‘Merch’ solutions

Shake up how you merchandise! Turn aisles into islands. Let loose your style.
Merch, Gene, team
Ideas abound when taking your hardware store merchandising to a fresh new level. From left: Kabelin Ace Hardware associates Jamie Moss and Nicole Bohling with Purchasing Manager Gene Carpenter.


Maybe not the opening line at your next cocktail party. Yet for hardware businesses, it’s the lifeblood.

Successful merchandising efforts take creativity and ingenuity.

Hardware store owners and managers expand on their “merch” concepts to the fullest extent of their imagination to entice customers. HBSDealer reached out to a hardware manager to talk merch.

“Are you the only game in town? Do you have one or more competitors? The focus is different for both situations,” said Gene Carpenter, purchasing manager at Kabelin Ace Hardware, a six-store chain based in LaPorte, Indiana.

If you’re all alone in your market, then a broad product range – something for everyone ­– is the focus, he said. But if you have one or more competitors, focus on your strengths, and the weaknesses of your competition.

Is your strength customer engagement? If so, focus on it in your communications and associate training. If your strength is a unique product line or lines, he said, “shout it from every channel you have, like social media and any printed communications with your customer basis.”

Grill area in-store
A grill zone can put customers in the mood for food, and other backyard activities, and lead to more purchases.

“Does your competition have a weakness that you can turn into a strength? If so, what can you as an owner and your staff do to promote your strength?” The manager asked.

Carpenter is in his second stint working for the hardware, coming back in 2005 after trying the plumbing industry for a few years. He first started back in the early 1970s.

Kabelin Hardware Company, he said, began in 1912 when the owner’s great grandfather bought into a hardware store in La Porte.

Today, the company is owned by Diana Kabelin Corely, Betsy Kabelin Parkison and Kristine Kabelin Moore, and has stores ranging from 62,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet. It is a certified woman owned company with over 230 associates in five towns in northwest Indiana and the company president is Matthew Moore.

Merch solutions, Carpenter said, include Point of Purchase signage; sales aides, aka the ‘silent salesperson’; product assortments sized to the square footage of the stores as well as product training; end cap promotional programs; and clip strips for novel items.

Bona endcap
Endcaps catch the attention of shoppers as they survey your aisles.


“I have seen great aisle displays that show a real talent for merchandising,” said Carpenter. “Such as using five-gallon buckets to create a display to focus attention on a local charity. Using those buckets to provide a vehicle for a discount on any product that will fit in the bucket also serves as a donation to the charity.”

The hardware manager has also seen great niche item displays such as Yeti coolers and drinking vessels.

“Created by Yeti – an ‘awning’ over the product draws the consumers’ eyes into the display,” he said.

“Every store has unique opportunities to create a focused plan for developing and promoting their merchandising efforts.”
Gene Carpenter, purchasing manager at Kabelin Ace Hardware

“We have added laser engravers into three of our stores and we can now personalize products for an individual by placing a name on the product.”


Carpenter said that, “for a company wanting to promote to their customer base, we can put a company logo or slogan on the drinking vessel for their customers.”

End caps are a fantastic way to bring focus to new products, impulse items and seasonal promotions, he said.

Circulars are not as popular as they once were but still have a place in the marketing of the stores. The growth on social media has added another tool to merch solutions.

Ortho aisle
An eye-catching position, like this example of Ortho for weeds, can fill an entire aisle for effective visibility.


Hardware owners and managers today are dealing with many issues, such as fluctuations in supply, how to price right, and where best to place merchandise.

“Supply line issues are the frustration du jour. This may require focus on the basics and let the niche items work through the issues,” said Carpenter, noting that plumbing, hardware and electrical products have been “suffering from the logistical issues we are currently suffering through.”

It is critical to success to ensure your inventory numbers are right and the ordering process makes up for the shortages by bulking up on alternative items that the retailer can use in place of the old favorites, the manager said.

It is also imperative that “the store staff needs to understand that ‘item A’ is in short supply and ‘item B’ will do the same job. Training is key.”

Yeti island
In-store merchandise stands serve to open up sight lines and attract shoppers, like this ‘Yeti Island’ example.

Hardware store owners can use strategy to manage their merchandising.

“Merchandising strategy is critical in the good times but in these times, it is vital that the owners keep the merchandising up to date,” said Carpenter.

“Inventory dollars may swell during the tough times as alternative items are brought in, but overall, ‘you can’t sell from an empty wagon,’ as one of the owners told me many years ago,” he shared.

Creative merch is a way to reach the customers’ imagination and provide fresh ideas.

“Merch solutions are wide-ranging,” said Carpenter. Be open to new ways of presenting products and equipment in your hardware store.

If the solutions discussed here spur ideas for owners and managers, he said, “their own imaginations will go well beyond anything mentioned.”

Take merch to a new level. Mix it up. Surprise your customers with a fresh look. Be bold. Be memorable. Mostly though, bring your own personal, unique vision to merchandising.

Yeti shed
Bringing the outdoor lifestyle inside, like with this shed motif, is an inventive way to give customers fun ideas and promote all types of related merchandise.