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What Makes a Great Store

Doing things that make a difference

One of the major benefits of reading National Home Center News is the opportunity of being exposed to the successful ideas that are being utilized by some of the great hardware stores through the ongoing series, "Great American Hardware Stores".

While the definition of a great hardware store would include profitability, the stores entitled to this recognition do so at the option of their customers.

Ask the customer why this store should receive such an honor and you will surely find one of the reasons is because the store has adapted itself to the community through the products, services, and customer service they offer. These great stores will also distinguish themselves in the way they promote themselves to their community, whether it is a unique twist to their advertising or an event designed to better their community. And more than any other arena of retailing, hardware dealers appear to be the most creative.

Power promoting is a phrase that can be used to describe dealers such as Uncle Joe's ServiStar in Dover, Tennessee where owner Bobby Dill is known for the unique newsletter he sends to his customers each month. Each issue of his newsletter has a calendar with a different special every Monday thru Saturday and a short Biblical message on each of the Sundays. Being in a rural area, Uncle Joe's has also found great success with an internet site. One of their most popular sellers has been Hot Wheels model cars; sold in case lots of 72.

H.J. Opdyke Golden Rule Hardware in Frenchtown, New Jersey developed a unique way of working with their contractors by providing to them a housewarming gift to give to the residents at the completion of new construction or remodels. The tool box, entitled a "Welcome Home" gift includes light bulbs, flashlights, utility knives and other related products you would expect someone would need upon moving into a new residence.

Owner, Jack Opdyke reports that while the reception from consumers and contractors has been very good, there has also been the contractors that have done a lesser amount of business with Opdykes' wanting to know how they could receive the gifts to give to their job completions. Jack Opdyke has been glad to tell them how to become a part of the program.

And every story of a unique promotion needs that retailer that has done an exceptional job. Howards True Value in Duluth, Ga is owned by Doug and John Howard. Their store does the majority of its' business with outdoor power equipment, and for that group they created a customer appreciation day in 1994.

There was a complimentary luncheon along with the traditional door prizes and demonstrations by manufacturers. Held in a 35,000 square foot warehouse which they rent for the event, they initially had no selling of merchandise. The no sales idea changed after a couple of years and by 1998, as the event grew to 1,000 attendees, sales for the event surpassed $1.2 million. The Howards take good care of their commercial customers year round with several unique ideas; one of which is holding schools to train their commercial customers how to perform the repairs on their own equipment. Knowing that some of the commercial customers have their own mechanics, this is the Howards way of developing a closer relationship with their customers.

Hardware retailers also seem to have the biggest and kindest hearts as witnessed by the stories of two dealers. Kelly and Butch Magnetta, owners of Tarentum Trustworthy Hardware in Tarentum, Pa took up the cause of the Children's Hospital in nearby Pittsburgh. Remembering a friend of 20 plus years who always gave to the hospital, Butch and Kelly worked with local radio station KDKA to develop a fund raiser.

The Magnettas needed to spend only $600 to print posters, create collection jars, and pay for other miscellaneous expenses, but were able to raise over $32,000. Working with their wholesaler, Frederick Trading Company, the funds were raised between 5am and 9am last December 11th. In addition to registering for the many prizes, customers gave cash and checks to the cause while in the store as well as through collection canisters being manned by Magnetta's employees on the road in front of the store. Even in a town of less than 5,000 residents, there were two police officers provided by the town mayor to direct traffic and patrol the crowds at the hardware store. Kelly and Butch are already planning their 1998 fund raising drive.

Our second example of a generous hardware retailer, Elio Perez, has 3 stores in the Miami area. Elio and his staff at the Union City True Value stores have distinguished themselves by taking care of their predominantly Cuban customers. While they have done so in many ways, there are two situations that stand out. Elio is responsible for the upbringing of several single parent, parentless, and problematic youth.

Each of them have become employees of the stores, while the staff becomes adoptive parents and assists with teaching life skills from attending high school and college to arranging for the older youth to manage their money and obtaining for a car loan. The unofficial program is well known through the community as exampled by one of the current youth participants who became involved when his father asked Elio to "adopt" his son.

Elio Perez was also responsible for assisting three Cuban refugees gain their freedom. As the three were being held in Mexico and scheduled for deportation to Cuba, Elio stepped in and made a difference. In addition to working through the political channels with Mexican authorities in Miami, Elio threatened to eliminate importing merchandise from Mexico, a serious situation as his three stores import over $4 million in merchandise per year.

You can imagine the publicity and feeling of great pride that Elio and the Union City True Value employees experienced as the three refugees came to the hardware store to personally express their thanks.

Hardware stores of all types and sizes are vital to their communities. It starts with something as simple as always having a pot of coffee on, sponsoring and coaching the Little League team, or being there when a natural disaster strikes.

It is these opportunities that can and do make many hardware stores into the great American hardware store.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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