Website puts knowledge in the hands of customers at Hardware Hank store in Wisconsin.
Solon Springs Mercantile owners Meg and Ken Thoreson believe that the Hardware Hank e-commerce platform is an important part of their commitment to providing customers the highest level of service and convenience.
Earlier this year, a Wisconsin hardware store launched an e-commerce platform on its website.
Right away the owners learned how much – and in how many ways – it can help their customers.
One of the big, early takeaways they discovered is that customers come into their store more aware than ever about products and equipment – after doing their own research on the store’s e-commerce platform.
Solon Springs Mercantile is located in the small town of Solon Springs, in Northwest Wisconsin, and is part of United Hardware Distributing Company, a member-owned corporation based in Maple Grove, Minnesota, which provides hardware distribution services for more than 800 stores, the majority of which operate under the Hardware Hank trade name.
“We have noticed that customers are coming in to make purchases with far more knowledge than they had in the past about specific products,” said Meg Thoreson, co-owner, with husband Ken, of Solon Springs Mercantile.
“They’ve gone online to our trusted site and done their research, appreciative that we now have another portal to see what is available for pick-up in our rural store. It’s really the first step of the sales process – I call it our ‘silent salesperson,’” saidThoreson.
The couple purchased Solon Springs Mercantile in 2002, after recognizing the potential for the business in this rural community, located in a popular cabin, recreation and vacation area in the upper Midwest. In June 2004, their store was demolished by a fire.
“We believed in our business plan and rebuilt the store in a new location in town in 2005 and have been expanding our offerings since that time. Solon Springs Mercantile is a diverse retail store – incorporating hardware, sporting goods, and other general merchandise,” said Thoreson. They first launched an online option in their sporting goods area about seven years ago.
The business serves both year-round and seasonal residents, with a significant consumer segment being people who own vacation properties in the region. Also, it enjoys serving many generations of customers in the area, and the store generally draws customers from a 20-mile radius.
“We launched www.hardwarehank.com in February of this year,” said Thoreson. “And to publicize the launch we linked to this new platform on our website. Also, we moved our kiosk to the front of our store with announcement signage; and we included news about it in our customer newsletter.”
The owner said that the new e-commerce platform is a “great addition to our robust loyalty program. Our customers are already familiar with and appreciate our special-order service – and they see this as another level of that service.”
She said that “customers can browse and shop for items before they leave their home and have project-based supplies ready for pick-up when they visit on weekends, to maximize their time outside at their vacation homes or recreating.”
E-commerce channel open
Sandy Dresen, senior e-commerce manager at parent United Hardware Distributing Company said, “We service 15 states, from Idaho to Michigan. We launched the site with ten test stores. We now have 128 stores that are e-commerce-enabled, offering more than 40,000 products on the website.”
Consumer buying habits are constantly changing, said Dresen, and online researching and buying continues to be a trend. The website gives the retailer another avenue to reach consumers in the way they want to shop.
The average local hardware store carries 10,000-12,000 products, said the senior e-commerce manager. “With more than 40,000 products available on our e-commerce platform, this sales channel allows consumers to significantly increase their shopping options beyond what’s available in-store.”
For other hardware store owners planning an e-commerce site, the Solon Springs Mercantile owner shared these suggestions: “We’ve found that the e-commerce site further strengthens our in-person relationships with our customers, as it also helps to attract new customers to our store – people who hadn’t yet discovered us, but found us via location and by product need,” said Thoreson.
“Launching online shopping is like opening a bricks and mortar store. You need to have a plan and execute against it to achieve your specific goals,” she said.
“Customers need to be invited to use the new branded service, and we’ve found that a guided tour of the site can be very helpful,” said Thoreson.
The store has a 36-inch touch screen kiosk in-store that allows associates to walk customers through the online purchasing experience, to make the adoption to online shopping easier.
The owner also added this tip: Make sure that you use your existing marketing tools to announce the new site – your website, in-store signage, social media or newsletters.
As a trusted retailer, they believe it’s important to guide customers to e-commerce and help them realize the benefits of using a BOPIS service.
The addition of this new e-commerce platform feels like a game-changer at Solon Springs Mercantile.
“E-commerce is an important element of providing the highest level of customer service. We’re able to offer more items to our customers via the e-commerce site, building and expanding our brand awareness and strengthening our one-on-one relationships with our customers,” said Thoreson.
The store will continue its rollout this summer via social media. Right now, we’re continuing to familiarize our customers with the new website and all it offers, said the owners.
“We are always looking for what the next valuable tool or product is to be relevant to our customers. We’re continually evolving, reflecting what our customers want.”