When it comes to customer service, shoppers think independent retailers are the champions of the home improvement industry. Most people can share a story about making a quick trip to the hardware store to take care of an emergency home repair. Or maybe they dropped by to get encouragement to finish a DIY project that somehow went wrong. Typically, someone on staff knows how to solve the problem and will direct the person to products that offer the best solution. Great employees who connect with customers by building relationships through personalized service are valuable assets. It’s essential for hardware stores to recognize their strengths and identify opportunities for improvement and growth.
In the past, customers often felt big-box retailers fell short when delivering good customer service. Consumers frequently mentioned a shortage of knowledgeable staff and that locating merchandise without assistance was difficult. However, big-box retailers such as Home Depot are committed to taking the steps required to change customers’ perceptions. The company decided to assess the business holistically to see things through the eyes of the customer. Changing the in-store experience became a high priority.
Changing Customer Expectations
Like big-box stores, independent retailers must recognize that the customer experience continually evolves based on new customer expectations. What worked yesterday may not be the best option for staying competitive in the current retail climate. Whereas the home improvement industry experienced double-digit sales in the past two years, sales are expected to cool down. More people are spending time away from home and hiring contractors to complete various projects.
In speaking to Reuters, Wedbush Securities analyst Seth Basham says, “We expect moderation throughout 2022 to a point where demand is likely flattish year-over-year by the back half of the year, and that’s on the back of a slowing housing market and consumer confidence.”
Now is the time for small-to-medium size retailers to prepare for slowing sales by reviewing those areas of the business that can be expanded or modified to generate additional business. Recognize that most operations have to cater to two distinct customers, DIYers and contractors. How retailers engage consumers (B2C) should differ from business owners’ (B2B) interaction.
Be Relatable and Authentic when Communicating
Customers want to know about the retailers with whom they do business. People can relate to hardware stores because the atmosphere is relaxed, and it’s a place where they can feel comfortable. Being authentic is a distinct advantage. Independent businesses must establish a separate identity from their association with a franchise or wholesaler. Building a presence on social media that speaks to your specific customer base creates a unique persona and gives the business a voice. While the store should have a presence on the corporate branded site, the content on your second social media account should focus on the store, employees, and local issues. The goal is to deliver an omnichannel experience that interconnects customers in-store and online.
- Only Post information that specifically relates to your store
- Frequently share images of your store and employees
- Tell an exciting story and evoke emotion with words and images
- Highlight events in your community
Tap into the Potential to Grow Contractor Business
Some larger independent retailers who sell lumber and building materials have built profitable relationships with contractors. Although contractors are only 3 percent of The Home Depot’s customers, they generate 40 percent of the company’s revenue. As B2B customers, contractors expect to establish a professional relationship with retailers who understand the product’s features and specifications. Since time is money, contractors tend to conduct business by phone rather than by computer. So, it’s essential to have someone on staff who is dedicated to handling their requests. Other factors retailers should consider when targeting these customers include:
- Ability to provide large quantities of products
- Special pricing for bulk orders
- Sending regular text updates about product availability
- Products are competitively priced
- Delivering merchandise to the construction site
Communicate Convenience, Value, and ServiceAlthough retailers have different relationships with B2C and B2B customers, everyone wants convenience, value, and service. Retailers should be persistent in communicating with consumers to establish they are delivering on their promise in these critical areas. The goal is to build loyal relationships that support your authentic brand and provide new opportunities to grow sales.