but the Omega Tree Stand (Omegatreestand.com) had two big pluses: It uses clamps instead of screws and disassembles for storage. The company advertises it as “the marriage saver.”

Organize my life, please!
This is an explosive category that has moved way beyond plastic bins. Computer, TV and stereo cords are obviously driving people crazy, judging from the sheer number of new organizing tools. I liked the line of products from Toolio (Toolio.com) and the flexible cord channel from UT Wire (UT-Wire.com).

A better mousetrap
This is another perennial showing in the New Products World. I’m passing over the device that drowns mice in oil. No special pick this year. 

Best heavy metal product
Officially licensed KISS garden gnomes for your rock garden. I never much liked the band, but I love the gnomes. (www.Grillacovers.com)

Must have in every kitchen
I’ve seen electronic fly swatters for sale on the Internet, and friends have brought them back from Asia, but why don’t I see them in retail outlets? I came across two vendors, but my favorite was DynaZap (Dynatrap.com). It has a flexible head and can extend out to 3 ft.

Best source of illumination
Lots to choose from here, with all the offerings in solar and LED lighting. I really liked the Coast LED flashlight because of its telescoping ability. You can control the size of the beam by pulling or pushing on the flashlight’s handle. 

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Lessons from Las Vegas

BY Brae Canlen

Las Vegas — What happened in Vegas will not stay in Vegas — especially not the products purchased, the leads generated, nor the business best practices that were shared by retailers during the National Hardware Show.

Some 30,000 industry professionals spent three days in the desert for the show, the highlights of which depend completely on the taste of the attendees.

But certainly one highlight was when four successful hardware and home center operators spent an hour on the Village Stage sharing their challenges, strategies and future plans. Ranging in size from three to 36 locations, the dealers varied in scope and location but shared common approaches to customer service, the vendor community and pricing.

One of the largest dealers in the group, Rocco Falcone of Rocky’s Ace Hardware, operates 33 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Florida. The family-owned operation has been in business for 85 years. “We service the hell out of our customers,” Falcone said. “The big boxes say they’re going to give good service, but they really don’t.”

Doug Gregory from Morrison Terrebonne Lumber in Louisiana spoke of the special handling his pro customers receive. “Our contractors are very dependent on our guys to help them run their business,” said Gregory, who recently partnered with CNRG. When asked about common misconceptions about his business, Gregory mentioned the perception that smaller independents charge higher prices.

Others agreed. “Our staff also believes that, so I get them out to price shop other stores,” said Ron Cicuttini, who represented three Home Hardware stores in Ontario.

Scott Parker, owner of 18 home centers primarily in Texas, pointed out that his outdoor lumberyards aren’t air conditioned, which lowers his cost of doing business. “We can be very competitive [on price],” he said. But Parker pointed out the necessity of variable pricing and the many factors that go into it.

“What we want to sell a product for is determined by the market, not what we want to sell it for,” Parker said.

All the retailers gave a shout-out to their vendors, co-ops and distributors. “If you’re really loyal to your suppliers, they’ll reciprocate,” Cicuttini said. “That’s paid dividends for us.”

During a keynote presentation at the North American Retail Hardware Association’s Village Stage, former Walmart executive Michael Bergdahl described the importance of risk-taking in the early days of Walmart and for the modern hardware store. “In the early days of Walmart, Sam Walton took risks and nine out of ten times, he failed,” said Bergdahl, who was director of people for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant.

Companies that encourage employees to take risks, and accept the good along with the bad, are the ones that are most likely to win, he said. “You will take risks as a merchant. Some time, you will hit a home run.”

Buyers and retailers come for many reasons, one of which was articulated by Dan Fesler, CEO of St. Paul, Minn.-based Lamperts: “You have to take a look at what’s out there every once in a while.”

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