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Business Conditions Across the Country – May/June 2020

Paint has been a big seller at Nena Ace Hardware.
Paint has been a big seller at Nena Ace Hardware.»

MIDWEST

How are sales and customer counts since COVID-19 outbreak? Between our three stores, sales have been up 35 to 40 percent. The biggest impact on our business has been staffing. Keeping up with the online orders has been a challenge.

What’s selling well besides gloves, masks and cleaning products? Paint has been huge. Lawn and garden has sold well, and grills and plumbing have also been selling really well. People now have the time to do the projects they’ve been putting off. They are using that time to fix their homes.

The garden center at Nena Ace has been a popular draw.
The garden center at Nena Ace has been a popular draw.»

Any adjustments to staffing, hours and operations? We did adjust store hours and have had some staffing issues. We went from being open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and changed to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. We take that time to sanitize at the end of the night and before we open each day. We do offer curbside pickup through our Ace online ordering. The Ace app tells us what’s been ordered, whether we need to assemble it or if it needs delivered. We put customers’ orders on shelves, tag them with names and give it to them on the curb when they arrive.

Any success with government loans? Yes, we did apply and received some money through the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program.

Justin Nena
Nena Ace Hardware
Morton, Ill.


Brian Buswell operates three All American Do it Center stores.
Brian Buswell operates three All American Do it Center stores.»

How are sales and customer counts since COVID-19 outbreak? Sales were typical or up slightly for this time last year in January and February. March and April sales were up significantly and May so far has been very good; this includes retail and installed sales. Rental sales for the first part of the year were down for this time last year. April and the beginning of May have seen a marked increase beyond the normal warm weather uptick. Installed sales (construction) never saw a downturn.   

What’s selling well besides gloves, masks and cleaning products? Paint, rental, treated lumber, bulk and bag mulch, bulk rock, trees and shrubs, flowers and vegetable seeds for victory gardens.

Any adjustments to staffing, hours and operations? Staffing is still an issue. Many staff members are working at home, which is less efficient than having face-to-face interaction. Team members with an at-risk family member are staying home. One part-time person who is anticipating being laid off from his full-time job has indicated he will not be seeking full time with us. He is choosing to be on unemployment and collect the almost thousand dollars a week in benefits rather than join us.

We have cut weekday hours, closing at 5:00 p.m., which is a function of lowering exposure and risk for our people and also a function of a shortage of personnel. We cut weekend hours but restored them after customer demand. We instituted curbside pickup and have experienced some movement to this form of doing business, but it is really insignificant.    

Any success with government loans? We applied for PPP and received it very fast. Things seem to be holding right now, but who knows what is going to happen. There is an overabundance of uncertainty and that breeds caution and puts a damper on risk taking. Our pro sales group has had homes and agricultural projects put on hold or canceled altogether. Overall things are OK. In other years I would characterize things as being good, but there is this persistent atmosphere of impending doom hanging overhead. The government loans certainly provide a safety net this year. I guess we will need to worry about next year…next year.

Brian Buswell
All American Do it Center
Richland Center, Sparta and Tomah, Wis.


NORTHEAST

Paul Leahey is president of Schuele Ace, with two hardware and three paint stores in Buffalo, N.Y.
Paul Leahey is president of Schuele Ace, with two hardware and three paint stores in Buffalo, N.Y.»

How are sales and customer counts since COVID-19 outbreak? It’s been quite an eye opener. We’ve had an increase in sales and customer counts by about 25 to 30 percent.

What’s selling well besides gloves, masks and cleaning products? Believe it or not, everything has been selling. Customers have been settling into their homes and are looking for all kinds of projects, from painting to canning. We’ve been selling a lot of seed pods for germination. We’re also selling a lot of bagged goods, such as fertilizer.

Any adjustments to staffing, hours and operations? We haven’t had any staffing issues and no one has been sick. The jump in sales has been quite a surprise, and we’re even looking to hire new employees. The way we’ve set up our store with Ben Moore within our hardware store has really benefited us. As Home Depot reduced their hours, we’re open longer. We offer both curbside pickup and deliveries through Ace. We’ll deliver for free within a mile of the store.

Any success with government loans? We did apply, and we were successful. The process was easy for us, because we have a good relationship with our small, local bank. Our bank really cares about us and walked us through the program to get us to the finish line. Without that relationship, it may have never come to fruition.

Paul Leahey
Schuele Ace Hardware
Buffalo, N.Y.


SOUTH

Joey Hawkins’ family business roots date back to the 1920s.
Joey Hawkins’ family business roots date back to the 1920s.»

How are sales and customer counts since the COVID-19 outbreak? We’ve been busy. We haven’t run the numbers, but lawn and garden are up, even though we always do well in that department during this time of year. It’s been interesting to see how some folks have gotten very creative with homemade masks. We’ve really seen the entrepreneurial spirit during this time.

What’s selling well besides gloves, masks and cleaning products? Gardening products, lawnmower parts and potting soil.

Any adjustments to staffing, hours and operations? There haven’t been any staffing issues, and we didn’t adjust hours. Pretty much remained the same.

Any success with government loans? Yes, we received money from the Paycheck Protection Program. It wasn’t too bad to go through that process. Our accountants and bank did most of the work.

Joey Hawkins
Hawkins Home & Auto Center
Calhoun City, Miss.


Richard Lee, Denise Lee and Jamie Bruner of Lee Hardware & Building Supply in Waycross, Ga.
Richard Lee, Denise Lee and Jamie Bruner of Lee Hardware & Building Supply in Waycross, Ga.»

How are sales and customer counts since the COVID-19 outbreak? Our sales and customer counts have greatly increased. We had the largest sales totals last month. We have increased our daily customer count by 25 to 30 percent. We have seen more cranky customers than ever before with short tempers. Our employees have taken it with grace and in stride. At this time in history, it has been rather stressful as a retailer trying to keep up with supply and demand.

What’s selling well besides gloves, masks and cleaning products? Besides cleaning and PPE, we have sold more lumber than ever before.  People are taking the opportunity to do repairs and upgrades to their homes.

Any adjustments to staffing, hours or operations? We have not had staffing issues. None of our employees or family members have contracted COVID-19. We have put up plexiglass barriers at the sales counters. During the first weeks our employees wore masks and gloves. We shortened our hours by one in the afternoon for our employees to sanitize the store. For two weeks we limited the number of customers in the store at one time. 

Any success with government loans? We applied for both the $10,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the PPP loan. We received the PPP loan but have not heard from the other one. Because our business has been so good it is not necessary at this time for maintaining staffing. 

Denise Lee
Lee Hardware & Building Supply
Waycross, Ga.


SOUTHWEST

Paula Ervin is a third-generation owner of Randall Lumber & Hardware, which joins the Century Club next year.
Paula Ervin is a third-generation owner of Randall Lumber & Hardware, which joins the Century Club next year.»

How are sales and customer counts since the COVID-19 outbreak? Actually, sales are up because we’re considered an essential business. We’re up about 30 percent over last April.

What’s selling well besides gloves, masks and cleaning products? What’s been a surprise: toilets and water heaters. With people home more, they’ve found older appliances that need replaced. Lots of homeowners are doing projects they have been putting off. People can only binge watch so much television, then they work on their houses.

Any adjustments to staffing, hours or operations? Sales have been good, but it’s challenging because of staffing. About 11 percent of our staff had to take time off. We haven’t had any illnesses, but staff members are taking care of elderly parents or have school-age kids. We’re really busy and running short-staffed. We’re starting to see more applicants and are finding some temporary staff to fill in. About 60 percent of our customers are contractors, so we were already delivering to jobsites. A few customers have requested curbside pickups and we accommodate them.

Any success with government loans? We did apply and were successful. The process wasn’t bad, considering all the documentation required. Online, the government website said the process would take eight minutes, but that’s totally unrealistic. Our bank really helped us and made it simple for us to get in the Paycheck Protection Program.

What is the key to your longevity? This is a family business—our 99th year in business. I’m a third-generation owner with my brother, sister and brother-in-law. We feel like employees are family, and we’ve had seven generations of one family work for us. We have very loyal employees with the average term of service 15 to 20 years. One employee worked for us for 55 years.

Paula Ervin
Randall Lumber & Hardware
Taos, N.M.

 Staff at Randall Lumber & Hardware are taking precautions to stay safe.
Staff at Randall Lumber & Hardware are taking precautions to stay safe.»

WEST

How are sales and customer counts since the COVID-19 outbreak? Right now, we’re up 35 percent. It’s been tough and demanding on employees, managers and owners. It’s very, very difficult working 7 days week, 10 to 11 hours a day just to keep things stocked. When Ace is out of what we need, we scramble to keep up. It’s a big job keeping stock up.

What’s selling well besides gloves, masks and cleaning products? Kiddie pools. Because all the kids are home and it’s hot here in Southern California, we can’t keep them in stock. We keep calling for more. Plumbing has also been popular. People seem to have a lot of plumbing problems. Paint sales have doubled since last month.

Any adjustments to staffing, hours or operations? Staffing has been real tough. Some employees have just decided not to come to work. We’re working short-staffed. Managers, owners, everyone is in all-hands-on-deck mode. To make it easier on our staff, we’ve shortened hours, only having six-hour shifts for 30 hours a week, but we still pay for full-time week. Our employees are our lifeline. I’m planning for bonuses, too. We had to close our screen business, because it was too much work when we needed to put the hours elsewhere in the store. We do offer curbside pickup. We decided to keep the store hours the same.

Any success with government loans? We did and are waiting to find out. We applied late, because we didn’t have a full-time accountant. We’re hoping the money comes through so we can hire extra help.

Tyler Barnes
Long Beach Ace Hardware
Long Beach, Calif.


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