Successful independent retailers develop a comprehensive strategy and then execute it based on the plan. The local hardware store or home center is a unique business niche that caters to a specific customer segment. Owners have no desire to operate scaled-down versions of Walmart or Home Depot—they are proud to be authentically different. However, that does not mean relying on outdated ideas or being reluctant to update to new technology.
Thriving businesses should continually look for opportunities to grow, even when the path forward is a little rocky. It’s essential to periodically “refresh” your business and update employee training to be relevant in today’s shifting retail environment. Being customer-focused must be a priority for stores that want to be the neighborhood “go-to” place for DIY home improvement projects. Pros are a more challenging sale since competing for their business can require investing additional resources to sustain the relationship.
Although each of the 7P’s (Product, People, Physical Evidence, Processes, Productivity, Price, Promotion, Place) impact long-term growth, this discussion will focus on three components of the marketing mix–people, products, and place.
People: The one-on-one engagement a customer has with the retail staff continues to be the most significant driver of customer satisfaction with home improvement retailers,” said Christina Cooley, director of the @Homepractice at J.D. Power. “Now more than ever, customers are looking for the guidance they need—but they’re also looking to get in and out of the store quickly. When customers receive speedy, knowledgeable, and friendly service, they are more likely to return and recommend the retailer. However, if they wait five minutes or more minutes to receive help, satisfaction scores tumble.
Employees are integral to the success of any business. Without the right people in place upfront and behind the scenes, the store is destined to fail. Staff must be well-trained and understand their role within the business. Since customers visit hardware stores to buy products and receive advice they can trust, store associates should also have people skills. Both you and your customers have high expectations. Employees should have the temperament and knowledge to meet specific requirements.
- Hire people with the right attitude and train them to acquire skills
- Use multiple training methods to help employees retain information
- Role-play with employees to practice how to generate add-on sales
- Offer short training segments that can accommodate the employee’s schedule
- Use free or inexpensive resources offered by co-ops and manufacturers
Product: One thing that occurred due to the pandemic is the outpouring of support for small businesses. Independent retailers have the flexibility to create profitable niche businesses by offering unique products or sell merchandise sold exclusively through the independent retail channel. A few examples are Sloggers shoes or Stihl power tools. Identify items that make sense to sell in your community that other retailers don’t offer. Or offer a wide assortment of products that appeal to your customer base. Businesses in resort communities may sell fishing gear and items that appeal to tourists. Stores in neighborhoods populated with older homes may specialize in restoration hardware or high-end fixtures. The point is to sell products that aren’t typically sold at big box stores and are relatable to shoppers in the community.
Place: A few years ago, “place” referred to the in-store shopping experience. Now, place refers to anywhere consumers can access the products and services your business sells. Whether the transaction happens in a brick-and-mortar store or online should be a positive experience that motivates shoppers to make a return visit. I’m sure you have also set a high bar for customer service. When you treat people well by delighting them with over-the-top service, they’re happy to share their experiences in person or online with others. According to the American Express Customer Service Barometer, Americans tell an average of 11 people when they have a good experience. Shoppers are also willing to spend more. It’s especially true of millennials who willingly spend twenty-one percent more for excellent service.
Remember to merchandise your physical store to reflect the season visually. It will keep customers engaged while they shop and can give them ideas they can use at home. The rule to keep it simple still applies since it’s best not to overwhelm shoppers with too many options. Your e-commerce store should also use colors and graphics to promote seasonal merchandise. How you choose to implement “place” has a lot to do with how you want consumers to view your brand.