GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: The small family-owned hardware store

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

We’re talking about a small, possibly family-owned hardware store. Actually, it’s not that small compared to a store in the ‘50s when it was founded, but it is small compared to the big stores that we have around today. So, how do you fare against these big guys? How do you even survive against these giants with huge inventories, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of parts, and huge physical footprints, not to mention their on-line shopping offerings. This seems almost overwhelming doesn’t it?

A real David and Goliath situation if there ever was one. So, what is the local hardware store to do? What if this is your hardware store? One started by your grandfather, run successfully by your father, and now it is up to you to carry on the family business in this new world order. What are you going to do against these odds?

Well, fear not, there are a number of things you can do to not only survive but to thrive as well. First of all, you can leverage all the advantages you have going for you by being small. Small is beautiful. Small means you are spry and flexible with the ability to do anything you want and be as creative as you want with none of the encumbrances of a giant chain box store corporation.

You have full authority to do whatever you want whenever you want. This means that you can throw a sale anytime you want. This means you can focus on special seasonal promotion whenever you want. This means you can have a family day, and open house, a one hour super sale a co-sponsored event with other business. This means you can have a special deal with your local contractors that will keep them not only coming back but sending their own customers to you as well. Heck, you can even have a steady flow of good hot coffee and donuts for those contractors and other customers going at all times. It’s up to you.

But the biggest tool in your bag (pun intended) is that you can be local and personal. You can make a point of knowing all of your customers personally, be able to call them by name, talk to them about that special project they are working on. The big box guys can’t do that.

You can offer special services, personalized services like instructional classes, Special events for local contractors. By the way, one neat little secret is that local contractors as a rule hate the big box stores. Try to get your local plumbing company to fix that “delta faucet” you bought on the cheap at the big store and watch him sneer. I once bought a Lawnboy lawnmower at a big box store and took it to a local repair shop when it broke down, only to have him condescendingly declare that he knew I had bought it at a big chain store because it wasn’t a genuine Lawnboy. Oh, it was made by Lawnboy all right, but it was a special cheaper model made solely to be sold exclusively to the big guys so they can meet their cost expectations. You as an owner of a local hardware store can sell the real genuine products and make sure that your customers know that.

Customers like shopping locally, they like going to places, like they say in the Cheer’s song, “Where everyone knows your name.” Your only job is to make it as easy and pleasant as possible for your customers. Offer them personalized service, special promotions, and friendly service and you will keep them coming back.

One last thing…all business is personal, all business is human to human, keep your business and human and personal as possible, and the customers will keep coming back…and you will keep growing your business.


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