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Shows in Chicago celebrate ‘Independents’

The first Independent Home Improvement Show finds room to grow in McCormick Place.

BY HBSDealer Staff

Chicago — The McCormick Place convention center here set the stage for the first-ever Independent Home Improvement Show, powered by the National Hardware Show. The IHIS co-located with the Independent Garden Center Show, which has been up and running since 2007.

The IHIS brought four aisles of hardware and tools, housewares and tailgate products to the larger IGC. And it also brought a fair share of education and networking. In addition to a Tuesday panel on how lawn and garden has emerged as a primary driver for home improvement, there was also a presentation from the Farnsworth Group’s Jim Robisch on “A Changing Industry.”

Robisch said independent dealers are facing challenges in a business environment that is changing faster and faster. Competition is strong, large and well-funded, but the independents have an advantage in the mindset of a customer who increasingly wants to shop local and support local businesses.

It takes work, however, and a willingness to gain a reputation for excellence, whether it’s service or grilling. “You have to be maniacal about something,” he said.

Across the show floor here, the independent retailer was the focus. At the IGC Show, Dr. Bridget Behe, professor of horticultural marketing at Michigan State University, shared concepts about the science of shopping, along with ways to make signage more effective inside independent stores. And at the IHIS, the NRHA STIHL Foundations of Leadership Conference pointed the way to opportunities for the independent dealer.

Among the participants was Jeff Cardwell, president and CEO of Cardwell Home Center, operator of five Indiana Do it Best stores. Cardwell’s recent success should give independents a dose of inspiration — the company’s past two years were the most successful of the his career, which dates back to 1976. (The business began in 1945.)

HBSDealer asked for the reason behind the success, especially in an environment that includes massive big box and online competition. He said retailing basics are the key.

“It’s staying focused,” he said. “It’s hard work. It’s taking care of your customer base. Sometimes we overcomplicate things. This is a relationship business. And for an independent, it’s so important to build and maintain relationships with your customers.”

Rich Russo, National Hardware Show vice president, said teaming up for the creation of the new even makes a good deal of sense when taking into account the cross-section of merchandise carried by independent hardware retailers.

“Many independent home improvement and hardware retail businesses include garden departments, and we have long recognized the IGC Show for its leadership as America’s biggest and best garden center event,” he said. “Additionally, both retailer audiences potentially sell various home improvement and houseware items from the vendors we will bring. It’s a perfect fit.”

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