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Menards makes room for ‘essentials’ upfront

BY Ken Ryan

Customers entering the Menards store in Fort Wayne, Ind., pass through a turnstile and immediately confront a great wall — the wall of "household essentials & more."

Just beyond the shelves of chips and cereal and sparkling cider, the wall marks an increased presence for cleaning supplies. While not exactly standard fare for your typical home improvement giant, some experts say carrying everyday items makes perfect sense in today’s retail environment.

Jeff Edelman, director of Retail and Consumer Advisory Services for McGladrey, said stores "irrespective of type" should continually search for ways to make space more productive and more profitable. "Smart managements are continually addressing this issue — by type of merchandise, sizes and brands," he said. "The goal is to increase the dollar size of the average transaction. Often floor placement will help drive the impulse purchase."

Known for its eclectic mix, Menards is regarded as a regional destination store where customers can find everything from lumber to groceries to cleaning products in one trip.

Menards, which features up to 10 categories of cleaning products, is not alone among hardware dealers that have expanded into this realm. Cleaning supplies generally have a strong presence at the co-op and distributor shows. And in December 2012, Home Depot launched its HDX private-label chemicals line, with products ranging from all-purpose cleaners with bleach to wood floor care cleaners.

"Our associates treat the cleaning aisle like any other aisle in the store, so if customers don’t know how to handle a cleaning dilemma, we usually have that solution for them," said Melissa Richards, senior merchant for cleaning at The Home Depot. "Our customers usually start a project or end it by cleaning, which makes this category an important overall project solution."

Edelman said it makes sense for customers shopping in a home improvement store, who are there primarily for traditional products like power tools or batteries, to also pick up household items "just to make sure."

"So now the purchase becomes more of a want item than a need item, and so the customer is probably less interested in price comparison, and thus it is more profitable for the retailer," he said. "I doubt that a home improvement store would have been the original destination for that merchandise."

But by having it in stock, the retailer and customer win, he said. "It is easier in the one-stop environment where value is a function of many variables other than price … in this case convenience."

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Pet projects on display in Atlanta

BY Ken Clark

ATLANTA — Pets, paint and credit figured prominently at the True Value Spring Market here.

"We’ve talked before about the scope and steady growth of the pet business, which is driven by the fanatical devotion of pet owners to their pets" said Mike Clark, senior VP and chief merchandising officer for the Chicago-based co-op. "We know customers shop multiple channels and retail outlets, and that they make more than 15 shopping trips a year to purchase their pet product needs. That’s nearly five times the number of trips the average customer makes to our stores."

It was the second year for a farm-and-ranch emphasis on the show floor, which again included live animals, along with neatly stacked merchandise.

True Value unveiled Stihl as a new co-op vendor. The partnership is expected to kick off in the fall.

New paint in new packaging is in the works at True Value Co., as its interior and exterior paint lines are getting a makeover. The latest iterations of EasyCare and WeatherAll paint were unveiled, along with new color display fixtures and collateral selling tools. One of the most notable changes on the cans of True Value paint are icons indicating the attributes of the product — mold and mildew resistance, extra-rich colors and low-VOC, for instance.

"People want information right away," said Dawn Garrett, product manager of color collateral and design for True Value, referring to the icons on the paint cans.

In credit card news, after completing the planning and the soft launch, True Value Co. plans to launch its Discover credit card program for consumers in stores March 7.

"We soft launched this program in 75 stores the past two weeks with no glitches," said True Value CEO Lyle Heidemann, during the general session. "I actually applied and was accepted for a co-branded card. It was easy and took less than two minutes to apply."

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Ace applies its first coat of Valspar

BY Ken Clark

NEW ORLEANS — The recent marriage of Valspar and Ace Hardware Corp. was by far the most colorful product story at Ace’s Spring Convention and Exhibits held here.

Not only were dealers eager to see Ace’s paint department vision of the future, they were hungry for details on the incentives in place to retrofit their stores.

One retailer suggested that the Valspar topic boosted attendance at the show. Others on the floor ran the gamut from dealers who embrace the change enthusiastically, to those who want to stay with their existing brands, notably Benjamin Moore.

Valspar and Ace employees were busy answering questions, showing colors and generally promoting the new program, which is expected to deploy in October. The vision includes a pair of endcaps and 8-ft. color displays featuring Clark & Kensington on one side and Valspar on the other. In between rests a counter, mixing equipment and an overhead "Color comes home" message.

They also spread the word of Clark & Kensington’s No. 1 ranking in the recent Consumer Reports article on interior paint.

"Clark & Kensington coming out No. 1 in Consumer Reports — that was huge," said Drew Conant, of Lakeland Ace Hardware in Pinckney, Mich.

Still, he wasn’t entirely ready to take the plunge with the new Valspar program. "We’re a smaller store, so bringing in all of that — I don’t know yet," Conant said.

Michael Chulyak, the owner of Ace Hardware in Big Timber, Mont., who was an early adopter of Ace’s Clark & Kensington brand, said the store was gearing up for Valspar. "I think it’s a good thing," he said. "We were Coast to Coast a few years ago, so we know the Valspar brand."

With the Valspar alliance, as Valspar becomes the manufacturer of Ace paints, margins will automatically increase 10% on store sales. Other incentives include 18 months to sell the paint before they pay for it, and free store resets that include tinters, racks, decor and signage. On top of that, there’s national marketing in the works, including plans for a paint grand opening event that Ace VP paint John Surane said will be "our biggest national event ever."

Dale Miller, of Miller Supply Ace Hardware in Northampton, Pa., is a longtime Benjamin Moore dealer, a subset of Ace dealers most likely to resist making a swap for Valspar.

"It’s a tough decision," he said. "The incentives make it pretty attractive. Plus, down the road it will be a problem [if we don’t have Valspar], because the advertising and marketing will be geared toward Valspar."

Ace says that with Valspar it will have a national brand partner with all of the national marketing support that comes with it. It will also allow stores to operate with a single tint machine.

"We as a team recognize that there are a thousand scenarios out there in your paint department," said John Surane, speaking at the convention’s general session. "We’re ready to work with you on that."

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