The future is now for independents
Las Vegas — What would you do if you had a chance to upgrade your retail strategy with $100,000?
A panel of finalists for the Reimagine Retail program delivered their ideas during a discussion at the National Hardware Show.
Designed to help independent retailers succeed, last year’s prize winner Robert Lau shared how he used the prize to create a café focused on grilling and barbecue elements. Located in Soda Springs, Idaho, Caribou Jack’s Trading Co. just completed an overhaul and complete store reset to make room for the café.
Caribou Jack’s sells hardware, tools and sporting goods, along with farm and ranch supplies. Now the store has the sensory element of smell to go along with the visual brick-and-mortar experience.
“If you feed them, they will come,” said Lau, owner of Caribou Jack’s, which competes against several other independent hardware stores in his town.
This year, the contest focused on technology; and winner Matt Woods plans to implement same-day delivery to customers within a three-mile radius of each of the five Woods Hardware stores in the Cincinnati market.
At Woods Hardware’s downtown Cincinnati location, the company rents just seven parking spaces at a cost of $1,400 per month. It’s not an ideal situation for shoppers or the store. Getting in and out can be difficult.
“Our vision is to virtualize our store,” said Woods, president and CEO of Woods Hardware. “You can click a product, interconnect with us through e-commerce and get your product delivered in the same day.”
After learning his proposal had won the contest, Woods said his company is “ready to rock and roll.”
“Now we just have to hire the team to upgrade our systems.” Woods said. “With this prize, we can start taking steps to put our plan into action.”
Other finalists included The Color House in Wakefield, R.I. The paint and design retailer wants to create a rewards program using social media platforms. In addition to earning rewards for purchases, customers would also earn rewards for referrals, reviews and social media sharing. They would be able to see how close they are to their next reward, and those who engage the most would earn exclusive perks.
The Color House recently opened the e-commerce portion of its business.
“It allows my store to be open 24/7,” said owner Jean Hauser, who brought her background in fashion merchandising and interior design to The Color House more than two decades ago.
Just Grillin, located in Tampa, Fla., zeros in on outdoor living space design services along with grill sales. The company’s long-term plan includes a connected space to allow customers to actually see what their new living space could look like.
Through tablets, mounted TVs and voice-activated smart home assistants, the company will be able to take customers on a virtual tour of their proposed outdoor living renovations. In addition, Just Grillin plans to enhance its marketing approach and website to attract new customers to the in-store connected showroom, according to marketing manager Samuel Curtis.
“Technology does not play a huge roll for us right now but it needs to — that’s where everything is heading,” Curtis said. “We want to automate processes and make our location a destination store.”
Weeks Home Hardware operates four locations in southern Ontario, Canada. Owner Ron Cicuttini wants to use technology to track customers, install self-serve kiosks and build an e-commerce platform. Using an array of digital tools, the business seeks to understand how customers move and interact within the store.
The company also plans to use kiosks at the entrance of its buildings to give customers digital access to flyers and coupons.
“We really do believe if you are going to be successful in the future, you have to have brick-and-mortar and e-commerce,” Cicuttini said.
Westlake expands in Carolina
Store-within-a-store pet supply will be part of the new Cary, N.C., location.
Westlake Ace Hardware signed a lease to open a new store in North Carolina. The 20,000 sq.-ft. Cary location in the Hemlock Plaza shopping center is expected to open in the fall of 2018
The new store will boost the Ace retail division’s store count in North Carolina to 10. Westlake Ace currently operates 121 stores in 10 states.
“Becoming part of the Cary community and developing a new Ace Hardware location here from the ground up is particularly exciting for us,” said Joe Jeffries, CEO of Westlake Ace Hardware. “The new store will allow us to deepen our relationship with customers in North Carolina and show them how we live the Ace Helpful Promise every day by delivering reliable service, advice and products to help customers get their projects done right.”
The new store will be branded as Ace Hardware and will have a 13,300 square foot sales floor. It will sell such traditional hardware products as fasteners, tools, plumbing and electric supplies and paint — as well as Stihl outdoor power equipment, lawn and garden supplies, and BBQ products from Traeger and Weber, among others.
The store will also include a unique “store-within-a-store” pet supply department. It will sell an extensive array of pet food, toys, grooming products, health supplies, pre-packed and bulk treats, and other accessories for dogs, cats and other pets. Featured brands will include Blue Buffalo, Science Diet, Nutro, Taste of The Wild, Merrick, and Kong.
Kansas City, Mo.-based Westlake Ace Hardware has been part of the Ace Hardware co-op since 1959 and is its largest member. It was purchased by Ace in 2012, and acts as a wholly owned Ace subsidiary.
Top retailers share their wisdom
Las Vegas — The “Top Guns” of the hardware business shared the stage here at the National Hardware Show, where they also shared best practices and a variety of thoughts on the state of independent retailing today — and in the future.
The Top Guns were selected by the organizers of the 2018 NRHA All-Industry Conference on the basis of high-performance, passion for the industry and connection to the community. Now in its 11th year, the 2018 program honorees (the Top Guns) are:
- Amanda Fancy — Gow’s Home Hardware (Bridgewater, Nova Scotia);
- Jamie Gentner — Center Hardware & Supply (San Francisco);
- Megan Menzer — Newton’s True Value (southeastern Kansas); and
- Angela Merritt — Ederer’s Do it Best (three locations in Wisconsin).
On Tuesday at the Hardware Show, they assembled for a panel discussion of big issues and big challenges. Here are some of the highlights, edited, and arranged by topic:
On how the hardware business is changing:
Amanda Fancy: “The market is changing every day. Definitely, the customer is changing and so is the experience they are looking for in store. For us it’s about creating a culture in our store for our current customers and also to get the millennials into our store.”
Jamie Gentner: “I think there are a lot of changes coming in the next 10 years especially with the rapidity of change. Customer expectations are constantly changing. You have to trust yourself that you are doing right for your business, and you have to keep paying attention.”
Megan Menzer: “Increasingly our job is going to be to educate the consumer. For example. We used to sell paint thinner. Simply paint thinner. Well, now people come in and want brand XYZ and they want it in a 16.1 oz. can, not a 16.2 oz. can. And that is a challenge: educating the employees to convert that customer and make that sale by explaining to them the value of our products is going to continue to be important.”
On challenges faced by the independents:
Megan Menzer: “We all face a lot of the same challenges. For instance, in the past a product that’s hot today would be hot for 18 months. And now all of a sudden, it’s hot today and it’s completely dropped tomorrow. So learning how to get in and get out, it’s a complete gamble. It’s hard to manage. Technology is going to be another real challenge. We just updated all of our software. It’s a huge expense but it has to be done and maintained.”
On hiring and motivating employees:
Angela Merritt: “Moving forward, hiring is going to continue to be a difficult hurdle for most independent retailers. We’re in a small community. I reach out to the local high schools. We try to get the good kids early and try to hang on to them. It’s difficult to find someone who can fling a 50-pound bag of dog food on their shoulder and walk it out to the customer’s car — and do it with a smile on their face.”
Jamie Gentner: “San Francisco has a 2.9% unemployment rate. So it’s hard to find employees. People are looking at your business and asking if they want to work for you. So the way you’re branding yourself matters. They checked you out, and they have access to so much information now.“
Amanda Fancy: “We have gone from a six-days-a-week to seven-days-a-week operation, and for a small town that’s a big deal. So it’s really important for us to keep our people motivated. One thing we do is operate a private staff Facebook page, and we constantly highlight staff and the good things they’ve done in the business.”
On the origins of their careers in hardware retailing:
Amanda Fancy: “About 23 years ago I took a job as a part time cashier at the store and the rest is history.”
Angela Merritt: “I started out young, answering the phone for my parents’ dairy equipment business.”
Jamie Gentner: “I got started when I was eleven.”
On building relationships in their local markets:
Angela Meritt: “It’s about building relationships with your customers. Our main store is in a town that’s pushing 800 people. I know literally everyone in town and what they’re working on at home. When they have that comfort level with you, they want to come back. Each of our three locations have amazing relationships. And I think that makes us literally a part of the communities we’re in.”
On the importance of peer-to-peer networking:
Jamie Gentner: “There’s always someone smarter than you are. Somebody might be able to look at a challenge with fresh eyes. If we don’t help each other, then the big guys win. I would much rather send business to other independents then send them to Lowe’s. Sorry Lowe’s. I know everyone is not comfortable sharing numbers or strategies, because some of you are competing with other independents. But I think we should help each other. “
On looking into the future of their own retail business:
Amanda Fancy: “We are looking to grow, and we’re in the process of starting to build a new store.”
Angela Merritt: “I think in each of our locations, the next 10 years will be tough on some of the other businesses in town, and I think we will become more of a five-and-dime, with hardware. I anticipate in 5 to 10 years, I might be selling beer, in a hardware store. I think what I have in the store is going to change dramatically. I do have a lot of customers who are into the shop-small thing, and it behooves all of us to promote that. I think I’ll just be selling a greater variety of products.”