When the National Hardware Show landed at the Las Vegas Convention Center earlier in May, it co-located for the first time with the North America Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) annual convention for independent hardware dealers.
The co-location underscores the National Hardware Show’s commitment to an independent hardware store segment that built the legacy of home improvement retailing in this country and continues as a vital cog for thousands of communities in the face of national big-box chains that have cemented a captivating one-stop D-I-Y shopping model.
It hasn’t been easy for independent hardware dealers. But with a huge lift from the buying and marketing benefits of co-op affiliation and with the determination of seasoned and fledgling entrepreneurs, the helping-hand, familiar-face, neighborhood-centric spirit of independent retailing has been difficult to extinguish in the hardware market.
The savviest of hardware store operators could be the surprising winners in a recovering economy that has longtime homeowners reconnecting with and first-time homeowners embracing the values of supporting local businesses to rebuild community pride, and by association, personal pride. Even more compelling, perhaps, shopping the local hardware store can save time and money when you calculate the gas mileage to the nearest home-improvement big box.
Such attractions may be low-hanging fruit for independent hardware retailers looking to lure shoppers. It’s what happens after people are in the stores that will keep them coming back or not.
This is where a nimble and open-minded approach to tweaking a local hardware merchandising format continually can make a big difference when pitting the convenience and intimacy of a neighborhood store against the dazzling array and pricing muscle of a big box.
Reinforcing the expert service advantage of the hardware independent is critical. But national home centers have done an effective job of leveling the customer-service field, or at least convincing consumers they have done so.
Product can make the difference. Most neighborhood hardware stores can’t approach the sheer scope of a big box. However, independent operators also aren’t shackled by national buying requirements that can make it prohibitive to commit to untested, yet intriguing new products or to extend beyond conventional hardware mix boundaries into kitchenware, giftware, As Seen On TV items, greeting cards, dry goods, etc.
Seasoning The Mix
The days of a neighborhood hardware store serving as a de facto general store are long gone. Limited store space mandates sharp merchandise buying and editing. The independent hardware store operator, nonetheless, has the flexibility to season its core hardware assortment by early-adopting new products and by cultivating grass-roots promotions that attract not just dad, but also mom and the kids.
Surprising someone who might be in the store for a box of nails or a garden hose with an unique product they weren’t expecting can drive more than a one-time impulse purchase. It can drive repeat business.
Encouraging independent hardware dealers to seek and helping them to discover new products and suppliers underlies several initiatives that were on display at the National Hardware Show— from the co-location of the NRHA convention to ongoing development of the Homewares Show section featuring housewares and affiliated categories.
Independent hardware dealers continue as a vital, collectively significant retail channel. In rebuilding communities across the country, the local hardware store can make a difference.