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A message made for TV

BY Ken Clark

Even though he’s appearing on a prime time, national television commercial, Beyond Hardware True Value owner Matt Shapiro hasn’t gone Hollywood.

“I have to admit, I did very little besides show up and read my lines,” he said.

Shapiro, co-owner of stores in Canandaigua and Penfield, N.Y., and more than 20 other real True Value hardware store owners performed in the commercial by showing off their personalities, their storefronts (through the magic of technology) and their passion for the hardware business.

The TV spots employ quick editing that jump from store to store and feature owners completing each others’ sentences — especially the line: “We’re all different, but we’re all the same.” The 30-second spots ran in prime time in April and May, and are coming back for an encore performance in October.

Director of marketing Blake Fohl said there were several strategies behind the commercial. The co-op sought to showcase the true stars of hardware and to build the perception of the brand as a collection of local business people. “Your brand really lives and comes to life with the store and the people in the store,” he said. “Why not make them the center of the campaign?”

Casting for the commercials took place at the co-op’s Fall Market, as dealers were invited to line up and look into the camera. The casting team, a combination of True Value executives and agency professionals, were looking for retailers with a variety of accents and a consistent passion. With 200 retailers lined up for their turn to read and make eye contact, casting wasn’t easy, Fohl said. “Believe me, there were very few people who did not have passion.”

One of those passionate performers was Karen Duggan of Horn’s True Value.

“The idea was letting customers look at our stores and see that we may all look different, the stores might be different, but we are the same in how we do business and what we are trying to achieve,” she said.

For the participants in the commercial, the results were pretty consistent, too — a steady stream of recognition in the local market.

“It did generate a lot of customer response and excitement. People would say things like, ‘Wow, you were on national TV!’ ” Duggan said. “One person told me, ‘Oh my God, we were on a cruise ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and I saw you and Bernie on TV!’ ”

Though its difficult to pinpoint its impact on sales, given Horn’s other marketing efforts, she believes the exposure will pay dividends the next time a customer needs something for his or her home.

Shapiro feels the same.

“We were able to leverage the commercial into some great local PR, and lots of our customers recognized me and came in just to tell me,” he said. “Of course they also purchased a few items.”

Across the country, there was more of the same.

“In the end, what I was most surprised by were the number of our customers who continually come into the store and told me that they saw the commercial,” said Alan Bryant of True Value Homecenter in Oakhurst, Calif. “It has become a regular conversation with people at the store and around town.”

Bryant also saw an “explosion” of interest on Facebook, as people were sharing the commercial.

Measuring the success of the advertising campaign on a broader scale is a more difficult matter, but Fohl said the spots have succeeded on several fronts.

“We have done some pre- and post-analysis, and the commercial generated excellent scores on awareness of the brand,” he said. “If you look at the anecdotes and read the main message recall, they parroted back what we were trying to get across.”

One bright spot was awareness among Generation Y consumers, “people who grew up thinking the hardware store was a big box.”

While it looks like everyone is standing in front of their stores, the owners were actually shot in front of a giant green screen in Chicago. Architectural photographers were sent on location to get the backdrop for each store.

“I never realized how much was involved in filming a commercial,” Bryant said. 

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Walking the Aisles

BY HBSDEALER Staff

From the outside, the Mount Prospect, Ill., True Value hardware store looks a lot like any other True Value store. It’s only 2 years old, so the sign above the door appears extra bright red and white.

When you walk through the entrance, it still looks a lot like most of the Chicago-based co-op’s fashion-forward Destination True Value format stores. At 12,600 sq. ft., it’s a little bigger than most. The registers are ringing up front, and a racetrack is punctuated by 38 endcaps promoting product, as well as ideas for the home.

But this store is unique in the world. It’s the only company-owned True Value store, and its mission in life is to provide the co-op — and by extension, its members — insights into efficiency and productivity.

True Value CEO Lyle Heidemann recently guided visitors through the store. And there seems to be at least one story, or strategy, in every aisle. But it’s the big picture of the entire store that is most interesting to the folks at True Value headquarters.

For instance, take the six core hardware categories — the ones that are insulated from seasonal or calendar fluctuations. Heidemann identifies them as tools, electrical, plumbing, paint, automotive and decorative hardware. These areas represent about 65% of a hardware store’s business. (Lawn and garden and seasonal account for 25% typically, and the rest is made up of various niche businesses, he said.)

“What we’ve done here is reduced the lineal footage of the core day-in and day-out hardware business with the whole idea of testing to see whether we can get the same amount of business in 15% less space,” he said. “So the goal is to improve productivity by about 15%.”

Higher productivity gives the store owner options, Heidemann said. It makes smaller stores more marketable, it makes current stores more profitable, and it allows stores to reinvest their square footage into other categories. That last option is what True Value has done in Mount Prospect.

Here are some of the highlights of the tour:

• Housewares
Both sides of an aisle (a canyon, in True Value lingo) are dedicated to housewares. “Cleaning supplies is always among the top categories, and that’s about every week of the year,” Heidemann said. “You might not think of this as a hardware category, but this works in just about every store.”

In fact, he said, data suggest that it is difficult to reach the point of diminishing returns when selling housewares. “The more space you give it, the more it sells.”

The prices probably aren’t as low as Walmart, but they definitely compete with the Jewel-Osco across the street, Heidemann said.

• Dollar stores
The dollar-store aisle (another canyon) in the Mount Prospect store was established in August. After about nine months of testing, the co-op will be able to make conclusions about its productivity and profitability. Heidemann is optimistic.

“In a lot of our stores, the dollar-store concept will work, because they have the latitude to get into some things from a convenience standpoint that work for a female customer,” Heidemann said.

• Female friendly
One of the keys to the merchandise assortment and design of the Destination True Value format, according to Heidemann, is female friendliness.

“The female customers shop lawn and garden, paint, pet, bird, dollar, cleaning supplies and housewares,” he said, pointing to successive aisles around the racetrack. “So when that female comes in, picks up a cart, makes the round, she sees colors and the adjacencies, all to make it more friendly to shop for her.”

Heidemann said the industry as a whole needs to become more female friendly. Then he quickly corrected himself:  “Actually, I don’t care about the rest of the industry, but we’re making Destination True Value geared to the female customer.” 

• Plumbing
Heidemann guided visitors back to the plumbing aisle where some of the maintenance and repair items displayed on rolling screens that added linear feet without taking up any space. He pointed to the faucet stems.

“Not many people under the age of 30 know what a faucet stem is,” Heidemann said. “But this is still a category for the maintenance and repair guys. You need to have faucet stems. You need to have O-rings. If you didn’t have these, you wouldn’t be considered a hardware store.”

The plumbing category will also require old-school knowledge to succeed.

“The homeowner doesn’t give the teenagers credit for knowledge, so you can’t have teenagers up and down the plumbing aisle,” Heidemann said. “The homeowner doesn’t think the teenager has installed a faucet or repaired a toilet, and I agree with them.” 

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Paint revenue tips from the top sellers

BY Brae Canlen

Paint may be a very emotional decision for consumers, but in the retail world, it’s a simple business plan: If you want to sell a lot of paint, dedicate enough space to it, assign a full-time, well-trained sales associate to the paint desk, and carry more than two lines of paint. One of those brands should cater to the pros. Find a way to keep the contractors separated from the homeowners, which is not all that difficult; professional painters don’t like to sit on sofas surrounded by tasseled pillows.

These are some of the tips successful paint retailers shared with Home Channel News in a recent series of telephone interviews.

One area where the experts do disagree is the location of the paint counter. Many believe it should be in the middle of the store, toward the front. Others keep it in the back so customers will have to pass other merchandise to get there. Country Ace Hardware in Granby, Colo., uses the back corner of the store, which has a special entrance for contractors. “They really don’t want to rub elbows with Mrs. Homeowner,” said owner Tom McConathy. An L-shaped counter at Country Ace puts enough distance between the pros and the ladies looking through the decorator books. The latter have their own area with a wood floor, soft armchairs, upgraded lighting and a play area for the kids. An interior designer comes in once a month and gives free advice on redecorating projects.

Women are the decision-makers for paint in the vast majority of households, and most of them don’t have an exact color in mind when they enter the store. “We buy into the notion that paint selection is a journey,” McConathy said. The people who work in the paint department act as their guides, so they must be experts who have confidence in what they’re talking about.

“We spend an enormous amount of time training our people,” McConathy said, referring to seminars given by Ace and Benjamin Moore, usually in Denver. During the warmer months, at least two sales associates are assigned to the paint desk full time. Even during the winter there is a dedicated salesperson in the paint department.

Greg Fuller uses the same paint strategy in his 30,000-sq.-ft. Hometown Hardware & Garden in Downey, Calif., as he used in the 175,000-sq.-ft. All American Home Center, where he served as CEO before it closed.

“We don’t sell gallons of paint; we sell color,” Fuller said. Many female consumers have an idea of what shade they want, but they need help settling on a color. “The idea is to supplement what they came in the door with. We engage the customer and make her comfortable with her choice.”

Fuller has another inside tip: Because women work well together on home decor projects, put a female employee at the paint counter. The head of his paint department is Martha Ramirez, and she worked at All American for 10 years.

Space constrictions have limited Home Hardware to two paint brands, Pratt & Lambert and Do it Best’s private-label paint. But top paint sellers advocate multiple brands, with at least two geared toward the professional painter. This is the strategy of Lakewood Hardware & Paint in Lakewood, Wash.

Lakewood Hardware has made itself a paint destination for both pros and consumers by carrying six lines of paint, some of them regional. “We get a lot of repeat customers,” said manager Skip Tyler. It sells Pratt & Lambert, Pittsburg Paints, Parker Paint, Devine Color and Coronado Paint. It also outsold every other single Do it Best store in the Do it Best Quality Paint category last year. Paint accounts for about 30% to 40% of the store’s annual sales.

Lakewood’s brand of customer service involves some old-fashioned methods that take more time but produce better results, according to Tyler. “We can do eye-matching,” he explained. “If we do [color-matching] on the computer and we don’t think it’s right, we’ll tweak it.”

At Ace Hardware & Paint in Laramie, Wyo., staff members answer the phone with the entire store name.

“We want the consumers to realize that Ace has paint besides hardware supplies,” said paint manager Darl Peterson. The store also keeps a database of customers’ paint purchases.

Mike Dube, category manager for paint sundries distributor Lancaster Co., agrees with the need for a contractor entrance, strong brands and a knowledgeable staff at the paint counter. Where many dealers come up short, he said, is in high-quality brushes and other painting supplies needed by pros.

“The typical hardware store isn’t going to stock a professional paint brush or roller,” Dube said. “You can purchase an expensive paint, but if you apply it with a cheap brush or roller, you won’t get the performance you are looking for out of the paint.” 

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