It is easy for retailers to fall into familiar patterns and become complacent when it comes to updating the appearance of their stores. With retailers having seen significant sales and revenue growth over the last several years, there are opportunities for them to reinvest in their operations in a variety of ways, including physical store improvements.
Hardware Retailing spoke with Russ Hornung, primary owner of four Hornung’s True Value Hardware & Rental stores in Pennsylvania, and Mike Stoddard, president of West Side Decorating Center in Saginaw, Michigan, about the store improvements they are making in their operations. Read on to discover what improvements are being made, why they are being made and how the renovations have improved their businesses.
Practice Makes Perfect
Hornung’s True Value Hardware & Rental was established in 1985 in Linglestown, Pennsylvania, by Mary Jane Hornung and has grown to encompass four locations across Pennsylvania. Russ Hornung, Mary’s son, has worked at the business since it started and became owner in 2021.
Hornung has been no stranger to making improvements throughout the operation. In 2015 and 2019, he led renovations at two of the four locations.
“We saw no reason to update our Halifax location at first,” Hornung says. “We did need to remodel our other locations though, and after completing those updates, we realized Halifax could use some work as well.”
Halifax is a rural community, and the store serves local farmers and DIYers, but Hornung noticed that the store was not catering to female shoppers in the area.
“Women have a lot of buying power,” Hornung says. “But they don’t want to shop at unkempt, disorganized establishments. I learned with our Dauphin location that updating the physical appearance of the store to be more fresh and organized brings in female shoppers.”
Appealing to the female shopper was not the singular reason for renovation, however.
“The overall goal was to become more organized and carry fewer products while increasing overall sales,” Hornung says.
Financial constraints prevented the operation from making changes until sales during 2020 produced the assets necessary for a remodel, says Hornung.
Rolling Through Renovations
The first step in the Halifax remodel was expansion. At the beginning of 2022, an 8,000-square-foot building was constructed next to the original 6,000-square-foot store. The two locations were joined through a large double glass door opening. The new structure would serve as the primary hardware store, while the old building would be home to the rental equipment.
The new building features bright lighting, new shelving and large, spacious bathrooms.
“The bathrooms are huge, beautiful and not what you would expect to see at a hardware store,” Hornung says. “They set us apart from other stores and are appealing to our female shoppers.”
Halifax is just seven miles from the Dauphin location and serves a similar customer base.
“We updated the paint section and paint product mix at our Dauphin location and saw a huge boost in sales,” Hornung says. “So we did the same at the Halifax location. We added special flooring and are putting in a paint carousel.”
The Halifax location also focused on cleaning supplies because of the success the category had at the Dauphin location.
“We put a lot of thought into the paint and cleaning supplies because we wanted to bring in more female customers and because we wanted to improve those categories, which prior to the renovation were struggling when they shouldn’t have been,” Hornung says. “The cleaning aisle is now extremely beautiful and organized for our customers.”
As for product selection, Hornung sought the advice of experts from his distributor.
“Because it was a new building, I wanted to do everything right,” Hornung says. “I wanted the layout to work and to have the right products.”
Early in his career at Hornung’s True Value Hardware & Rental, Hornung spent his days resetting the stores’ layouts outside of working business hours.
“I thought I knew what I was doing when it came to products and store layouts because I had done it for so long,” Hornung says. “But the consultants I worked with, this is what they do for a living and they’re very good at it. They know where to put departments, and they know how to create a store layout that controls the flow of customers the way you want it to.”
Considering the Future
The newly constructed Halifax building had a soft opening in May 2022 and a grand opening in August 2022. While renovations still need to take place in the older building, plans to expand the rental department and add a repair department are already in the works, and customers are showing appreciation for the updates.
“Our customers have been super happy to see us invest in the store, and in turn, the area,” Hornung says. “It is a small rural town, and when we put our time and money into creating a nice place for them to shop, they notice and they appreciate it.”
Another benefit Hornung and his team have noticed is the increased ease with which customers can now shop.
“Our customers come in now and quickly find everything they need,” Hornung says. “The difference is that the products are better organized and we carry full product lines. We went from four or five of the same products from different vendors to one, maybe two, of each type of product, so we carry fewer products but more diverse product lines.”
The layout at the Halifax location is also proving to be beneficial to the operation.
“When your store looks good and the store layout is designed more intentionally, it pushes people to purchase nicer products and spend more money,” Hornung says. “That is what this renovation has created and that is what we are seeing.”
While it is still a little too early to see all of the benefits the renovation will create, sales at Halifax are up by 22%, Hornung says, and he feels confident that the financial investment and hard work will be worth it in the long run.
“If you aren’t consistently updating and improving your store, you will get left in the dust,” Hornung says. “Odds are, your competitors are making these physical improvements. While sometimes things don’t work as well as you like, you have to learn from it and continue to find ways to make your operation better.”
The Opportunity Next Door
West Side Decorating Center was established in 1966 by Elmer Fahndrich in Saginaw, Michigan. Mike Stoddard, Fahndrich’s grandson, took over the family business in 2019. Following a store fire in 2012, the operation relocated but remained in Saginaw.
“We thought we would only be at the new location for a couple of months while we repaired the old store, but we ended up liking the area so much, we decided to stay,” Stoddard says.
The store’s new location is in a highly trafficked business district that serves a mix of homeowners, contractors and commercial customers, but the 4,800-square-foot store is significantly smaller than the operation’s previous 7,000-square-foot location.
“The downsize wasn’t too constraining at first because we had to rebuild our inventory after the fire,” Stoddard says. “But once we remerchandised and got back into the flow of business, we’ve been looking for opportunities to expand and grow our offerings.”
A twist of fate presented the perfect expansion opportunity.
“Toward the end of 2021, we learned that the tenant next to us wouldn’t be renewing their lease and would be moving locations,” Stoddard says. “It was a no-brainer to check with the landlord and see if we could rent that neighboring suite and tear down the dividing walls.”
The landlord agreed, and the operation began renovations at the end of January 2022.
Putting in Work
The complete renovation will add 4,200 square feet of additional space to West Side Decorating Center, bringing the store to around 9,000 square feet.
“We pretty much gutted the neighboring suite,” Stoddard says. “We put in new carpet, repainted the walls and ceilings, made drywall repairs and took down the wall separating the old and new space.”
Like many of his customers, Stoddard ran into a few snags due to the pandemic.
“Like everyone else, we had issues booking a contractor because they were so busy,” Stoddard says. “This renovation probably could have been done much quicker, but with COVID-19 and product shortages, things took a little longer than we expected.”
Despite the slow start, the renovation has continued to progress, and the new suite has not only had its walls, floors and ceiling updated, additional rooms have been added to the space.
“We put a large storage area with pallet racking in the back of the new area,” Stoddard says. “This allows us to stack our product instead of searching for floor space for products like flooring and paint palettes.”
The additional storage space was not the only room added in the expansion; the renovation included a new office for Stoddard and a conference room for employees.
“We constructed a separate cordoned-off room with a big conference table that we will use for training and seminars,” Stoddard says. “We’re also going to use it to create a private area for design customers.”
West Side Decorating Center currently employs four designers, three full-time paint staff and sells most anything necessary for a home or office redesign including paint, window treatments, flooring, wallpaper and more. The designers work in the showroom, where they have desks and space to work together or separately in the shared space.
“The conference room will provide a more private setting than the showroom for high-end clients or clients who are building a home and may be here for two or three hours looking at design options,” Stoddard says. “Those clients will be able to spread out everything they need across the 10-foot table and discuss all of their design choices in one compact place. It will also prevent these clients from crowding the showroom and allow for other customers to receive the design assistance they require.”
However, the emphasis has not been solely on the newly acquired space. Stoddard and his team also intend to update the store’s original area.
“It is hard to update your store’s appearance when your building is jam-packed with products,” Stoddard says. “Once we get the new side open, we will be able to move things around and redo our flooring in the original building. We are also planning to repaint the walls and replace our current shelves with taller shelving, which will allow us to add even more products.”
Some improvements were even made in the old building before the new space.
“I replaced our old, outdated fluorescent lights with LED panels in our original building,” Stoddard says. “It made a world of difference. Not only are the LEDs more energy efficient, they are brighter and more modern. We were quick to do this in our newly acquired space as well.”
Onward and Upward
While improvements to West Side Decorating Center are not yet complete, the operation has already reaped benefits from the renovation.
“Once we took out part of the wall separating the two suites, our customers began to notice, and it garnered excitement. Our paint contractors notice the improvements during their recurring visits and are impressed and happy for us,” Stoddard says. “When you put in the effort and improve the appearance of your store, your customers notice. The changes are creating questions and conversations, which make for good word-of-mouth advertising.”
Customers are not the only ones who notice and appreciate the improvements either.
“Your staff pays attention to the effort you put into your store,” Stoddard says. “Even if you aren’t making huge changes or investments, completing small upgrades to your store’s appearance shows your staff that you’re interested in maintaining the business and open to new ideas rather than maintaining the status quo.”
Employees can be a tool as well. Stoddard credits his staff for some of the improvements.
“A lot of planning was done by my employees,” Stoddard says. “I asked for a lot of opinions and talked with them about what they thought would improve the store. They were a great resource full of knowledge and expertise.”
Once the renovation is complete, the business will hold a grand reopening for customers and vendors. The reopening will be advertised on a brand new digital road sign, through email blasts and circulars, and on Facebook and the local radio station.
“We have a close relationship with a local radio station, so we’ll be advertising the reopening there,” Stoddard says. “Additionally, a local personality from one of the morning shows is going to broadcast live at the store for a day.”
Stoddard also plans to use Facebook to showcase expanded product offerings.
“Our customers know what types of products we sell, so it will be important to show them our new offerings, especially as we are a new member of ALLPRO,” Stoddard says. “By displaying these new products, many of which will be cashand- carry, and utilizing tools such as boosted Facebook posts, we hope to immediately spur sales.”
Stoddard plans to add products such as floor stripping equipment, paint sprayers and additional design department items. The operation already offers specialized services and products that the big-box store across the street sometimes sends its customers to West Side Decorating Center, Stoddard says. But the extra space will allow the business to further specialize its offerings.
Once the updates are complete, Stoddard hopes to continue making improvements to the operation and avoid becoming too content.
“It’s easy to see changes you want to make when you are a new owner, but as the years pass, it is also easy to become complacent,” Stoddard says. “Continuing to show improvement and making these updates shows your customers, employees and community that you’re growing and innovating as opposed to staying stagnant.”
3 Questions to Ask Before Investing in an Expansion
- Can you reset categories and bring in new products?
- Can you update fixtures and the look of the store?
- Can you make a plan to continually improve what you’re doing well, and then work toward goals?
Source: North American Hardware and Paint Association
3 Simple Ways to Use Technology To Improve Your Operation
- Add a television. Whether you use it to display ongoing sales, customer reviews, services or how-to videos, televisions bring a modern edge to the appearance of your store while providing numerous benefits.
- Utilize QR codes. QR codes are a type of barcode that contain various forms of data, like website links. Whether you use them on coupons, shelving or signs, they are a quick and easy way to send your customers to where they need to be online without cluttering your messaging with URLs.
- Go LED. Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lightbulbs are energy-efficient, made from recycled materials, long-lasting, give off little to no heat and are brighter than many older options, improving the appearance of your store.
Source: North American Hardware and Paint Association