2021 Retail Beacon

  • Retail Beacon Award — Ambridge Do it Best Home Center

    By Chris Jensen

    Ambridge Do it Best Home Center

    Ambridge, Pa.

    Growing up in western Pennsylvania, Frank Strano knew he didn’t want to follow his father into the steel mills. Frank’s brief time after college in an office job at a steel mill convinced him to do something else.

    “What I saw in the steel mills was a complete lack of investment in equipment—everything dated back to the 1940s,” he explains. “I knew that was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

    Frank Strano has worked hard to grow and improve Ambridge Do it Best Home Center since starting back in 1980.
    Frank Strano has worked hard to grow and improve Ambridge Do it Best Home Center since starting back in 1980.»

    So, Frank joined his brothers in a successful home remodeling business: F.D. Strano Sales. Later, they even convinced their dad to leave his steel mill job and join them in the business.

    The family’s home remodeling business was growing throughout the 1970s and the Stranos needed a large warehouse to store materials, which they had been buying by the truckload. They began selling roofing, siding and gutters to other contractors out the back, which is how Ambridge Building Center got its start in 1980.

    In 1982, True Value convinced them to expand into hardware, so the combination hardware store and specialty building supply center became Ambridge True Value Home Center.

    Investing in the Epicor point-of-sale system back in 1988 turned out to be one of the best decisions Frank ever made. “I had decided to go with another system, but the Epicor sales guy convinced me it would pay for itself in nine months,” Frank recalls. “He was right—it did pay for itself, and it was a major turning point in how we grew the business. We started collecting data and knew what to buy.”


    Frank Strano is proud of the contributions his son David has made to improve the business with particular emphasis on social media.
    Frank Strano is proud of the contributions his son David has made to improve the business with particular emphasis on social media.»

    Proactive Maneuvers Against Competition

    The business thrived throughout the 1980s, but Frank knew the big boxes would arrive soon, so he made the proactive move to construct a 40,000-square-foot building featuring 25,000 square feet of retail space, moving to the new location in 1995.

    Then came an unexpected development. In 1996, Sears opened three hardware stores in a small but more affluent town just two miles away on the same highway.

    With 35,000 square feet of selling space, Ambridge Do it Best Home Center can meet the needs of its diverse customer base.
    With 35,000 square feet of selling space, Ambridge Do it Best Home Center can meet the needs of its diverse customer base.»

    As Frank recalls, “We did bang-up sales the first year, then sales dropped 5 percent the second year after Sears opened. If that’s all they took from us, then I knew they weren’t doing well.”

    People were driving past all three Sears stores to come to Ambridge Home Center, because Frank had developed a more customer-friendly store. Two years later, Sears closed all three stores.

    “We didn’t like that they were there, but our goal was never to put them out of business,” Frank explains. “We just worked hard to keep up, and they eventually realized it wasn’t worth it to stay open to gain only 5 percent with the same square footage.”

    Regular expansion and remodel projects have ensured the store stays relevant to local customers.
    Regular expansion and remodel projects have ensured the store stays relevant to local customers.»

    Partnering With Do it Best

    After being with True Value for two decades, Frank joined Ace in 2001. He switched once more to Do it Best in 2007 and jokes, “I’m on my third marriage now with Do it Best and I’m very happy.”

    Do it Best helped Frank expand the retail space in 2009 to 35,000 square feet so he could display more merchandise. He used the added space to bring out the back stock and spread it out a little more, which created the perception the store was carrying lots of new products.

    Adding donuts from a local bakery has had a dramatic impact on early Saturday morning sales.
    Adding donuts from a local bakery has had a dramatic impact on early Saturday morning sales.»

    With Ambridge’s economy and population on the decline, the store’s sales became stagnant despite the expansion. In 2010, he developed an INCOM supply business that has found success selling to small industrial mills by undercutting the big boxes.

    Frank says Do it Best has helped them the most by letting them have flexibility in their business. “What works in one community may not work in another, and Do it Best let us decide what products are needed and made them available to us,” Frank explains.

    Frank is hands on with the business but hands off with their 75 associates. “My wants and needs are not the same as our associates, so I don’t try to mold them into my way of thinking. Everybody should be treated as an individual,” he says.

    In 2016, the Stranos opened The Color Palette Paint Store in Pittsburgh, a pro-focused store selling Benjamin Moore paint.
    In 2016, the Stranos opened The Color Palette Paint Store in Pittsburgh, a pro-focused store selling Benjamin Moore paint.»

    Frank adds, “The employees all understand that this is a relationship business where we listen to the customer, have the product knowledge and then satisfy their needs.”

    Grooming the Next Generation

    Frank is very proud that his son David has followed him into the business and is now seen as the face of the store. David has spearheaded a robust social media campaign that reaches customers 20 miles away. In 2016, the two partnered to open The Color Palette Paint Store in Pittsburgh, a pro-focused store selling Benjamin Moore paint.

    Another expansion project did not pan out. In 2017, the Stranos opened Hampton Do it Best Home Center in a high-income area 35 miles away. “I should have done more homework before opening that store,” Frank admits. “It turned out that customers were buying low-margin items like grills in great numbers, but DIY stuff like hardware and paint wasn’t selling.” They closed that store in early 2021 and chalked it up to a learning experience.

    The store features lots of niche categories such as workwear and Pittsburgh sports team merchandise.
    The store features lots of niche categories such as workwear and Pittsburgh sports team merchandise.»

    Frank has always liked to experiment with different niche categories, and David is full of creative ideas to carry products not found at the big boxes. One example is pasta sauce from one of Pittsburgh’s top restaurants, while sports team merchandise for Pittsburgh’s three pro teams has become very popular in the store.

    Frank credits David for the success of several food-related initiatives. They have picked up traffic and sales by hosting the Peach Truck and from regular visits from food trucks in the parking lot. David had the idea to bring in donuts from a nearby bakery and now the store gets busy at 7 a.m. on a Saturday instead of at 10 a.m.

    Regular visits from food trucks help boost store traffic.
    Regular visits from food trucks help boost store traffic.»

    Ambridge Do it Best Home Center is known for helping the community with fundraisers and donations. Frank served as president of the local chamber of commerce, but says David is now the one making the connections with local groups. “You’ve got to get younger people involved to keep things going. Listen to them and let them run the show,” Frank says.

    With David taking on more day-to-day responsibilities, Frank has started entertaining thoughts about retirement. “I’m trying to teach David about margins and the financials. He should have the vision of how to take Ambridge into the next 10 or 20 years,” he says.

    Looking back on his 40-plus years of experience as a retailer, Frank says, “I feel I’m very lucky to receive a Beacon Award, because there are a lot of other retailers who are just as deserving. I represent all the other hard-working hardware retailers who love what they do.”

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  • Retail Beacon Award: Bartlett’s Lumber & Hardware

    By Chris Jensen

    Community involvement isn’t just a catchphrase or feel-good sentiment for Bartlett’s Lumber & Hardware, which was founded by Bill Bartlett in 1937. For his son Terrill Bartlett, who runs the business today with 10 locations spread across the Texas Panhandle, supporting the community is more than just empty platitudes; it’s putting words into action.

    Bartlett’s Lumber & Hardware includes 10 locations across the Texas Panhandle.
    Bartlett’s Lumber & Hardware includes 10 locations across the Texas Panhandle.»

    Being involved in the community means helping customers navigate the extreme weather that can sometimes cross the Texas Panhandle. “Anytime there is a storm in one of our communities, we donate the equipment and our employees donate their time to help clean up,” says Terrill, who along with several employees are volunteers with their local fire departments and EMS units.

    “When they are dispatched to an incident, we keep them clocked in,” he adds. “We want our employees involved in the community, so we remove as many barriers to that as we can.”

    Terrill Bartlett, second-generation owner of Bartlett’s Lumber & Hardware, grew up working in the business.
    Terrill Bartlett, second-generation owner of Bartlett’s Lumber & Hardware, grew up working in the business.»

    In March 2017, several counties around Canadian—where Bartlett’s general office and distribution center are located—suffered property and personal damage from a 300,000-acre grass fire. It was especially painful for Bartlett’s as they lost an employee who was trying to get home to his pregnant wife.

    The company donated over $100,000 to area ranchers and fire departments that suffered losses during the fire. In 2020, the Meals on Wheels facility in Shamrock, Texas, burned down and Bartlett’s donated materials to have it rebuilt.

    “Obviously, life in small rural communities is different from larger cities. Everyone knows everybody and you feel compelled to be a part of that community. We have been very blessed and are always happy to assist when the need arises,” Terrill says.

    Bartlett’s partners with Red Brand to help support and donate to the local chapters of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) organization.

    Bartlett’s main store is in Canadian, Texas, which is where the company’s general office and distribution center are located.
    Bartlett’s main store is in Canadian, Texas, which is where the company’s general office and distribution center are located.»

    Sales on the Upswing

    Bartlett’s continues to set new sales records each year, with sales up 21 percent last year. The stores are neat, clean and easy-to-navigate, allowing customers to find what they need, with free in-town delivery provided. “We carry a lot of farm and ranch clothing and boots to serve our customers,” says Terrill.

    Farm and ranch is a big category for Bartlett’s, which recently expanded into feed for farm animals. Other top niche categories include fire-retardant clothing and irrigation supplies. “We have a lot of contractor and commercial sales, but most is still DIY business,” according to Terrill.

    Farm and ranch is a dominant category at Bartlett’s.
    Farm and ranch is a dominant category at Bartlett’s.»

    Bartlett’s has used technology to enhance the customer’s shopping experience. “We use tablets with remote access to our main point-of-sale system, which allows us to create customer quotes, purchase orders and sales transactions remotely,” Terrill points out.

    They have an extensive e-commerce section on their website that includes an e-catalog, product selection guide, buying guides and a project center to guide customers in choosing the right products for their project.

    Bartlett’s implemented buy online, pickup in store during COVID. They launched a mobile app, ProLink, that gives customers on-demand access to place orders, submit quotes, find account information and check delivery or pickup status.

    Paint is a top-selling category for Bartlett’s 10 stores, which attract more DIY than pro sales.
    Paint is a top-selling category for Bartlett’s 10 stores, which attract more DIY than pro sales.»

    Bartlett’s store in Dalhart features a prominent checkout and customer service counter.
    Bartlett’s store in Dalhart features a prominent checkout and customer service counter.»

    Taking Care of Employees

    Bartlett’s care for the community is seen in the way it treats its employees. The company has about100 employees, with many joining the team and not leaving until they retire. It is one of the few retailers that has not had any problems with staffing or hiring during the pandemic.

    Terrill learned an important retail lesson from his father. “He always said that if you take care of your employees and your customers, everything else will fall into place and that is very true. Happy employees create happy customers,” he points out.

    “We strive to make sure everyone is treated and paid fairly,” says Terrill. “We compensate our employees that take the NRHA training programs, and we have an extensive employee training and safety program.”

    Terrill grew up working in the business along with his brother Tom, who retired several years ago. “We communicated well with each other and we always knew of any difficulties the other one was having. We also agreed to never make any major decision that we did not both agree on. If we did not agree we would put it on the shelf and come back to it later,” Terrill says.

    Now Terrill’s sons Coleman and Bryan represent the third generation of the family. Coleman’s main responsibility is watching over margins and inventory, while Bryan oversees the IT department, which has grown a lot over the years.

    A new location opened in Perryton in January 2020 with double the sales space.
    A new location opened in Perryton in January 2020 with double the sales space.»

    Opening New Stores

    Bartlett’s Spearman store that opened in 2013 was a former car dealership, and they reconfigured the service bay area into a 25,000-square-foot drive-thru lumberyard with a mezzanine storage space. They have now converted four stores to drive-through lumberyards.

    Bartlett’s opened a new location in Perryton in January 2020 with double the sales floor space, but the pandemic forced them to wait a year to hold a grand opening in May. “The new store is doing well,” Terrill says. “The grand opening was a huge success, but it was due in large part to the fact that people were anxious to get out and gather somewhere to experience an event that felt normal again.”

    They have also started construction on a new store in Pampa to replace an older one and it will be modeled after the one they built in Perryton.

    Bartlett’s store in Wellington was voted Best Hardware Store.
    Bartlett’s store in Wellington was voted Best Hardware Store.»

    “Orgill has a very reliable distribution program, strong rebate and advertising programs and they help a lot with e-commerce,” says Terrill. “But the one thing that really sets them apart is our sales rep, Kerry Rosson. Kerry will suggest new products, but only to the extent that he feels it will help the store. If he feels that it’s not a good fit, then he will tell you. He helps set up new products and suggests changes that can help the store’s visual appeal. He has been Orgill’s biggest asset for us.”

    “We feel very honored to have won the Beacon Award, but we also recognize it would not have been possible without God’s blessings and our dedicated employees. This award is a testament to them,” says Terrill.

    The Spearman store that opened in 2013 was a former car dealership, with the service bay area reconfigured into a 25,000-square-foot drive-thru lumberyard.
    The Spearman store that opened in 2013 was a former car dealership, with the service bay area reconfigured into a 25,000-square-foot drive-thru lumberyard. »

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