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Business Conditions from Across the Country December 2019

Brian Mushel
Brian Mushel»

NORTHEAST

Sales and customer counts in 2019? Everything has been up and up this year. We’re up about 12 percent. We cut back on advertising and have done a few things differently. We added a digital billboard and we keep the advertising on the billboard relevant. If it gets cold, we’re able to instantly advertise cold-weather products. We’re also starting to see more results from the True Value digital efforts. This past year, we’ve had some turnover, so the average employee years is down considerably. As far as the local economy, we’re in the Scranton area, so it’s not the greatest. There are not really a lot of jobs unless you’re a banker, attorney or involved in health care.

Favorite smartphone apps for business use? I’ve found I can do a tremendous amount in Google My Business by Google. True Value has Retail Workbench we’ve used along with their Marketing Suite. We use the Weather Channel app and Instagram, Google Ads and Facebook.

What steps are you taking to attract the next generation of customers? I want to keep our relevance on Google. We’ve been using Pointy for two years, and I can’t believe what we get for the one-time fee. The Pointy service ties into Google and makes everything locally relevant. Customers can see everything that gets scanned in our POS system. That’s really helped draw in the younger people. For the smaller items, like toilet repair, it’s not such a big deal, but for big-ticket items, it gives us an advantage.

Best niche categories? We take pride in our selection of Weber grills and have committed to that one brand. Weber is rolling out a smoke fire grill this year. Stihl is a huge part of our business. In the past five years, we’ve never seen a brand have such a big impact on business. Stihl brings in contractors again and again. Then, they buy gloves and other impulse items. Homeowners who buy Stihl are doing their own yardwork, so they will also buy add-ons. We’ve learned that a Stihl customer is one of our most loyal customers. Bulk landscaping products—such as mulch, soil and decorative stone—are also a good niche for us. All the customers buying bulk landscaping products also look for shovels, gloves, grass, seed and fertilizers.

Brian Mushel
Justus True Value Home & Garden
Clarks Summit, Pa.


Mark Bushnell
Mark Bushnell»

MIDWEST

Sales and customer counts in 2019? In our area, which is southeastern Kentucky, our major business is coal and we are suffering still. We had one company that filed Chapter 7 recently and all of those people are laid off. We’re hopeful, but it’s kind of tough in my area. On the hardware side of the business we’re holding steady, but when looking at the mining supply part of the business, we’re down 30 percent from last year.

Favorite smartphone apps for business use? Right now, we don’t really use apps. We use the PRO Hardware circulars and customers are encouraged to text PRO for sale items. We plan to work on technology.

Kentucky Mine Supply PRO Hardware
Kentucky Mine Supply PRO Hardware»

What steps are you taking to attract the next generation of customers? We’re in the process of setting up a website. We’re looking at the best way to do a Facebook account. Millennials are pretty much the future, so we have to figure out a way to get to them. Millennials don’t buy a newspaper, it’s all phone.

Best niche categories? We sell several power tools such as DeWalt and Makita, and we do well with Case knives. We usually sell quite a few Case knives through November and December. As far as other niches, we sell mining supplies, such as roof supports and mining drill bits.

Mark Bushnell
Kentucky Mine Supply PRO Hardware
Harlan, Ky.


Thomas McKeithen
Thomas McKeithen»

SOUTH

Sales and customer counts in 2019? We’re up, but not as much as we’d like. Part of the reason we’re up is that we brought on other suppliers this year. We branched out from True Value and have been buying some from Florida Hardware. The walk-in traffic has been consistently slower, but on weekends we’re always busy. Weekdays we are always slow. We are doing a lot more with business accounts, which are other locally owned small businesses. We’re bending over backward to help them. We want to help them grow as much as we want to grow. In our area in southeast Georgia, the agricultural and landscaping businesses are our biggest accounts.

Favorite smartphone apps for business use? The one that I use the most is the Lowe’s app. If someone is in my store looking at a drill and sees that Lowe’s has a sale, I can scan the UPC in the ad and show the customers it’s not the same drill. The Lowe’s app lets us do cost comparison. Lots of customers think our prices are automatically higher, but with the app, I can look up the same items and show customers we have similar prices or better. I also use the True Value special order app. I use the StihlSelector app for Stihl dealers, which enables me to look up any of their chainsaws or other equipment and see all parts related to it. That app is nice to have, because if someone brings in an old chainsaw I can match the right parts.

What steps are you taking to attract the next generation of customers? We are located in a college town, so we’re always trying to think how we can get college students in the doors. We created specialized advertising just for students and have a student discount weekend. Around move-in time, we always sell lots of drywall patch kits, big Rubbermaid storage bins and power strips. The other thing we’ve sold to college students is small dog and cat supplies. Lot of apartments limit the size of animals, so we focus on small dog and cat supplies. We have Facebook and Instagram accounts specifically for college students. One of the cashiers is well versed in social media, so she runs it. We’ve found that if she goes on campus to push out ads, more people will see it because of her location.

Best niche categories? Stihl power equipment and Gravely lawn mowers—those are big sellers. We have a good business in parts and services with those brands. We also have a section of bamboo kitchen utensils. No one else in town has bamboo kitchen utensils to offer as gifts.

Thomas McKeithen
McKeithen’s True Value Hardware
Statesboro, Ga.


Steven and Cindy Troup
Steven and Cindy Troup»

SOUTHWEST

Sales and customer counts in 2019? They are doing somewhat better than last year, but we had a little bit of a slump last year. We are up the last couple of months over last year about 4 percent. About three months ago, Steel Dynamics announced it had chosen Sinton as the location for its newest plant. That has everyone excited, and we are anticipating a lot of growth in the near future.

Favorite smartphone apps for business use? I just installed Pointy, Google’s find local products app. I mainly use the True Value app, which is really handy because we can scan items, check inventory and see sales history right from the floor. We also use Facebook and Instagram to stay engaged with our customers.

What steps are you taking to attract the next generation of customers? It definitely is a work in progress. Sometimes I’m baffled by all of the technology the younger generation uses, but I realize it’s second nature to them. Because we are a small town, our customer base covers a wide age range. My husband Steven’s knowledge in all the core departments keeps our customers coming back. It’s not unusual to hear from our younger customers: “I knew Mr. Troup could help me.” For items we don’t carry in store, we do encourage customers to shop online at TrueValue.com and use our ship-to-store option.

Best niche categories? We started carrying the Echo line of outdoor power tools several years ago and that has done real well for us. We’re a small town that doesn’t have a big-box store—the closest is 15 miles away. We try to focus a lot on core categories so people don’t have to drive out of town.

Cindy Troup
Troup True Value
Sinton, Texas


Brothers Russell, David and Tom Young with their father Chip Young (front). 
Brothers Russell, David and Tom Young with their father Chip Young (front).  »

WEST

Sales and customer counts in 2019? In Marin County, the economy is always good. For Pini Hardware, we’ve been part of the community for over 100 years. My brothers and I are the third generation since our grandfather, Ben Young, purchased the store in 1968. Pini Hardware is a 101-year-old business and has been in the Young family 51 of those years. We have a dedicated staff and a high level of customer service, so customers really love us. Every year, we continue to grow that. We seem to be pulling from other communities, with more families moving into the area and fixing houses.

Favorite smartphone apps for business use? We don’t really use apps. We use Facebook and some other social media.

What steps are you taking to attract the next generation of customers? We are getting involved with more social media. We’re promoting barbecues and garden events that attract lots of people.

Century Club member Pini Ace Hardware was founded in 1918.
Century Club member Pini Ace Hardware was founded in 1918.»

Best niche categories? Housewares, garden, nursery, and we have a very large barbecue area. We always try to find unique and one-of-a-kind items. To find those sorts of items, we reach out to vendors and listen to sales reps. And I know it’s a little odd for a hardware store, but in our housewares department we sell Spartina purses and they have done very well.

Russell Young
Pini Ace Hardware
Novato, Calif.

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