Beacon Awards 2021 — Do it Best Winners

  • Beacon Award for Best New Store Under 20,000 sq. ft. — Wood Shed Lumber & Hardware Supply

    By Chris Jensen

    After building numerous regional Pizza Hut restaurants, the Eiserers decided to buy in and they found themselves running 17 of them. But by the spring of 2016 the couple realized that franchisee ownership just didn’t feel right anymore. At the same time, their local lumberyard was for sale and about to be shuttered. Cecil knew that losing it would not only be a big loss for his own company, but a huge loss for their community, too.

    “We didn’t want to lose the lumberyard for the community. We were in the process of ending one deal, so it was good timing,” Cecil explains.

    Cecil and Sharona Eiserer are developing Wood Shed Lumber & Hardware into a strong, sustainable business that can someday be passed on to their kids (from l to r): Cicily, Porter and Novah.
    Cecil and Sharona Eiserer are developing Wood Shed Lumber & Hardware into a strong, sustainable business that can someday be passed on to their kids (from l to r): Cicily, Porter and Novah. »

    Wood Shed Lumber’s new 12,000-square-foot store replaced a tired 2,000-square-foot lumberyard that was on the verge of closing.Wood Shed Lumber’s new 12,000-square-foot store replaced a tired 2,000-square-foot lumberyard that was on the verge of closing.»

    The Eiserers decided to buy the struggling lumberyard. They felt they would need to make some drastic changes to their newly acquired business, because they both strongly believed that Carrollton deserved a modern hardware store and lumberyard experience.

    “We went to the Do it Best market in May 2016 before we owned the business. Everyone there had a smile on their face,” Cecil says.

    Adds Sharona, “When we met the Do it Best family, we were sold—they were welcoming and like a family from the beginning. We were blown away.”

    Cecil and Sharona Eiserer rebuilt their town’s lumberyard to provide a well-stocked, well-merchandised store for the community.
    Cecil and Sharona Eiserer rebuilt their town’s lumberyard to provide a well-stocked, well-merchandised store for the community.»

    Designing the Best Store

    Digging deeper into survey data conducted by Do it Best, Sharona realized there was plenty of interest from DIYers and that the existing 2,000-square-foot store and the accompanying lumberyard were simply too small and uninviting to shoppers.

    They enlisted the help of Do it Best’s Store Design and Retail Performance teams to completely reinvent the business. They boldly reimagined the new Wood Shed Lumber & Hardware Supply, building a brand new 12,000-square-foot retail home improvement store facility from the ground up and turning the existing yard into a full-service, drive-up lumberyard.

    Sharona leads by example to ensure her team of 17 employees helps customers the best they can.
    Sharona leads by example to ensure her team of 17 employees helps customers the best they can.»

    The highly visible paint department has been an integral part of the store’s mission to attract more female customers.
    The highly visible paint department has been an integral part of the store’s mission to attract more female customers.»

    “We told Do it Best we didn’t want the store to be a cookie cutter,” says Sharona, who chose brown, gray and copper hues to make a cohesive color theme throughout the store.

    Wood Shed Lumber & Hardware Supply opened in January 2019 and was an immediate hit with the community.

    From the reclaimed wood accents to the custom scorched enhancements and stain on barn doors throughout the store, Cecil’s construction expertise is on display. They used tin ceiling tiles removed from an old shed in the lumberyard to retain a little history of the business and repurposed an antique wooden farm wagon to display products. A local wood carver crafted an eye-catching sign. It’s clearly not a cookie-cutter store.

    “We went with wider aisles, added shopping carts, installed better lighting,” says Sharona. “It just feels different. It feels like you’re going into someone’s home and it’s very inviting.”

    The store focuses on delivering personalized service to pro and DIY customers.
    The store focuses on delivering personalized service to pro and DIY customers. »

    She adds, “I didn’t realize we were exceeding expectations. The feedback we got is we can’t believe this is here in Carrollton. Now customers have everything they need right here. We didn’t want to give people a reason to shop elsewhere.”

    Sharona also recognized an opportunity to attract an underserved customer base—women. “It took a while to get women to come into the store,” she says. “Then we built the new building and put in housewares and lawn and garden and expanded paint and now they come in and bring pictures and say this is what I’m working on.”

    They held a month-long grand opening that included a ladies night event. Practically every category they sell has recorded significant growth. That’s mainly due to Cecil’s motto—”If you don’t have it, you can’t sell it.”

    The business, which reopened as Wood Shed Lumber & Hardware in January 2019, was an immediate hit with the community.The business, which reopened as Wood Shed Lumber & Hardware in January 2019, was an immediate hit with the community.»

    Becoming a One-Stop Shop

    Cecil and Sharona bought the lot across the street from their new store and transformed that into Wood Shed Outdoor Power & Rental, which opened in March 2021. The 7,200-square-foot building features a large showroom featuring STIHL power equipment, Gravely mowers, Traeger and other grills, patio furniture and YETI. Another large space features their expanded rental inventory and roomier service bays.

    Moving rental across the street freed up space inside the main store, which was used to expand into major appliances, showers, countertops and flooring. “The entire shopping experience is evolving, making Wood Shed a one-stop shop for our customers,” Sharona says.

    Cecil and Sharona purchased the lot across the street and turned that into Wood Shed Outdoor Power & Rental, a 7,200-square-foot showroom featuring power equipment, grills, outdoor furniture and rental inventory.
    Cecil and Sharona purchased the lot across the street and turned that into Wood Shed Outdoor Power & Rental, a 7,200-square-foot showroom featuring power equipment, grills, outdoor furniture and rental inventory.»

    The Eiserers’ investment in the new store is showing great returns. From the time they closed on the purchase of the lumberyard to just before the grand opening of the new location, sales more than doubled from $900,000 to $2.5 million.

    After adding appliances, 2020 store sales surpassed their expectations at over $5 million. Sharona says 2021 got off to a solid start and she was confident that the new rental business would help them exceed those numbers. “Our growth has far exceeded our expectations and pro forma,” she points out.

    An antique wooden farm wagon is used to display products in the new showroom for outdoor power equipment, grills and rental.
    An antique wooden farm wagon is used to display products in the new showroom for outdoor power equipment, grills and rental.»

    Adding more stores is a definite possibility, especially as their three (soon to be four) kids get older and more involved in the business. “This has always been a family deal,” Sharona says. “We’re one of the few businesses in town that hires 15-year-olds. We can see talent and grow them in responsibility.”

    Their kids—Porter, 14; Cicily, 10; and Novah, 4—are featured in the store’s radio ads and their pictures can be found on billboards. Family photos are displayed prominently in the store to show the business is run by a family, not an impersonal chain.

    Winning the Beacon Award has turned into the icing on the cake for the Eiserers. “It truly surprised me to be nominated in such a small town. It’s definitely an honor to receive such an award. It means we’ve worked hard and hard work pays off, and it gives the kids more inspiration,” Cecil says.

    Adds Sharona, “It’s humbling and exciting to see our hard work and commitment to the community be recognized.”

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  • 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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