2022 Beacon Award Winners

  • Vassar Building Center — Beacon Award for Best New Store Over 20,000 sq. ft.

    Chris Jensen

    Mike and Brenda MacKay are thrilled to have a new, bigger store that serves the entire community. The addition of The Color Bar is one of the reasons for a 90 percent increase in female shoppers.

    Mike and Brenda MacKay are thrilled to have a new, bigger store that serves the entire community. The addition of The Color Bar is one of the reasons for a 90 percent increase in female shoppers.

    Vassar Building Center

    Vassar, Mich.

    Larry and Shirley Putman took over Vassar Building Center in Vassar, Mich., in the 1980s, joined first by their daughter Brenda and then later by her husband, Mike MacKay. In 2011, the MacKays bought the 10,000-square-foot business from Brenda’s parents.

    By 2019, the MacKays had built the business into a thriving pro lumberyard, but the existing building just couldn’t support their vision for continued growth. To attract a new segment of shoppers, they knew they needed a larger store. Fortuitously, a large empty lot next door became available.

    The exterior’s modern color palette enhances easy-to-read signage that places focus on the store’s name.

    The exterior’s modern color palette enhances easy-to-read signage that places focus on the store’s name.

    The MacKays saw an opportunity to expand their footprint, so they turned to their wholesaler for guidance. Do it Best was developing an innovative new store design for the next generation of stores, and the MacKays eagerly stepped forward to become the first to feature the design. Overcoming slowed construction due to the pandemic, the new Vassar Building Center opened in October 2020.

    An interesting twist is the fact the project’s design was headed up by Do it Best Store Development Manager Cherié Jacobs, who had once worked as a designer at Vassar right out of college.

    Says Mike, “She outgrew drawing house plans for us. I encouraged her to find the right company and she started at the ground level at Do it Best and now she’s running the store design team. When she came back with the renderings, we were like, ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’”

    Vassar Building Center’s new store served as the prototype for Do it Best’s new store design program.

    Vassar Building Center’s new store served as the prototype for Do it Best’s new store design program.

    A STORE WITH WIDE APPEAL

    The exterior’s modern color palette enhances easy-to-read signage that places focus on the store’s name. A large red awning draws the eye to the entrance of the brightly lit store and its welcoming atmosphere.

    The new store’s 20,000-square-foot retail space was nearly double the size of the old store. The open sightlines combined with wider aisles offer easier navigation and a cleaner, more organized shopping experience for customers.

    The open sightlines combined with wider aisles offer easier navigation and a cleaner, more organized shopping experience for customers.

    The open sightlines combined with wider aisles offer easier navigation and a cleaner, more organized shopping experience for customers.

    Signage around the perimeter of the store includes oversized wall graphics featuring historic photos from Vassar’s past.

    Signage around the perimeter of the store includes oversized wall graphics featuring historic photos from Vassar’s past.

    “The old building was just a contractor store,” Mike explains. “We needed a store that had curb appeal and was more attractive for female and young customers with current color schemes, that flowed better and was easier to shop.”

    Signage around the perimeter of the store includes oversized wall graphics featuring historic photos from Vassar’s past, inspirational messages about shopping local and promotional product images, all selected by the MacKays. Says Mike, “We love being able to tell our story and highlight the history of the company. It’s a great reminder that the Vassar brand has been serving the community for more than 50 years.”

    The extra square footage allowed the MacKays to expand departments like grills, outdoor furniture, tools, hardware and plumbing, while tripling the size of the kitchen and bath design center.

    One category people thought was new for Vassar is workwear and boots. In the new store, this section is featured prominently up front. “At the grand opening, and for quite a while afterward, customers remarked how glad they were that we now carried work boots,” Mike recalls. “We always carried them—people just didn’t notice them in the old store. This is just one change that’s helped us attract many new customers.”

    Another design feature that captures customers’ attention is their reimagined end caps. End caps in the old store were strictly promotional, focusing on a single product at a great price. These new storytelling end caps are set back, lower and wider, and they tell a product story with related items and engaging photography.

    Doubling the square footage allowed the MacKays to expand departments like grills, outdoor furniture, tools and hardware, while tripling the size of the kitchen and bath design center.

    Doubling the square footage allowed the MacKays to expand departments like grills, outdoor furniture, tools and hardware, while tripling the size of the kitchen and bath design center.

    ATTRACTING FEMALE CUSTOMERS

    Having deeper and broader categories has attracted more female shoppers, something Mike had hoped for at the beginning of the project.

    “We’re a full-service lumberyard with a huge selection of building supplies to serve pro contractors. That’s our biggest niche, and it always has been,” Mike says. “But this was a way to broaden our reach, become a hardware destination and be able to serve the entire community with a modern home center.”

    The new store has seen about a 90 percent increase in female shoppers compared to the old location. Mike recalls seeing many women waiting out in the car at the old store while men came in to grab supplies. “Today, they’re coming in with their kids, and couples are shopping together for appliances, paint and housewares. We never had housewares in the old store. Now we have lots of opportunities to sell things we never thought of before.”

    The paint department was upgraded with the addition of The Color Bar, an interactive and comprehensive paint destination. This is another area where the MacKays have witnessed an uptick in female shoppers and couples.

    Workwear and boots were moved to a prominent position in the front of the store, which resulted in customers noticing the category for the first time.

    Workwear and boots were moved to a prominent position in the front of the store, which resulted in customers noticing the category for the first time.

    A NEW MINDSET FOR THE RESET

    Both the wall graphics and the wayfinding signage are so noticeable throughout the store because keeping vertical spaces open is an important aspect of their new store’s design strategy.

    “Once you’re inside, you can see almost all the way across the store,” Mike says. “We’re not piling merchandise up high anymore, because we’ve learned that you don’t have to show everything you have. We now place one or two of each item up front, and the rest are in the back. And that opens up really great sightlines throughout our store.”

    The open sightlines combined with wider aisles not only offer their customers easier navigation, but also a cleaner-looking, more organized shopping experience. “We have gotten a lot of compliments from our female customers and families—they say it’s easy to shop here,” Mike points out.

    The MacKays’ oldest son, Tanner, has taken on increased responsibility with the business.

    The MacKays’ oldest son, Tanner, has taken on increased responsibility with the business.

    STEADY GROWTH

    Sales increased 23 percent the first year, while customer counts rose 20 percent and average transaction was up 6 percent. Says Mike, “Customers tell us they love our store and they can now get everything they need from us.”

    The new, expanded store positions the family business for another generation. Their oldest son, Tanner, started at 14 sweeping floors, coming back to the business full time after college in 2017. Tanner’s duties now include yard supervisor, hiring, labor scheduling, purchasing and inventory control. Says Mike, “We’re very proud of where he’s headed, and hopefully he will take over the company in the future.”

    Future projects include implementing a rewards program to track and incentivize all those new shoppers, developing a more robust ecommerce website and adding a drive-through component to the lumberyard. Looking back, the only thing the Mackays say they would’ve done differently with the new store is build it even bigger.

    Mike says they are humbled their store was picked to be the Beacon Award winner for Best New Store. “We owe a lot of kudos to the great people at Do it Best and the staff who got us where we are today,” he says. “It’s a great accomplishment, but the challenge is to get better and keep the store up so the community continues to have a great shopping experience.”

  • Hometown Hardware — Beacon Award for Best New Store Under 20,000 sq. ft.

    Chris Jensen

    Phil and Deanna Cheeves felt their town of Senoia, Ga., needed a hardware store, so they designed and built a hardware store that would be a welcoming place to shop.

    Phil and Deanna Cheeves felt their town of Senoia, Ga., needed a hardware store, so they designed and built a hardware store that would be a welcoming place to shop.

    Hometown Hardware

    Senoia, Ga.

    Six years ago, Phil and Deanna Cheeves discovered there was not a convenient place to buy a tarp in their small town of Senoia, Ga., 30 miles south of Atlanta. The local hardware store that had been there for 80 years closed in 2006.

    That led them to spend a year visiting over 25 hardware stores in four states to get ideas on what to do—and not do—to build an old-fashioned hardware store in their town. The one stipulation: Deanna would be in charge of the interior design details, while Phil would rely on his product and project knowledge as a longtime supplier of building materials for homes in the area. Ground-up construction for the new store started in April 2018.

    Phil was involved every day with the building’s design, construction and exterior presentation. He says, “We wanted to create something different and unique that would give people a nostalgic feeling. Concrete and steel give you a hollow feeling. Deanna added stone and color to the exterior, because if it doesn’t look pretty on the outside, she felt people wouldn’t want to shop here.”

    Deanna added stone and color to the exterior, because she wanted a look that was enticing to both men and women.

    Deanna added stone and color to the exterior, because she wanted a look that was enticing to both men and women.

    Since opening in October 2018, Hometown Hardware has been an immediate hit with the community.

    Since opening in October 2018, Hometown Hardware has been an immediate hit with the community.

    Adds Deanna, “We wanted to construct a hardware store where both men and women felt comfortable and welcome and where families could enjoy their shopping experience.”

    Since Phil and Deanna were new to retail, they relied on the expertise of Orgill in the beginning. “We wanted to be independent, and Orgill helped us understand how things work and they’ve allowed us to stay competitive with our pricing. They were heavily involved in where products were placed, especially from the female perspective,” Phil says.

    Hometown Hardware opened in October 2018 with a grand opening held in May 2019. The store was an immediate hit with the community. As Phil points out, “Customers tell us they love how organized and clean the store is.”

    Deanna made sure the assortment gave female customers a reason to shop there.

    Deanna made sure the assortment gave female customers a reason to shop there.

    DESIGNED FOR SHOPPABILITY

    One of the most important features of the store design is a carpeted area in the first 1,500 square feet of the store to create a welcoming place to shop. Phil and Deanna wanted a decompression zone that would deaden sound while encouraging people to stand and chat with their neighbors.

    Phil says, “The store planners kept trying to fill up the decompression zone with gondolas, and we took them out later.”

    A carpeted area in the first 1,500 square feet creates a decompression zone that deadens sound while encouraging people to chat with neighbors. Black shelves were used to make products pop.

    A carpeted area in the first 1,500 square feet creates a decompression zone that deadens sound while encouraging people to chat with neighbors. Black shelves were used to make products pop.

    Deanna chose interior colors that were calm and peaceful and not too bright, while ensuring the store stays clean and organized.

    Deanna chose interior colors that were calm and peaceful and not too bright, while ensuring the store stays clean and organized.

    “There’s a feeling of bringing the community together. We’ve had customers refer to our store as being like Cheers, where everyone knows your name,” says Deanna, who adds that they got the carpet idea from Office Max and Staples. “We even looked at non-hardware retailers like Walgreens, where we got the idea for having shorter shelves in the front.”

    Black shelves were used to make product packaging pop and give the store a unique look. “We wanted colors that were calm and peaceful and not too bright,” Deanna explains.

    She adds, “Hardware stores have always been a man zone. We visited stores where floors were not swept and there was no rhyme or reason to where products were located. We need cleanliness so it’s inviting to female customers. Our employees know to keep shelves dusted and the bathrooms are cleaned every day.”

    They installed a bird feeder display that spans the aisle, more than doubling feeder sales. Other strong niche categories include pet supplies, toys, candles, RV accessories, outdoor decor, hunting feed, books, fishing and outdoor power equipment. Phil is comfortable with the core hardware categories, but Deanna has expanded the store’s appeal by stocking garden and house flags, doormats, inspirational cards and mugs.

    The 8,300-square-foot sales floor was designed for shoppability. As Phil explains, “One product leads to another. We’re consumers too. If you’re thinking of a person’s time rather than an upsell, you’ll have a customer for life. We wanted to create a store where people like it and can’t figure out why.”

    Phil and Deanna made sure there was enough spacing between gondolas so people in wheelchairs could have easy access. They also ensured the store has plenty of shopping carts and baskets, an essential ingredient to attract parents and families.

    They rotate end caps by season and create end caps from scratch, such as a three-foot covered wagon end cap for Iowa Smokehouse jerky. They utilize baskets, bins, crates and galvanized buckets in merchandising displays and often use dried beans to prop up products in containers.

    They installed a bird feeder display that spans the aisle, more than doubling feeder sales.

    They installed a bird feeder display that spans the aisle, more than doubling feeder sales.

    ON A GROWTH TRACK

    Hometown Hardware received Orgill’s Summit Award for outstanding performance in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Customer transactions, average ticket size and margins all increased while the store had to tweak operations during the pandemic. Overall sales grew from $1.1 million in the period ending April 2020 to $1.6 million a year later as the community continued to embrace the store’s small-town welcoming atmosphere.

    “We’re trying to keep the store fresh and new. We’ve been tweaking things after listening to our customers,” says Phil, who points out they haven’t experienced a typical year yet due to the pandemic and supply chain issues. “Our sales were up 30 percent last year despite lost sales due to lack of product.”

    Hometown Hardware excels in the lawn and garden department, which saw sales increase 33 percent from April 2019 to April 2021. The store is also strong in fasteners and plumbing.

    They create end caps from scratch, such as a three-foot covered wagon end cap for Iowa Smokehouse jerky.

    They create end caps from scratch, such as a three-foot covered wagon end cap for Iowa Smokehouse jerky.

    Their strong growth is a sign that not every store needs to get bogged down in marketing strategy. “We don’t advertise, use social media or have e-commerce, because we wanted to create a business that reflected the traditional stores we grew up with,” Phil says. “Customers have found our old-school experience refreshing; our customer service, store design and operational efficiency encourage word-of-mouth advertising in the community and have brought us great success, allowing us to build personal relationships with customers.”

    Another area where they differ from most retailers—they refuse to be open on Sundays. “We don’t believe in asking our employees to do something we are not willing to do, which is to work on Sunday,” Phil says. “That is a time for church and to be with family.”

    Phil and Deanna say they are humbled to receive the Beacon Award for Best New Store. Says Phil: It’s a great honor just to be nominated by Orgill. We’ve been working with our heads down and didn’t strive for this.” Adds Deanna, “This is an award we share with our community, because their support has brought us great success.”

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