Building a modern classic in New Jersey
Counting down the 2018 class of Stihl Hardware All Stars.
We asked Drew Hubiak how it feels to be in the 2018 class of Stihl Hardware All Stars. The owner of Bernardsville Hardware & Supply since 2016 and Califon Lumber since 2000 said “I don’t consider myself an All Star, but thank you.”
That’s just like an All Star to be modest and polite. But he and his team are also passionate, savvy, scientific and successful.
A good sample of the Bernardsville Hardware team graces the cover of the May issue of HBSDealer magazine, which celebrates high performance retailing and the 2018 class of Stihl Hardware All Stars.
“That was a great day,” he said of the 2016 opening, captured by the cover photo. “And that’s how we operate every day. We have a lot of fun. It’s family. And it’s just our passion.”
Hubiak’s adventures in the hardware and building supply business began in 1985, when, as a 19-year-old, he loaded trucks and stocked shelves for Califon Lumber. After 15 years, he purchased the lumberyard. And after another 15 he became aware of an old-fashioned, time-honored store for sale in Bernardsville, following the death of a previous owner.
“To me, the decision to buy the Bernardsville store was based on passion more than anything else,” he said. “I just felt the community needed that and wanted that, and we also saw an opportunity for ourselves to grow.”
Hubiak’s wife, Renee, and daughter, Ashley, are in the business along with him, as well as his son-in-law. Two other daughters are following “different passions,” he said. And one son is in the U.S. Air Force.
Everybody loves a vintage hardware store — especially Hubiak. But he also knows the bottom-line value of exciting end caps, navigable aisles and inviting layouts.
“It had that old feel to it. It was messy and dusty and dirty — it just didn’t feel like that was going to quite cut it in that area,” he said. “The customer count is incredible, the clientele is more upscale and I think they demand something more modern, something clean. And we pulled in Do it Best to help us bring that store to a whole different level. We were counting on their science. Because that’s what retail has become — a science.”
The result is a blend of modern with the old-fashioned and warm, modern and friendly. The retailer’s co-op “helped us achieve that, while maintaining an old-fashioned feel of customer service and being welcomed and feeling like your walking into a place where we know your name.”
The personal touch and relationship between the hardware store and homeowner is key to the success of the hardware store, he said. And even as digital disruption works on the retail industry, there will always be a place for a good, local hardware store, he said.
“When you got a problem with a toilet, or something is broken in the house, then you need immediate help. You can’t wait to order something even if it comes the next day,” he said. “The homeowner needs the product right away, and they need professional advice. And that’s our survival. I believe there will always be a need for our business, for that go-to place for advice.”
From True Value to Mills Fleet Farm
Heath Ashenfelter, the former True Value Company VP and chief merchandising officer, has taken on a top merchandising role at Mills Fleet Farm, the Appleton, Wis.-based farm and ranch retailer.
Ashenfelter’s title at Mills Fleet Farm is executive VP and chief merchandising officer. According to his LinkedIn page, Ashenfelter took on that role in February, which is before True Value publicly announced its intention to sell a 70% stake to private equity firm ACON investments.
Mills Fleet Farm operates 37 locations in the upper Midwest, offering an assortment that covers the wide ranging areas of “life, work, home and recreation,” according to its web site. The company has also been described as a value-based retailer of lifestyle merchandise serving suburban and farm consumers.
Founded in 1955, Mills Fleet Farm operated as a family business until it was acquired by investment firm KKR Capstone in January 2016. The CEO of Mills Fleet Farm is Derick Prelle, who ran KKR’s retail and consumer operations group before taking Mills CEO role in June of last year.
At True Value, Ashenfelter climbed the executive ranks after joining the company in 2011 as a senior global product merchant. Prior to joining True Value, he worked as national sales manager at Ellsworth Adhesives. He also spent 10 years at The Scotts Company.
Ashenfelter has been with True Value since 2011. He has served in roles with increasing responsibility, including global product merchant. He has successfully led cross-functional teams focused on EDLP, New Items, Seasonal Inventory and Value Density.
Ashenfelter also previously served as national sales manager at Ellsworth Adhesives, and he spent 10 years at The Scotts Company, where he worked with major hardware, home improvement, mass market, grocery and drug retailers driving significant sales increases year over year.
At True Value, VP of communications Jean Niemi said the company has not named a replacement yet for Ashenfelter. She added that his departure was unrelated to the ACON deal.
Tractor Supply plows through a late spring
In many parts of the country, a late spring deterred trips to farm and ranch retailers and hardware stores. Still, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Tractor Supply Co. posted solid sales and earnings during the first quarter ended March 31.
“We are pleased with our overall performance and how effectively we managed our business,” said CEO Greg Sandfort.
The company reported net sales of $1.68 billion, up 7.6% from $1.56 billion in the first quarter last year. Comparable store sales increased 3.7%, a much-improved performance compared to a decrease of 2.2% in the prior year quarter. Net income increased 18.4% to $71.4 million in the first quarter.
The increase in comparable store sales was primarily driven by strength in everyday merchandise, including consumable, usable and edible products, along with strong demand for winter seasonal categories. These increases were offset by lower sales of spring and summer seasonal products.
“As we enter the second quarter, we believe we are well-positioned to capitalize on the spring selling season,” Sandfort said.
The company with more than 1,700 stores in 49 states opened 15 new Tractor Supply stores and four Petsense stores in the first quarter.