Appliances and the independent
Hartington, Neb., lies 60 miles west of Sioux City, Iowa, and 20 miles south of the South Dakota state line. This town of 1,600 people in the northeast corner of Nebraska has been the home of Kruse True Value since April 1990. Gary and Lisa Kruse purchased a Hardware Hank location and changed their affiliation to True Value to establish their own image and reputation.
Prior to purchasing his own store, Gary worked 12 years for his uncle selling and servicing appliances. That experience convinced Gary and Lisa to broaden the traditional hardware offering from the previous owner, adding televisions and major appliances, among other new lines.
They believed by diversifying their offering, their store would become a destination for much more than traditional hardware items. Gary initially took on the Maytag brand, but has since added Whirlpool, Amana and KitchenAid to his offering. He can now cover a wide variety of price points to meet the needs of his customers.
In 2001, Gary and Lisa determined that they had outgrown their current location and built a larger store that would better suit the expanding business. They considered moving from their downtown setting to a location on the edge of town that was near a highway. In the end, it was determined they would lose much of the “walk-in” traffic they currently enjoyed, so they stayed in downtown Hartington.
The new, larger building allowed Gary to move the appliance showroom up from the basement to the main floor. In addition to the benefit of an expanded display space, this new arrangement improved the visibility of the appliance offering. Customers who enter the store become aware of the appliance category — a major improvement from the out-of-sight, out-of-mind merchandising in the previous store. Accessibility also improved, as the stairs that led to the basement showroom made it difficult for some elderly customers to navigate.
From his previous experience in appliances, Gary understood the value of providing after-sale service to his customers. His new location has a service bay and his team is able to provide in- and out-of-warranty service for the items he sells. Customers can buy with confidence, knowing Gary’s team will be able to keep their appliances in good working order.
With the growing success of their appliance business, they decided to remodel the store in 2015 and move the appliance display from the back to the front, ensuring anyone who walked in would know immediately that they were in the appliance business. At the same time, analysis of the mix of his sales showed a solid growth of higher featured items being sold from both the Whirlpool and Maytag brands. Gary’s SalesLink representative suggested he consider adding the KitchenAid brand of appliances to further diversify his assortment and offer more premium featured items.
Kruse True Value now displays 60 appliances, and it has a back stock inventory of 20-25 units. Since 85% of appliances purchases are made when the appliance fails, the customer generally wants to get the replacement immediately, rather than wait for a new order. Gary will even sell the display model off of the floor, in order to fill the customer’s need right away.
Kruse True Value is just one example of an independent hardware store that has enjoyed the benefits of appliance retailing. There are many others. Some industry observers feel the trend is gaining momentum for several reasons. First, major brands have designed programs specifically for independents. There’s an opportunity for the independent dealer to leverage its local reputation as a trusted service provider. And, more recently, the closing of stores at appliance-focused national retailers opens the door for other retailers to fill the void.
The Kruses point to the following elements of their success in their market:
- Offer a diverse assortment of product features and prices to cater to all types of customers.
- Help the customer find what they want, versus steering them to a specific item.
- Service the items they sell; give the customer confidence that they will be able to keep the item operating long after the purchase.
- Locally owned, locally operated. You are buying from a trusted friend.
For more information, visit hardwareapplianceprogram.com.
Stihl Hardware All Stars: Fla., Hawaii, La.
HBSDealer has been recognizing All Stars — formally, at least — since 2011.
In that time, we've surveyed suppliers, distributors, manufacturers, vendors, retailers and homeowners in search of high-performing, service-oriented, community-minded hardware store, lumberyard or farm and ranch dealers worthy of All-Star status.
There are always more nominations than we know what to do with. But select we must, and as a result, we present an excellent few retailers — one from each state.
Here’s to the class of 2017. And here are the stories of three more retailers.
Hagan Ace Hardware
Since opening their first Hagan Ace Hardware in 1962, founders Don and Ann Hagan have established a community staple and earned the top score in Ace Hardware’s Mystery Shopper Program. Today, the chain spans eight locations and is led by third- and fourth-generation owners Bill and Jacob Hagan. Not only a go-to fix for hardware, grills and paint, Hagan is also on the map for jewelry, gifts, home décor, kayaks, paddleboards, pool supplies, a 10,000-sq.-ft. greenhouse and a full-service florist.
Kula True Value & Nursery
Garden supplies and gasoline may not be a natural combination for a hardware store, but it works for these island residents. Kula True Value has been cited multiple times for having the best nursery on Maui, thanks to its hearty selection of plants, soil and garden supplies — and its expertise in microclimates. Kula also has some of the best deals on gasoline in Maui, which benefits those customers heading to the summit of Haleakala.
Mary’s Ace Hardware
This French Quarter mainstay didn’t merely luck out because of its location. It’s also everything you’d expect from an Ace store and then some, packed with plenty of merchandise fitting for a NOLA customer, as well as an entire top floor dedicated to kitchen supplies and specialty home goods and pantry items. With crawfish boiling pots and Le Creuset kitchen wares mixed in with the typical nuts and bolts, Mary’s Ace Hardware knows how to cater to a city with a big appetite.
See the full Class of 2017 All Stars — presented by — in the May issue of HBSDealer.
Sue Shaw articulates a ‘His & Her’ hardware concept
If there’s one stereotype Sue Shaw, owner of Shaw Hardware in Plattsmouth, Neb., is in a position to disqualify, it’s that husbands are equally or more involved than their wives in running a hardware store.
“My husband said it was cheaper to buy me a store than let me keep shopping in them,” said Shaw. “So I took over the store and I run it by myself pretty much.”
Though she gets occasional help from her husband and kids, Shaw is very much the one with the passion for construction, home building, and working with her hands. The Shaws purchased the store a little over 18 months ago. As the fourth owner of the now 103-year-old location, Shaw assumes the mantle at an already established business, but she already has ideas for how to build on and improve the legacy.
For instance: Shaw Hardware was a finalist for the National Hardware Show Reimagine Retail contest, which awarded $100,000 to the store that best answered how it would use the money to improve its business.
Shaw didn’t take home the grand prize, but the store landed among 10 finalists (out of more than 100 entries) for its ambitions to boost its online presence, renovate the space to expand square footage, and create a space for local craftspeople to lead classes and young people to learn new skills.
Of course, some things are not broken and not being fixed, such as the provision of basic services like screen and window repair, sharpening, and custom framing and wallpaper. Shaw has added lamp repair to the roster, as well as an upscale kitchen area, a Milwaukee Tools selection, a home brewery, and a beekeeping section.
More than anything, Shaw has elaborated on what she calls a “his & her” hardware concept. Through a number of improvements to the store (swapping fluorescent lights for chandeliers, for example), plus the mere fact of her visibility as someone who is “more the hardware person than her husband,” Shaw is sending a message to women who are normally intimidated to go to hardware stores.
"We wanted it to be a place where they could come in and feel comfortable,” she said. “We always do [our display windows] as “his” on one side and “her” on the other. Over 50% of my clients are women. There’s a huge single woman household demographic. They like coming in because they can talk, and Pinterest is so big right now. They want to talk to someone about how they can [do projects]. Two ladies the other day were going gangbusters about putting their own bathroom in.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there weren’t any hiccups in the process of establishing herself in the community.
“A lot of times people would look at me and go, ‘Is your husband here?”’ she said. “It took a little while for some of the older gentlemen to get accustomed to coming in asking a woman about plumbing issues.”
“Then again, an advantage I have is I’m not an intimidating person, and a lot of these young kids who have bought homes earlier in life have found themselves in a situation where they don’t know how to fix things,” she added. “So they can come in here and we sit down and go through it together, we fix it together, we celebrate their successes, and cry with their failures.”
Shaw’s core principle always goes back to this: to remind people that they’re a part of the community, and that they’re there to help. The other is that she’s constantly learning from her customers. This means she’s not afraid to admit it when she doesn’t know something, which can be a challenge for female retailers who are already dealing with imposter syndrome: a commonly cited experience (especially among women) of feeling undeserving and under-qualified, no matter how good you may actually be at your job.
“Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something. Most people appreciate it when I tell them right up front,” Shaw said.
“The worst thing you can do is send someone home with the wrong stuff. Too many times we feel pressured to pretend that we know what we’re talking about when we don’t, and I think that’s where you mess up because sometimes, you only get one shot at that customer. I quizzed everyone yesterday if they knew what two-headed nails were, and only one person knew. Sometimes I think it’s more empowering to say ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’”
The most recent issue of HBSDealer spotlighted women in the hardware retail industry. For our Women Who Mean Business cover story — and more excellent insight from female leaders in our industry — read on.