HARDWARE STORES

Rocky’s prepares for 85th anniversary celebration

BY Ken Clark

Springfield, Mass.-based Rocky’s Ace Hardware, a 33-store New England chain, is marking its 85th anniversary with a celebration culminating Oct. 19 to 24 with special events, including 85-cent sales and $85 gift-card giveaways.

Rocky’s was founded in 1926, by Rocco (Rocky) Falcone Sr., located at the corner of Main and Union Streets in downtown Springfield, Mass., and tradition of service remains in effect today at all Rocky’s stores from Florida to New Hampshire.

In 1966, Falcone Sr. was succeeded by his son, James. During the 1970s and 1980s, the younger Falcone developed the single-store operation into a successful regional seven-store chain. His innovative merchandising strategy of adding home decorating and household departments featuring custom color paint and everyday needed products attracted new customers to the traditional hardware store.

James Falcone also led his family-based business into a national affiliation with Ace Hardware, offering Rocky’s the buying power of a national co-op, while still maintaining its neighborhood community identity.

Today James Falcone holds the position of chairman, with Rocco Falcone II, the third generation of the founding family, taking care of the business, serving as president and CEO. Under Rocco Falcone II’s leadership, the chain has grown to a regional powerhouse with 33 stores concentrated in the Northeast and Florida.

“We have not only expanded our reach but also our merchandise offerings,” Rocco Falcone II said. “Now our customers can choose from a wide assortment of quality paint, lawn and garden care items, and professional power tools, along with a newly expanded pet care department and still receive the quality service they have been accustomed to.”

Another key member of the Falcone family who has worked beside her father at the original location and serves today as VP Rocco Falcone’s daughter, Claire. Throughout Claire Falcone’s dedicated tenure, the importance of offering the customer excellent service and a quality selection of goods has always been a prime belief.

“The recent additions of trusted brand names like Craftsman, Benjamin Moore and Nutro pet food compliments our full line of traditional hardware items,” Claire Falcone said. “Our garden centers offer customers a healthy selection of seasonal plants and flowers along with fertilizer, mulch and everything else a homeowner or contractor could need for their lawn and garden projects."

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Behind the scenes, ahead of the curve

BY Ken Clark

Under the umbrella of True Value, a handful of the co-op’s brands represent niche businesses beyond the nuts-and-bolts of DIY hardware retailing. In the rental business, they are Grand Rental Station, Taylor Rental and Just Ask Rental. Commercial businesses are more familiar with Induserve Supply. Party Central and Home & Garden Showplace round out the specialty brands. 


One of the many jobs of Eric Lane is to grow these businesses in a way that helps True Value members grow theirs. Lane was tapped for the position of VP specialty business in February of this year, after learning the ropes during a 24-year career. 


In his new position, Lane also oversees the fast-growing international business. Together, the areas account for about 20% of True Value’s volume. How does one person do it? “It’s a challenge. I can do it because I have good people on staff,” he said. Good answer. Here’s the rest of the Q&A.



Home Channel News: How do you describe your role within the co-op?


Eric Lane: The role is multifaceted. We’re attempting to bring the co-op model to some of the other industries — and these are strong independent industries, much like the hardware industry. And at the same time, we’re also leveraging the knowledge from rental, nursery and certainly our international division into the hardware space. 


HCN: You have 24 years in the co-op business. What speech did they give you when you were asked to oversee specialty businesses and international?


Lane: There wasn’t a specific speech. I typically have been in areas that are growing or areas that we think have potential for growth. So, my belief is I was tapped on the shoulder for this role because of the potential in the specialty businesses. I don’t know how to cut or retrench; it’s not a core competency I have. So True Value sees growth opportunity in these businesses, and we just need to tap into those opportunities.


HCN: How accurate is it to say some of the specialty businesses are flying under the radar, and is that a challenge or an issue?


Lane: It is accurate to say that. But I also believe that we’re not in these businesses for industry recognition. I think as long as the membership of True Value knows the value that the businesses are bringing in, that’s what these businesses are for. These are local, independently owned businesses that in their own marketplaces are known for what they do.


HCN: Of the specialty niches — party, rental and garden — which is the fastest-growing right now? 


Lane: The fastest-growing piece of the rental business is party, no doubt about it. With the economy the way it is, people may be having smaller parties, but they still have parties. It’s an area where our stores see growth. And it’s not just parties; a lot of people are now doing their own weddings, instead of renting a banquet hall. They’re putting up a tent and tables and decking it out, and our stores can play very well in that.



HCN: The word from the front lines is, rental is a great business, but only when you do it right. How much would you agree with that?


Lane: There is a high degree of operational efficiency that has to be done right. Not only dealing with the customer, but keeping the equipment maintained. The longer you can maintain the inventory or the assets, the more profitable the asset is. That’s why we have training opportunities here at our headquarters and in Cary, Ill. We do training at our markets, and we also have online training available. We want to touch our dealers in all the ways we can, because it’s such a significant piece.


HCN: What are some of the most important items for retailers to stock in their rental departments?


Lane: Certainly having party-related items — tables, chairs and tents and bouncy houses for the kids. The other thing is, many of these businesses have not only made an investment in the equipment, they’ve made investment in the operation. The expectation of a consumer that’s renting for a party is very different from the consumer that’s renting a tiller to work in the back yard. Some have actually hired planners into their businesses.


HCN: What about the garden spending?



Lane: Home and Garden Showplace and the nursery business in general are extremely weather-dependent. Any business where you do 75% to 80% of your annualized volume in about a 60-to-90-day window, weather is important. You want to control your own destiny, but if you can’t get out on that weekend, that’s Mother Nature, and it will wreak havoc on that business.


HCN: What are the trends affecting your international business?


Lane: International has been a growth area for us in a few ways. A lot of the countries we sell to are investing in their infrastructure. We are strong in the Caribbean and Panama and places where weather can cause damage; that helps lumber sales. Also, the world has gotten smaller and communications have increased. We’re able to get the product from our DCs from a port and into their country a lot quicker than before. So, our customers who used to just buy at our markets and stock up, they are looking at the same metrics used in the states — ROI and inventory turns. So they’re leveraging our DCs here in the States and ordering more frequently with us. 


HCN: Where was your last trip?


Lane: Panama. We have an operator opening five additional stores over the next five months. The only way you can learn the business and support the business is to be in the stores and see what’s going on. 

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True value’s digital differentiation

BY Ken Clark

Ten months after the launch of True Value’s new-and-improved e-commerce program, the statistics are beginning to pile up. Most importantly, perhaps, almost 2,000 stores have signed up for the program, allowing customers to shop online and pick up purchases in their local hardware store. 


There are some things still unknown in the e-commerce world, such as the correlation between Web browsing and in-store buying. But True Value believes it’s getting closer to an understanding. And it likes what the data are showing. 


“Through our online surveys, we’re consistently seeing about 40% of our customers report that their next action after they leave the site is to either visit a True Value store or call a True Value store,” said Lisa Fortuna, True Value director of e-commerce. 


The average ring for an online order consistently runs in the $60 to $70 range — about three times the average ring in the store.


For dealers, the only requirement to join the program is an agreement to receive some basic order-fulfillment and customer service instruction. There is no cost to join. “Feedback from those retailers has been very positive,” Fortuna said. And for the co-op, the ability to learn from the habits of online browsers is invaluable. “Consumers are using the site to research products, and we see how it’s driving footsteps into our stores,” she added.


While the site continues to churn data and drive traffic, the actual e-commerce sales transactions have been behind plan, according to the co-op. That’s partly because of an aggressive forecast, and partly because a higher-than-expected percentage of consumers are going to the stores to make their purchase.


“For the sales we’re transacting as e-commerce, we’re not happy with the overall sales compared with our forecast,” said CEO Lyle Heidemann. “But we’re not unhappy with where we’re at. And we know we are driving footsteps to the store.”


In addition to traffic, visibility is huge. The ability for the co-op to monitor the all-important product search field leads to actionable intelligence. Analyzing the search terms helps the co-op stay ahead of consumer demand or spot trends.


One early discovery has been how quickly customers change their product searches when the seasons start changing. Searches for roof rakes and other snow-related products lit up the charts last winter. “That’s really valuable information for our merchants,” Fortuna said. And there have been other lessons learned as well.


“Fencing was a top search term for us going into the summer,” Fortuna said. “It was ranking in the top 10 pretty consistently, and that was one of the surprises for us.” The company added SKUs and watched as sales increased. 


Another bit of online intelligence gave a boost to sales of kids’ pools when the temperatures began to soar in the summer. “We only had a couple online, so we added everything,” she said. “Those are items a store typically wouldn’t go very deep on, but we definitely have an opportunity for that online.” 


The company’s digital strategy expands beyond its e-commerce. It also embraces e-marketing, e-coupons and interaction with mobile consumers.


Coupons are getting better. The online version of the company’s classic $5-off-$25 coupon includes some enhancements for security and targeting. The coupon has delivered impressive results over the last five years, or so, producing an average of $42 to $46 per transaction. The Web version of the coupon has a watermark to prevent duplication and a unique code for each coupon printed. It also has a promotional code redeemable on TrueValue.com.


“We want to make sure the coupons get into the right hands for our target, the DIY enthusiast,” said Michael McCann, director of consumer marketing at True Value. 


Also keeping up with the times, the company will launch its mobile portal in September, delivering True Value services to consumers’ Blackberrys, Androids and iPhones. 


Some of the features include a store locator, local ads, shopping at TrueValue.com, project help from StartRightStartHere.com and social media connections. 


While True Value said the 2,000 participants represent a strong showing, the co-op wants more dealers to sign up for ship-to-store participation. And it has a simple pitch: “There is no charge, they receive high-quality training and support, and they see the entire margin for the sale,” Fortuna said. 

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A.Burma says:
May-02-2012 11:23 am

This is great for the
This is great for the consumers. Now online shopping has become extremely popular. Basically there has been an overall increase in our online activities. We could easily go for shopping, chatting, downloading online. But we also have to keep Web Security issue in mind.

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How much credit should be given to the co-op business model for the success of the independent hardware and building supply dealer over the last half century?