In N.C. the lesson is clear: Safety first
Congratulatory phone calls from the president of the United States are usually reserved for the likes of World Series pitchers or Nobel Prize winners. But Lowe’s store manager Michael Hollowell received his call the day after he and his team herded about 70 customers away from the vulnerable front-end of his Sanford, N.C., store, moments before it was ripped apart by a tornado.
The modest Hollowell credited the training and policies handed down to him and his team from the Mooresville, N.C.-based retailer. But interviews with witnesses suggest that quick thinking and decisive action played a major role, as customers verbally questioned the danger — and even the existence of a tornado. According to reports, it took calm, clear leadership to get everyone back to the protected rear of the store, literally seconds before the tornado hit.
Home Channel News asked Lowe’s to describe the policies that Michael Hollowell credited for the successful emergency management. Here’s what we heard:
• Store management takes the safety of Lowe’s customers and employees very seriously, so the company has store staff dedicated to monitoring and reporting severe weather situations when the National Weather Service releases warnings and watches.
• All 1,750 Lowe’s stores are also prepared to act in a worst-case scenario when severe weather or natural disasters hit stores.
• Lowe’s also has an “Emergency Command Center” staffed 365 days a year dedicated to supporting stores before, during and after an emergency situation. The Lowe’s Emergency Command Center guides stores through crisis situations and the aftermath/cleanup phase.
Across North Carolina last month, a severe weekend of weather saw dozens of destructive tornadoes sweep across the state, which suffered 24 tornado-related deaths. Throughout the South, there were hundreds of deaths reported, while the property damage continues to be tallied.
Lowe’s said it will eventually reopen the Sanford store. Until then, employees have been given jobs in other area stores.
Kleer Lumber enters decking market
There’s no shortage of wood-alternative decking manufacturers fighting for market share in the home industry. But Westfield, Mass.-based Kleer Lumber sees room for one more — especially when the new entrant has the ability to scale nationally.
The new entrant is Kleer Decking, which is bringing its experience as a manufacturer of extrude-free foam cellular PVC building products to bear in a crowded field.
“The challenge with launching a new product offering in a category full of sameness is in delivering uniquely innovative solutions that rise above other products currently in the marketplace,” said Walt Valentine, president of Kleer Lumber. “Kleer Decking meets this challenge with numerous product features and contractor benefits that are difficult to find in the product lines that are currently available.”
The company introduced the decking move last month, with the rollout of two collections — Coastal and Sierra. One of the selling points for both is the 100% PVC core, which is devoid of any mold- or mildew-producing organic material. Also because of its core, the company claims, Kleer Decking is 40% lighter than wood-plastic composite deck boards.
The State by State of American Hardware
Back in August 2006, this “From the Editor” page was dedicated in part to an examination of Star and Bullock Hardware, the fictitious, gold-rush era building supply store from the HBO Series “Deadwood.”
At the time, some suggested that I was watching too much television.
But now look at page 30 of this magazine. There’s an actual, real-life Deadwood, S.D., hardware store on our Fifty Hardware All Stars list: Twin City Hardware.
[Note to accounting: This should further bolster my argument that my cable bill really is a justifiable business expense.]
Twin City Hardware co-owner Les Bellet said the “Deadwood” television show was good for the town and good for business; but he made it clear that the swearing and rabble-rousing from the series is not representative of the Black Hill Town’s current occupants.
Twin City is one of 50 stores selected for inclusion in our first-ever Hardware All Star project, in which editors selected one operator in each of the 50 states to represent all that is noble, successful and innovative in hardware retailing today.
The exercise offered some valuable discoveries.
When contacted to tell us what makes their business tick, the far and away No. 1 answer: service. Obviously, location is an important ingredient of high-performance retailing. Obviously, branding, signage, merchandising, management — all are crucial to the success of any venture. But it was service that got top billing in every interview behind the list.
“Our goal is to provide the best personal service you can have,” said Judy Hechler, of Hechler Hardware, which has been operating in the same Troy, Mo., building since 1896.
“We’re known for going above and beyond what most retailers would do,” said Rick C de Baca, of Big Jo True Value in Santa Fe, N.M.
One of the 50 is also our cover story: our 2011 Retailer of the Year Westlake Ace Hardware. Here’s what CEO George Smith said about the 88-store chain’s commitment to service:
“We took every single associate out of our stores into groups across the organization,” he said. “And we showed them videos of what bad service looks like, what good service looks like, and what our expectations of great service looks like. It was really an epiphany for a lot of our associates.”
After its major internal review (described on page 34), Westlake introduced a G.R.E.A.T. service checklist for its staff to memorize:
• Greet the customer;
• Remember the magic question: “What can we help you find today?” (Importantly, this question can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Rather, it initiates a conversation.);
• Engage the customer;
• Advise and assist; and
• Thank them for coming into the store.
Not every retailer has the same specific rules. Home Depot, for instance, has been charging hard with a similar script it calls F.I.R.S.T. Whatever the letters, all the high-performing retailers are examining their service levels in detail.
As our 2006 editorial wrote, Star and Bullock Hardware was an 1876 operator that “serves as the town’s bastion of fair play, frontier justice and honest work.” Those qualities live on in Twin City Hardware and the 49 others on our state-by-state list.
And many more.
— Ken Clark