Fifty winning retailers, state by state
From New York’s Island to the Redwood Forests, the great American hardware store maintains a revered place in the commercial history of these United States.
On the following pages, Home Channel News editors travel state-by-state to find examples of leading hardware store retailers. To those deserving candidates not on the list — and there are many — we offer this advice as consolation: “Keep up the good work. We’ll get to you eventually.”
Marvin’s Building Materials and Home Centers
Leeds, Ala.-based Marvin’s Home Home Centers, Home Channel News’ 2010 Retailer of the Year, is continuing to fine-tune its model and is expecting to open its 27th store this month in Monroeville, Ala. Store design plays a big factor in service, with wide aisles and a friendly solution center in the exact center of the store. “All of our stores have a ‘hometown’ feel,” says CEO Darrin Gilliam.
Spenard Building Supply
Although some of its 21 locations are more heavily weighted toward building materials, Anchorage, Alaska -based Spenard Building Supply serves every kind of customer, from military contractors to homeowners. And it’s definitely making a pitch for consumer business with DIY clinics, “Bon Appetit” cooking demos and a website (sbsalaska.com) that shows happy homeowners enjoying their decks and painting their walls. Spenard Building Supply has such a strong presence in Alaska, it’s one of the few divisions of ProBuild that got a pass from the company-wide rebranding initiative.
Pinnacle Peak Ace Hardware
John and Robin Arterburn opened this Ace Hardware store in Scottsdale three years ago, hoping to provide an experience that would remind customers of trips to the hardware store with their dad or grandpa. “Our goal is to be the most helpful hardware store on the planet,” John said. Blending old-fashioned customer service with new innovations, the couple created a home decor area called “Robin’s nest,” named after his wife. “Many women consider us their home decor source because Robin finds unique items not found in the chain stores,” John said.
Ken’s Discount Building Materials
Ken and Dolores Blackmon started their business with very lean inventory: three stacks of plywood left over from Ken’s work as a remodeler. That was more than 30 years ago. Today in El Dorado, Ark., the Blackmons own a 19,000-sq.-ft. home center that sells the usual hardware store assortment plus flooring, cabinets and building materials. The store is a member of the Handy Hardware co-op, where Ken sits on the board. “We buy and sell almost anything,” Dolores said. That includes golf carts, former Katrina trailers and Yeti coolers, which keep ice frozen up to seven days. “I once bought 3,000 softballs,” Ken added.
Orchard Supply Hardware
Celebrating its 80th birthday in 2011, San Jose, Calif.-based Orchard Supply Hardware is strengthened by its history, as a recent flagship-store redesign attests. But the company is more interested in the future. Industry veteran Mark Baker (Home Depot, Scotts Miracle-Gro) has recently taken the reins of the 89-store all-California retailer. The chain’s investors, majority owners Sears and Ares Management, have stated they’re expecting growth — geographic and otherwise.
In Boulder, Colo., you won’t hear long discussions about inventory turns and supply chain optimization at McGuckin, a hardware institution on both sides of the Rockies. One of the first stores to pass the 200,000 SKU barrier, McGuckin proudly offers everything from fireplace acorn steams to LED-lit fountain pumps, all crammed into a 60,000-sq.-ft. building. Walking through the warren-like store should be on the bucket list of everyone who works in the home improvement industry.
Killingworth True Value
Since gracing the cover of the Home Channel News March 2010 issue, Killingworth True Value president Jackie Cost has seen the word get out about the store’s major renovation. She’s also seen community involvement increase. Case in point, the Killingworth Youth and Family Services division sets up a tent at all of the store’s outdoor special events. Coming up this month: a Mow and Grow event with Husqvarna and Jonathan Green grass seeds.
Rommel’s Ace Hardware
Rommel’s Ace Hardware operates 11 locations on the East Coast, including three in Delaware — Dover, Seaford and Selbyville. The retailer is a part of Rommel Holdings, whose varied interests include four Denny’s restaurants and a Skateland roller skating rink. The motto is clear: “We can get you in, get you help, and get you on your way in 15 minutes or less.”
Sunshine Ace Hardware
Sunshine Ace has six locations in South Florida, but the downtown Naples store is unlike any of the others, said store manager Sherry Kish. Walk into the sporting goods area and you see a very large fishing boat. Above the boat is a mangrove and beside the mangrove are two large murals depicting the area. And all around, the store uses a cinnamon, beige and green color scheme to hammer home the one-of-a-kind impression.
Bates Ace Hardware
It takes a certain amount of confidence to build a 22,000-sq.-ft. hardware store on Home Depot’s home turf. The year was 1993, Home Depot was a $9.2 billion retailer, but Bates Ace Hardware had run out of room in its small, 72-year-old Atlanta store. Owner David Doss moved ahead with plans for a new building across the street, including a 12,000-sq.-ft. showroom and a 1,000-sq.-ft. lawn and garden center. A decade later, the Doss family added a 1,000-sq.-ft. climate-controlled greenhouse. Their courage is still on display: The store has a live video feed from its sales floor posted on its website at batesace.com.
“Oahu’s favorite hardware store” isn’t just a slogan. City Mill has made the Hawaii Business Magazine’s “Best Places to Work” list in each of the last four years. It’s also a Sea Advertiser’s People’s Choice Award Winner. Brother-sister team Carol Ai May and Steven Ai run eight locations in Honolulu and across Oahu.
About 100 miles north of Boise, May Hardware in McCall, Idaho, has taken diversification and niche development to rare places. The hardware store serves a former logging town turned tourist destination with a core assortment plus upscale housewares such as Mrs. Meyers cleaning products and Le Creuset cookware. The company also runs a marina on Payette Lake; a 24-hour locksmith service; and a division that installs home security systems, home audio systems and whole-house automatic controls that regulate lighting, temperature, surveillance and access.
Weiss Ace Hardware
In Glenview, Ill., Weiss Ace Hardware propelled to a modicum of fame by appearing as the customer-centric cover story of the Ace Show Daily last month. The store is run by Jon Weiss, whose father John bought the business from one of Ace’s founders (Richard Hesse) back in 1931. The family affair includes Jon’s son J.T. and daughter Lynne Rine, who are both managers at the Glenview store.
Sullivan Hardware and Garden
Perhaps the most visited hardware store in Hoosierland, Sullivan Hardware and Garden twice a year welcomes busloads of Do it Best Corp. members to its north Indy location. It’s worth the trip — even for repeat visitors. Owned by Do it Best board member Pat Sullivan, the store’s expansive indoor-outdoor garden center is a legitimate tourist attraction. And the store-within-a-store gift shop contributes to an upscale female-friendly atmosphere.
With 59 stores spread across the upper Midwest, Sioux City, Iowa-based Bomgaars is a classic family owned retailer that opened an impressive 10 stores last year, expanding its footprint into Colorado and Wyoming. Not your typical hardware store, Bomgaars’ major departments expand beyond paint, hardware and tools and include farm, pet, clothing and footwear.
Westlake Ace Hardware
In early 2010, this 88-store hardware chain based in Lenexa, Kan., reexamined its business model and revamped its service standards through a Project North Star optimization program. One result is a new tagline reflecting commitment to service: “Small projects. Big know-how. Ask away.” Another is the roll out of 25 Lawn and Garden Centers this spring. It appears to be working. Same-store sales increased 3% last year, and were running at an increase of 4.5% so far this year.
Brownsboro Hardware & Paint
Brownsboro Hardware has been recognized by Do it Best as a high-performance independent that competes and wins against some tough home improvement competition in suburban Louisville. The store is Kentucky’s largest Weber Grill dealer. How? By working at it constantly. “Whether its Dec. 3 or July 3, we roll those grills onto our sidewalk every day,” owner Jim Lehrer said. “And that has become kind of a billboard for us.” A second location, this one in Prospect, Ky., opened in April.
Ed’s Shenandoah Hardware
If biology is destiny, Ed Beard is living proof that the hardware industry has the greater gravitational pull. The 36-year-old Handy Hardware dealer began working in the store at the age of 14. All through college, where he majored in biological sciences, he continued to work full time. Soon after graduation, he bought the store from his boss. Now Ed’s Shenandoah Hardware in Baton Rogue, La. bears his distinct imprint: niche categories like beekeeping supplies, hunting, fishing and archery; and local outdoor cooking appliances like banjo burners, crawfish boilers, jambalaya pots, and a full line of high-end grills and smokers. “We meet everyone at the door and take them where they need to go,” Beard said.
Oak Hill Ace Hardware
“You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave” were lyrics from the hit song “Hotel California.” Oak Hill Ace Hardware in Scarborough is a little like that. You visit here one time and cannot leave because you do not want to, said general manager Dan Johnson. “We’re quick, we’re nice, we’re helpful,” he said. “So many people are wowed by how helpful we are.” Oak Hill is known for the depth and breadth of its lawn and garden products, paints, hand tools and power tools.
From the Eisenhower administration to the present day, Strosniders Hardware has served the Washington, D.C., area with a strategy of service and convenience. Fifteen years ago, National Home Center News profiled the Bethesda, Md., location as a bona fide “Great American Hardware Store.” Today the company also operates in Potomac, Md., and Silver Spring, Md.
W.E. Aubuchon Hardware
The biggest of the hardware independents, Westminster, Mass.-based Aubuchon runs more than 130 locations across six northeastern states, starting with Maine and ending in upstate New York. Family owned since 1908, Aubuchon Hardware was way ahead of the curve on the Internet, e-commerce and search engine optimization; the company owns the much-envied hardwarestore.com Web address. Two grandsons of the founder now lead the W.E. Aubuchon Co. Some 16 other family members, some of them fourth generation, work in management positions. The company has closed some units during the recession but opened others, the most recent being on April 2 in Cohasset, Mass., in a former Chevrolet dealership.
With 26 stores (25 in Michigan and one in Georgia), GillRoy’s is one of Do it Best Corp.’s largest dealers. President Bob Morgan’s father started with one store in downtown Flint in 1945. Much of Michigan, and especially Flint, has been devastated by the evaporation of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. auto industry. But Flushing, Mich.-based GillRoy’s has not closed a single store or conducted any major layoffs. “We’ve been able to retain all of our management,” Morgan said. “We’ve cut expenses and work twice as hard for less money.”
Arrow Ace Hardware
The recent tornados that tore through the Southern states stirred up painful memories for longtime employees at Arrow Ace Hardware in St. Peter, Minn. On March 31, 1998, a twister came through their town, destroying 90% of the homes and damaging 125 businesses. Once the winds died down, Ace dealer Dave Neiman started handing out chainsaws, flashlights (nearly 300 of them) and plastic sheeting through the store’s shattered front windows. He told people they could come back later and pay him. A member of the Ace buying group since 1956, Arrow Ace Hardware has grown to include 10 Minnesota locations, with an 11th under construction in northwestern Rochester. Neiman, who purchased the original St. Peter store from his father, is still president of the company.
Wesson Ace Hardware
A store with real Southern charm — and quite a few authentic Southern characters, according to one supplier — the Wesson Ace Hardware store in rural Mississippi is a classic, full-service hardware store dually affiliated with Ace and Handy Hardware. The company has successfully cultivated a strong e-commerce business from its rural location on Highway 51 in Wesson.
On one side of Main Street in Troy, Mo., is Hechler’s Hearth & Home, in a converted opera house. On the other side is the original Hechler Hardware building, which opened in 1896. “We’ve got the original floors and the old iron ladder that runs around the walls,” said Judy Hechler, president. Her sons Dan and Phil represent the fourth generation in the business. In addition to history, the store emphasizes service. “We have people who have been here 43 years,” Judy said. “Our goal is to provide the best personal service you can have.”
King’s Ace Hardware
Sales were up by double digits at Billings, Mont.-based King’s Ace Hardware in 2009, despite the recession swirling around the rest of the country. But then road construction projects began on two major thoroughfares that pass one of the company’s two stores. Sales took a hit, but owner Skip King, ever the optimist, proceeded with plans to open a third unit in Billings. Sales are back up, and the new 22,000-sq.-ft. store, scheduled for a fall 2011 opening, will have an espresso bar, post office outlet, full Craftsman tool assortment and 20-ft. veranda for outdoor displays.
Q.P. Ace Hardware
With deep roots in the Lincoln community, Q.P. Ace Hardware has four locations. You can get a free bag of popcorn at any one of them. Founded in 1966, the business was handed down to Doug and Lisa Long in 1999, son-in-law and daughter of the founders.
In Las Vegas, the sibling team of Tadami Kamitaki and his sister Matsuko Mizoguchi came to hardware retailing through an unconventional route. In 1951 they opened a crafts store in Kahului, Maui, called Ben Franklin. Now their children run the operation, which includes 24 hardware stores (three in Nevada, one in Oregon, eight in Washington and 12 back in Hawaii. They’re still in the crafts business with six Ben Franklin stores and have managed to combine the two (hardware and crafts) in two locations.
Perras Ace Hardware
Perras Ace Hardware was the first Ace dealer in New Hampshire when it opened its doors as Perras Lumber in 1980. Twenty-one years later, the Perras family decided to split the operation into two businesses, retail and wholesale, and Perras Ace Hardware was born. Open seven days a week, the Lancaster, N.H., home center has a separate gift and party supplies store on the property as well as a full LBM offering. This past winter, the company used its Facebook page to keep snowbound customers apprised of any incoming shipments of roof rakes.
This converted lumberyard offers “21st-century products in a 19th-century environment.” The building that now houses Moorestown Hardware was a lumberyard in the 1890s that supplied materials for homes in Moorestown and surrounding communities. It closed in 1971, but was purchased and reopened as a hardware store in 1972. Owner Pete Bender has kept the quaintness about the store, piping in old tunes while customers shop. The sales staff is folksy, too, which is part of this store’s charm. “It was as though people had been waiting for us and wanted us to succeed,” Bender said.
Big Jo True Value Hardware
Big Jo has won local, state, region and national awards. So something is working at this Santa Fe, N.M.-based hardware store. “When you walk in our doors, there is always someone waiting for you,” said co-owner Rick C de Baca. “We’re known for customer service and going above and beyond what most retailers would do. We give to the schools, the youth programs. We help the families who live here and then in turn shop here.” Big Jo is also known for carrying items — big and small — that customers won’t find anywhere else, C de Baca said.
Costello’s Ace Hardware
We can’t say this is where Donald Trump shops, but this is where he took his “The Apprentice” television show to give contestants some real-world retailing experience. The company, founded in 1973, has expanded steadily over the years, branching out across New York’s high-population-density communities of Long Island — its 16th and 17th stores opened this spring in Smithtown and East Islip.
Lanier’s, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary, features more than 100,000 hardware items. While lawn and garden equipment such as Stihl trimmers, blowers and chain saws are a big hit, the Lexington, N.C., store has an extensive collection of sporting items. Lanier’s sells team uniforms and does screen printing and embroidery for those who want logos on their favorite jerseys. Lanier’s motto is: “If we don’t have it, we’ll find it for you.”
Edinburg General Store
How popular is Edinburg General Store? Tour buses come to this location — in a town of 252, no less. “We are a destination place,” said owner Bernice Flanagan, a Do it Best member. This quaint hardware store entertains guests with three G-scale trains that circle the perimeter of the balcony and pieces of antique furniture highlighting the merchandise on two levels of the store. Edinburg General Store sells unique hardware, housewares, Carhartt clothing, Wrangler jeans, gifts and personalized pottery for many surrounding towns. “We’re the biggest little general store in North Dakota,” Flanagan said.
All American Store
Opened in Brookville, Ohio, in January 2010 and expanded to a second location in Huber Heights, Ohio, in June 2010, the All American Store is an example of a business that puts its money where its mouth is. Everything in the store is made or assembled in America, co-ower Mike Petro said. “We’re supporting suppliers in the U.S. that are trying to stay in business,” he said. “We have to stop sending manufacturing jobs over to China.” How’s it working? A third store is in the pipeline, he said.
Pick a state in the south central United States, anywhere between California and Alabama, and Sutherland Lumber is there. The company has a regional office in Jenks, Okla., and five stores throughout the state. The 94-year-old, family owned firm operates 56 locations in 13 states, and they range from small lumberyards to 140,000-sq.-ft. warehouse stores. Its 2010 split between DIY and contractor business is 70% to 30%, according to Chain Store Guide, a directory of home center operators and hardware stores. Sutherland’s latest plans are to put a store in a former 90,000-sq.-ft. Walmart outside its headquarter city of Kansas City, Mo.
Jerry’s Home Improvement Center
In Eugene, Ore., Jerry’s is the kind of store that attracts tour groups — of other retailers. Not your father’s hardware store, Jerry’s won’t fit on most Main Streets — its original store in Eugene measures 360,000 sq. ft., including a drive-through lumberyard. But what Jerry’s is also famous for, among independents, is building its second, 135,000-sq.-ft. location in Springfield, Ore., at the same time Home Depot was pulling permits for one of its own big boxes, less than a mile away. The Home Depot never opened.
Roaring Spring True Value
Connecting with customers has helped make Roaring Spring a big-time success. Case in point: When it announced the hiring of sales associate Sally Rhodes on Facebook, exactly one minute later, a customer/fan responded: “I love Sally Rhodes!! She’s the best.” It is that kind of love that makes this “department store” something special. Doug Mapes, another customer, wrote: “What can I say that hasn’t already been said. There is no store that I know of that offers a more friendly atmosphere than here. I wish you could can that charm.”
Adler’s Design Center and Hardware
“Adler’s is open, we have plenty of shovels and ice melt, and our parking lot is plowed. So don’t be an RI wimp. Come and visit us.” That was the Facebook posting from Adler’s Design Center and Hardware on Dec. 27, the day after the blizzard snowed in millions of people in the Northeast. The Providence store was quick to use social media to seize an opportunity. Whether it is 2011 or 1919 — when it opened as an Army-Navy store — two goals remain: Treat each customer with respect and offer quality at a reasonable price. Today as then, customers are treated like guests.
Simpson Ace Hardware
Plenty of Ace stores participate in the co-op’s brown bag sale event, but not many get this question on their Facebook page: “Will 20% be taken off guns and ammo?” (The answer was “yes,” if it fits in the bag.) Simpson Ace Hardware has combined hunting, fishing, sporting goods and home improvement at its flagship store in Sumter, S.C. Brand name flip-flops and sunglasses straps join electrical and plumbing in its newest unit. The other three locations (two in Sumter, one in Manning) are more traditional hardware stores, although they also carry some of the non-traditional SKUs.
Twin City Hardware
Lots of people living in Deadwood, S.D., didn’t care much for the HBO series named after their small town. Too much cussing, prostitution and other unseemly behavior. “We don’t all swear like that,” said Les Bellet, who owns Twin City Hardware with his wife Cindy. “But the show was really good for the town.” Deadwood draws a couple million tourists a year who come to gamble in the casinos and see where Wild Bill Hickok died. Twin City Hardware serves the needs of both residents (population 1,272) and businesses, and Bellet has plans to expand into building materials. “We just want to be a medium-sized lumberyard,” he said. “A place where a guy can get 20 boards or some insulation.”
Cole’s Home Solutions
A dramatic, one-of-a-kind home center and hardware store in Millington, Tenn., was built from the ground up to beat the big boxes and swing for the fences. Bathroom fixtures have running water, and an actual garage inside the store allows for product education; or better yet, just plain tinkering with the cool tools. With categories organized and displayed in vignettes and with a design heavily inspired by Bass Pro Shops and Cracker Barrel, plus a countertop luncheonette, the store has something for everyone.
Price Hardware True Value
The Atlanta, Texas-based single-store operator in a town of 6,000 draws regularly from a 20-mile radius. Inside the 39,000-sq.-ft. store — which took on a Destination True Value format late last year — are classic assortments, plus co-owner Carol Price’s Kitchenette, a housewares store with a fully functioning kitchen. One of True Value’s 15 “Best Hardware Store in Town” honorees this year, the store is also the 2011 Golden Hammer “Tools of the Trade” Award winner.
On the home page of Orem, Utah-based Parley’s Hardware website (parleyshardware.com), owner Parley Hellewell speaks to his customers in a video clip, saying how “My wife thinks I’m crazy” for running a hardware store instead of retiring. But don’t let the overalls fool you. Hellewell operates a home improvement store that few single operators can rival. In addition to core categories, Parley’s Hardware has installed sales, a handyman service, and separate divisions that handle insulation, air-duct cleaning and HVAC services. Classes are held on site five nights a week, ranging from salsa-making and women’s self defense to contractor-oriented topics. “What more fun can there be than going down all day and playing in a hardware store?” Hellewell asks.
When Robinson Hardware opened for business, Benjamin Harrison was president of the United States. That was 1890. In the ensuing 121 years, this establishment remains family-run, still offers free delivery and sells plenty of building supplies. “We have a good selection of lumber — pressure-treated lumber especially — and we have a large Sheetrock selection,” said Kathy Robinson, who runs the store with her “jack of all trades” husband, James, in South Hero, Vt., 20 miles north of Burlington. The store has seven employees.
Taylor’s Do it Centers
In the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area, Taylor’s Do it Centers are entering their 84th year — and seeing a fourth generation enter the business. (Do it Best CEO Bob Taylor is a grandson of co-founder Robert Taylor.) Forward-thinking formats include Taylor’s Do it Express, extra convenient for the in-and-out customer; and Taylor’s Fire Works, specializing in gas grills, fireplace furnishings and garden accessories.
An active and aggressive user of retail technology systems, Renton, Wash.-based McLendon Hardware consists of six retail hardware stores — including a 117,000-sq.-ft. remodeled former Kmart store purchased in 2004 — a commercial lumberyard, two distribution centers and more than 500 employees. Founded in 1925, the fourth generation of the founder’s family is already in management positions.
Martin & Jones
Martin & Jones is one of the stops on a historic walking tour of downtown Ronceverte, so tour guides usher groups through the late-1800s store on a regular basis. Meanwhile, employees fetch items for customers from tall wooden shelves using rolling ladders. The three-story building is full of merchandise, including furniture and outdoor power equipment. A much-sought-after small engine repairman runs a shop out back. Up until the 1950s, merchandise came by train right into the store’s basement. Founded in 1904, Martin & Jones is operated by the grandson of one of the original founders.
This 2009 Golden Hammer Award “Innovative Retailer of the Year” winner is known for its engaging sidewalk and parking lot events. It operates stores in Prairie du Chien and Viroqua, which recently underwent a major remodel.
Lots of hardware stores look like they should be on the National Register of Historic Places, but Shively Hardware actually is. This wood frame structure was built in downtown Saratoga, Wyo., in 1889 and was made into a bank shortly after. The Shively family bought the business in 1925. (It was sold by previous owners to cover gambling debts.) “The store is built around the old bank vault,” said third-generation owner Mike Glode, a True Value dealer with a core assortment of hardware and major appliances. “We couldn’t take it out if we wanted to.” A second store, also called Shively Hardware, sells ATVs, snowmobiles and outdoor power equipment.
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The mothers of invention
Like most of the vendors in the Inventors Spotlight section of the 2010 National Hardware Show (NHS), Kalvin Vogt was confined to an 8-ft.-wide space that ran approximately 4 ft. deep. But he was right at the entrance with his crystal doorknobs, which are illuminated from inside with LED lights.
“We had Home Depot come in the first 15 minutes of the first day,” said Vogt, CEO of Krystal Touch of New York Inc. This being his first time at the show, Vogt and his associates were stunned. “We were ready to leave right after that,” he joked.
Although Vogt wasn’t prepared to supply a big retailer like Home Depot — “we were just an Internet company selling doorknobs” — he and the buyer talked about a possible product test in a year’s time. Vogt also talked to Amazon.com; a number of independent reps; and two Canadian retail chains, Rona and Home Hardware.
Over the last 12 months, Krystal Touch has ramped up production and expanded its line to 83 SKUs. Its custom business has taken off, and the Walt Disney Co. asked him to create a prototype for its home decor line.
Expect to see Vogt back at the 2011 NHS, in the Inventors Spotlight section, prepared to take orders. “When we go back this year we’ll be ready,” he said.
The NHS always brings together the brightest ideas in the home improvement industry, and last year’s event featured a New Product World section in four different areas, plus the Inventors Spotlight. Steve Costello, president of Better Products, was another first-timer at the 2010 show. “I didn’t have Home Depot knocking down my door last year, but I could have gotten into more [distribution] avenues,” he said. “I was trying to curb my enthusiasm and not do something disastrous.”
Costello has an innovative product that transports raked leaves from one part of the yard to another, then to the curb or compost pile. Called the Leaf Lugger, it’s basically a tarp with rigid edges that folds easily into a pyramid.
This year, Costello is ready to handle more accounts from his production facility near the Philadelphia airport. He’s open to more catalog business or to possibly broaden into other channels. And he likes the snug little Inventors Spotlight section, which drew good foot traffic last year, he said, adding: “Someone could go through the whole section in 10 minutes if they wanted to.”
Other vendors, preferring a larger venue, chose to showcase their inventions in one of the New Products Worlds or the New Product Launch. Dan O’Very of Fertile Earth, which brings a new product every year to the NHS, debuted the Simple Garden in 2010, an all-in-one indoor gardening kit for growing vegetables or herbs.
“Last year’s [NHS] was the most productive trade show we attended,” O’Very said. “We met with numerous domestic and international buyers.” O’Very was particularly happy to move up from the smaller independents he met in 2009 to the regional chains like Westlake Hardware and Fred Meyer. Buyers from Crate & Barrel and Home Shopping Network also stopped by the booth. The company’s network of sales reps brought several merchants by in anticipation of future meetings. “It certainly helps when a buyer can see your product first,” O’Very said.
So what is he unveiling in 2011? The GardenMaster 3D. “You can plant up to 6 ft. of garden in 2 ft. of space by using the top and sides,” he explained.
Always Green Lawn Paint will be sitting out the 2011 NHS for several reasons, according to owner Dawn Marks. Traveling is difficult for her and her partner, Emily Smith, because of family commitments. Plus, they’re still working off the leads they got from the 2010 show.
“We were very happy with the appointments with buyers and sales we got from the show,” Marks said. They saw a number of catalog and online retailers, which is their target retail channel. “Big boxes want us to cut out prices so much it would cost us to sell to them,” she said.
The label promotes energy
The label promotes energy conservation, sustainable forestry and clean water. Home Depot executives said that as the world's-largest buyer of construction material, their company had the power to persuade thousands of suppliers, homebuilders and consumers to follow its lead on environment sustainability. -954-691-1102
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Westlake’s star performance
Here’s how Westlake Ace Hardware CEO George Smith describes the Lenexa, Kan.-based chain’s Project North Star: “It’s our vision for the future of Westlake and the foundation for all the decisions we make.”
It might sound intangible, but it’s as real as the brick and mortar in the chain’s 88 stores. According to Smith, the business-optimization plan launched in January 2010 factors in everything the new-and-improved Westlake Ace Hardware does. The North Star plan has brought about substantial changes to both the culture of the Midwestern hardware giant and the physical operations of the stores. A key initiative is the effort to own home repair and maintenance, which is emphasized with the new tagline: “Small projects. Big know-how. Ask away,” — a message promoted on endcaps and company circulars.
Specific in-store service guidelines were instituted and measured. Merchandising was fine-tuned, leading to the creation of a signature lawn and garden department rolled out to 25 stores this spring. Project North Star was the impetus behind the updated paint department — currently being tested — and the introduction of Craftsman tool departments to enhance selection. And the merchandising changes are supported by training initiatives.
“All of these things working together have had a very positive impact on our business,” Smith noted. And above all, the program has also led to quantifiable results even in a difficult business environment. Smith points to game-changing strategies and traction in the market. Plus, comp-store sales were up 3% in 2010, and are running up 4.5% so far this year.
For its bold organizational makeover and its commitment to customer service and quality operations, Westlake Ace Hardware has been named the 2011 Retailer of the Year, an award it will accept May 11 at the Golden Hammer Awards breakfast event in Las Vegas during the National Hardware Show.
Home Channel News talked to Smith about succeeding in the hardware business.
Home Channel News: What made you start looking at your business in a critical way?
George Smith: This was a time in the industry of a lot of cuts, and people were hunkering down. We realized that we weren’t going to grow in store count — no one was doing that, but we could use the downturn as an opportunity to really look under the hood of our business.
HCN: And where exactly did Project North Store come from?
Smith: Mike Sweeney of Hawn, Johnson & Morrison [Westlake owner] said, “You need to make sure that your strategy is really well defined, that the organizing principles of how you’re going to operate your business are very well articulated, and that everyone throughout your organization knows what they are.”
HCN: Did you think you had high marks in that regard?
Smith: I think like a lot of businesses, we needed improvement. We had a mission and a strategy, but we hadn’t stepped back and refocused it. So we went out and talked to all our associates, our managers, our district managers, our field staff, cashiers and all the way up and down the line. We talked to our customers, external constituents like Ace, and others. We tried to get a real good feeling for what the consumer thinks about us for, what are the really good things they like, and what they didn’t like, what did our associates think about us, what did they think we needed to do better or [what we were] doing well.
HCN: What were the big changes in focus?
Smith: The legacy that we’re neighborhood stores and committed to the communities — we need to make sure that comes out very strong. One of the things is, we said: “We’re going to be a customer-first organization.” We were a task-oriented company before in the field, and that’s not unusual for a retailer. So we said we have got to change that focus, and we have got to focus on the customer first. And we did that, and we developed our mission statement: ‘Keep homeowners’ homes running smoothly.’ We’re going to make sure we have expertise in our stores, and we’re going to make sure we train them effectively.”
HCN: The tagline “Small projects. Big know-how. Ask away.” has a nice ring to it. Was that your idea?
Smith: (Laughs) No, but it was a brilliant idea. We had consultants working with us and they came back with four, five or six approaches to our brand promise, and we really didn’t like any of them very much. Finally, another consultant — Linda Goodman — facilitated coming up with this. “Small projects. Big know-how. Ask away.” We heard it, and we thought, “Wow, this really makes sense.” We fell in love with it.
HCN: What are some of the physical changes in your stores that your customers will notice?
Smith: One of the first things we did in our stores was to clean up the clutter that traditional hardware stores seem to have. We made it easier for our customers to shop in our stores. We also implemented new signs and planograms throughout our stores. We are targeting signature categories of Paint, Lawn and Garden, and Tools for department updates in terms of products, layouts and design.
HCN: What’s the idea behind your lawn and garden strategy?
Smith: Last year we tested eight Lawn and Garden Centers, and we have rolled out 25 centers this spring. We are reinventing the live goods area, the nursery areas. We put in new fixtures and new signage to boost the atmosphere. We also have new technology in those centers. We have electronic scanners to help the customers with checkout. We also changed our tactics around product assortment. Where we used to have trees and shrubs, today, it’s really all about color. Our mantra now is “no bloom, no room.” It’s a very visual department with high-velocity products.
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