The future is now for Matt Woods. The CEO of Woods Hardware, with five full-line hardware stores in the Cincinnati area, took home the 2018 Reimagine Retail award at the National Hardware Show for reinventive vision and execution by independent home improvement retailers.
Woods used the $100,000 Reimagine Retail prize money to begin building a 3D e-commerce experience that would let customers walk “virtually” through the aisles of all Woods Hardware stores, click on an item, purchase it and have it delivered the same day.
Woods, during a recent appearance at the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit in Chicago (see November 25 issue, page 8) cited his virtual stores as an example of e-commerce innovation available to all retailers— from independents to larger chains— that can harmonize with traditional store operation.
Woods saw opportunity in a micro-commerce approach that kept the digital focus on serving the 3 million-plus people in the Cincinnati area within reach of Woods Hardware stores. The goal: fulfill orders within a five-mile radius of each store within two hours.
“We know our customers are also online,” Woods said. “We have to focus on the convenience factors. We may not have 200,000 SKUs, but our stores have so much of what you might need, including a wide selection of housewares. And we will be able to get it to you in a couple of hours.”
The ever-evolving Woods Hardware e-commerce site will be updated frequently with how-to content, including video. “We want our customers to receive the same selection, full service and convenience they expect when they shop in our stores,” Woods said.
Survive & Advance
Granted, Woods received a valuable assist from the award money to fund development of the new 3D e-commerce site. But his visionary thinking earned the award. Such out-of-box leadership, despite inherent risks, underscores the business mettle required for traditional-rooted retailers to survive and advance in today’s unforgiving retail marketplace.
Woods admits the initial rollout of the virtual store platform has exposed technical limitations and operational challenges, including the difficult task of synchronizing real-time inventory from five stores to the e-commerce site. He said he is committed to the constant updates and constant investments required for his vision to progress into a reliable reality.
Early results are encouraging. The virtual Woods Hardware stores, beyond boosting online transactions, at times have demonstrated a reverse showrooming effect that has helped lift in-store traffic and sales.
Woods now plans the start of each year around attending CES in Las Vegas in search of new technology that can help him further connect his stores to his e-commerce vision. He’s already exploring the possibilities of autonomous vehicles to support the 3D online store and delivery program.
“I’m an early adopter,” Woods said. “It pays big dividends.”
Now. Because the future won’t wait.