NHS 2012: Editor’s Picks
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.
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
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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Short on Facebook. Long on community.
Something is wrong on Wall Street.
The whole financial community is aflutter over Facebook shares, which stumbled out of the blocks as a publicly traded company last month.
But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the company’s market capitalization is completely out of whack with acceptable notions of corporate significance and meaningful contributions to society. The value of Facebook shares multiplied by the number of those shares is — at last tally — an amazing $87.33 billion.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the market caps of some of the companies tracked on the official Home Channel News Stock Watch:
• Builders FirstSource, the largest publicly traded chain of lumberyards, $378 million — that’s million with an “m,” not a “b;”
• Masco, diversified home product manufacturer and brand developer, $4.50 billion;
• Stanley Black & Decker, maker of tools and owner of an iconic brand that has lasted for generations, $11.71 billion; and
• The Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, $75.25 billion.
These are companies with any number of the following: a) large plots of real estate in well-trafficked cities, suburbs and rural areas; b) sophisticated systems to profitably deliver products to consumers; and c) a capacity and knowledge to make things to be used in or around the house.
Facebook does none of these things. Instead, it offers invitations to play Mafia Wars or view an endless series of baby photos, all very similar in nature. (Note to parents: I’m not talking about your baby’s photos.)
From Silicon Valley, one can almost hear the protest: “But Facebook has billions of users.” To them I say: “Come on. The Atlantic Ocean has billions of users, too. That alone doesn’t make it a big business.”
Here’s an extreme viewpoint from one of our valued readers: “Facebook is a monumental waster of people’s time and creates nothing of lasting value.” I just posted this comment to the Home Channel News Facebook page.
But unlike most magazine editorial boards, at Home Channel News, we’re not just going to lament the state of the world. We’re doing something about it.
We’re creating an online network that does something useful, meaningful, practical and, yes, even profitable for its registered users. It exists right now at HardwareStoreConnect.com.
Hardware Store Connect is a professional network for hardware store owners and operators. Right now, discussions are focused on important topics, from the growing threat of competition from Walmart, to the hardware co-op’s role in the success or failure of the independent member.
Users can cut to the chase — posting their questions to the group in a designated Q&A area, or even posting a question to our hand-picked panel of experts.
There aren’t a lot of baby pictures.
If you’re a hardware store owner or operator, we hope you can give it a try. And tell us what you think.
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