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Visiting Other Stores

Taking A Busman's Holiday

Some of the articles and reports that we have seen in recent years, suggest that membership in the hardware associations has decreased in many parts of the country. Having been a member of the board of directors of two associations, we have participated in many discussions at board meetings regarding the cause of this decrease. The con census generally centers around the idea that the wholesalers have decided to offer many of the same services that were originally offered exclusively through the associations. Our store, like most every store in the country, gave immediate consideration to these services when our wholesaler began to offer them. In some cases, the wholesaler's price was better and we like many other stores moved their business to the wholesaler. But, in speaking to many store owners, they moved all of their business to their wholesaler to be a loyal store. Some stated that they preferred the idea of eliminating outside sources, and thus they had no further need of maintaining their association membership.

We proudly state that we have been a member of our hardware association ever since we bought Skyway Hardware. Two years ago, our Southern Association, as previously did the Pennsylvania and Atlantic States Hardware Association, and the New England Hardware Dealers Association, joined forces to create the Eastern Retail Hardware Association.

Being a member of the ERHA has shown many benefits to our store. From our experiences, we would suggest that with many of the services purchased from the co-op, a second bid or opinion is of value. Are we sure that we are getting the best price on our bank card deposits, data processing, or computer supplies, that our insurance is right for us, or that the store fixture design is going to be the most profitable?

The answer may still be the same, but hearing it a second time makes us feel much better and confident. The check that we write each fall for our association membership has been one of our best investments. And with our membership card that we received this year, a detailed report of margins, expenses, sales and profitability was enclosed. Of course, we sat down to compare this study to our year end figures. It showed us areas where we were doing great, as well as emphasized where we should improve.

As previously stated, we have been very proud to have had the privilege to serve on the board of directors of both the Southern and Eastern Associations. With this position, our commitment requires reading monthly reports, some correspondence, and being away from the store three times each year for a total of 9 or 10 days. The directors that serve on the ERHA executive committee have even more commitments to fulfill.

With each director's meeting, we sit to make plans for, and review the results of the association. We work with Len Palmisano and Chet Clark, or managing director and assistance director, to look for more services for the membership, much in the same way that we all look for new products for our stores.

As much as this is a commitment of our time and effort, the benefits of our board participation are tremendous. We have never met a director that is willing to settle for the status quo. Every one of them is always looking for new ways to improve their stores. Being around such positive thinking hardware retailers constantly exposes us to ways to increase our sales and profits.

One of the best benefits in our association comes from an idea of Jack Rice, a known educator, author, and speaker in our industry. With each of our director's meetings, we spend a day visiting with hardware stores in the area where we are having our meeting. So far we have visited stores in the southern Massachusetts area, Philadelphia area, and this past January we visited stores in the Fort Myers, Florida area.

We go in pairs to find stores, regardless of whether or not they are a member of the association, and to visit with the owners and managers. Our main purpose is to invite the dealer to join us for a dinner that evening at the hotel where we are staying. Our last meeting had Rick Carter, managing editor of Hardware Age as our moderator as the dealers in attendance exchanged ideas and experiences. Those of us visiting the area were the beneficiaries of the thoughts and efforts of the local dealers, as we hoped that we were able to bring ideas from our home areas.

The day that we spend visiting the dealers has always been a tremendous boost to us. During these visits, we have found countless sku's that we have decided to add to our stock, as well as display ideas and business tips.

From a Sentry dealer south of Boston, we found a new way to display paint. In the Estate of George S. Snyder, a Servistar dealer, we found a way to better advertise our sales flyers. When we were in Barry Nicholas's store in Quakertown, Pa., we found a line of spices to promote. And from our visit to Fort Myers, we have added a new line of bicycles that we found at Sunshine Ace, a plant supplier that we found at LeHigh Do-It Center, and a niche coffee selection from Bailey's True Value.

The important point that we continue to experience, is that regardless of the affiliation of a retailer, we have been able to learn something to add to our business from each of our store visits and dinner meetings.

The staff of our store knows that every time we return from the association meeting, we bring back many ideas, products, and methods that we can add to our store. They have been great in pulling the extra load to allow us the time away from the store to learn and grow.

Our suggestion to any dealer is to call your association headquarters and volunteer. And the next time you need a product or service, give them a call.

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