The Next Big Thing in Home Improvement Retailing
By Chris Jensen
Adam Taylor just opened his third Trust Hardware store that is open 24/7.»
Adam Taylor is pushing a broom, aggressively sweeping up debris at his soon-to-open third Trust Hardware store in downtown Indianapolis, while he explains his vision for this latest addition to his rapidly expanding empire. This new store in the hot, trendy Mass Ave neighborhood will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, just like his other two stores.
“This store will have a completely different feeling. The old hardwood floors will give it the old-fashioned hardware store feel,” Taylor is saying, as he gives a tour of a sales floor in transition, tall pillars sectioning off what used to be a book store. This store’s opening is further proof that Taylor’s bold idea has worked. He now has indisputable proof of concept for his unique retail innovation.
Lots of people in the hardware industry thought Taylor must be crazy or a glutton for punishment after reading our profile of him in our May/June 2017 issue. He opened his first store in July 2012, but then expanded to 24 hours in November 2016 with only occasional help from a part-time employee. Is there another hardware retailer who works at least 120 hours a week with no days off?
The new downtown location opening in a former bookstore is across the street from a $300 million mixed-use development.»
How does Taylor cope with working such long hours? As he puts it, “If you love what you’re doing, it’s not really work.”
Back to the tour, where Taylor is explaining how rakes and ladders will hang from the pillars, with seasonal stuff front and center, fasteners in the back, a deep selection of plumbing and a strong assortment of DeWalt power tools standing out above the checkout stand. “When the customer walks in, I want them to know we’re in the tool business. Displays will be tight and tall,” he says.
Customers will also find extensive janitorial and pet supplies and be greeted by Roscoe, the lovable yellow lab who was the star attraction at the original store. He goes where Taylor goes, so Roscoe is getting used to his new accommodations. Two new Labrador puppies are being brought in for duty to supplement a fourth dog that has been in place for a while, so customers will always be greeted by a friendly lab whenever they walk in a Trust Hardware store.
Adam Taylor reworked his store design to make the checkout counter the center of the operation.»
Adam Taylor and Director of Operations Kevin Bates (right) were excited to open the second store last October.»
The Mass Ave store, which had a soft opening on April 10, features 2,850 square feet on the main floor and similar space in the basement, where Taylor plans to display wheelbarrows, grills, plants, Christmas trees and other seasonal items. A small room in the basement will be converted to living space for Taylor like a studio apartment. “I’m 38 and single without any kids, and I don’t need much space for myself,” he explains.
Spend an hour or two with Taylor and it’s hard not to feel like a slacker, because he is perpetually in motion and full of ideas. Then he goes out and executes those ideas.
He is planning to test Velvet Ice Cream, a premium brand from Ohio. “I’ll get a feel for what sells downtown like house mailboxes, which never sold at the other stores, and smaller grills. I couldn’t give away toasters and blenders in the suburbs, but will definitely have those here,” he says.
Back outside walking through stacks of bagged goods, Taylor points to the side of the building as hundreds of cars speed by on the 65-70 North split that cuts through downtown. “I’m going to put a big billboard there to promote the store being open 24/7,” he says. With 214,000 cars passing by daily on this busy highway, that should be a pretty good return on investment.
The original store moved to a new location by Kroger in September 2019.»
Taylor is getting eight months of free rent at this new space, which will give him time to get the store up and running before he has to start paying what is higher rent than he pays in the suburbs.
Location is everything, and Trust Hardware’s Mass Ave site is across the street from a new $300 million urban mixed-use development called Bottleworks, which is breathing new life into a former Coca-Cola bottling facility. All around Mass Ave one finds ongoing construction of new apartments, condos and townhomes, as an already trendy area becomes even hotter.
Featuring a gleaming Art Deco façade, the Bottleworks District includes a boutique hotel and a dozen food vendors in a food hall, a distillery, a swanky barbershop and dozens of local and national specialty retailers. It promises to attract a young and affluent crowd, who can now pop into the hardware store at 2 a.m. after a night out.
“These are community stores and I want them to reflect the neighborhoods in which they operate,” says Taylor, who will be living among his new customers just like the old-time retailers who used to live in small apartments above their stores.
Since Trust Hardware stores are open 24/7, they carry non-traditional categories like detergent and toilet paper in addition to core hardware.»
Expansion Always on Tap
In 2016, Taylor doubled the size of his first store in the blue-collar Pendleton Pike area to 6,400 square feet, but having everything split into two rooms was not efficient for a retailer who was often covering the store by himself.
It took a lot of long work weeks before sales picked up enough for Taylor to feel comfortable taking on more employees. He says he also waited too long to switch his purchases over to House-Hasson, which he now says is one of the best decisions he has made.
In September 2019, Taylor moved down the road to a smaller 4,000-square-foot location next to Kroger, which proved to be perfect for his needs. He opened his second store in October 2020—in the middle of the pandemic—about seven miles away at 71st and Binford. “There’s nothing much different between stores one and two, except Binford has a little more disposable income,” he notes.
Seasonal items are always displayed prominently by the front entrance.»
Taylor runs three shifts in every store. The first shift covers 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; second shift is 2-10 p.m. and third shift is 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Kevin Bates, director of operations, has now been with Taylor three years and is another jack-of-all-trades weapon to deploy where needed.
The Pendleton store does really well in the afternoon, according to Taylor, so its sales mix breaks down this way: 35% during first shift; 50% during second shift and 15% during third shift. “Mass Ave, like all the stores, should be fully staffed with five or six people,” he points out. “Pendleton will do a million in sales this year with three full timers and me and Kevin flexing in. That’s the model I want to run—tight.”
If you break down those sales figures, that means the Pendleton store will generate $150,000 in sales between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., long after other hardware stores are closed. That is more than enough to cover staffing and as Taylor likes to point out, his rent is the same whether he’s open 10 hours or 24 hours a day.
Regular Facebook posts reminded customers during the pandemic that Trust Hardware is open 24-7 for all their needs.»
“My approach is different than most anyone you’ll ever talk to, but so are a lot of the things I do. But I like my model and I’m positive it will prove out,” Taylor states.
Before the paint is dry on his third location, Taylor is close to finalizing a deal for his fourth store in the affluent suburb of Carmel, which has a median household income of $112,765. He has found a prime 5,000-square-foot space in a newly remodeled strip center next to a new grocery store, although he really only needs 3,000 square feet.
“I get people all the time telling me I need to open a 24-hour store in Greenwood or Speedway or another local market around here,” Taylor says. “I’m expanding as fast as I can.”
He adds, “I just love looking at sites and diving into all the details of a market. I start envisioning how the new store will look and I can’t wait to get started on it.”
Keeping Up During the Pandemic
Most hardware retailers were slammed throughout 2020, as they tried to keep up with skyrocketing consumer demand while often operating short-staffed. Some reduced their hours in response. Taylor doubled his store count and was killing it 24/7.
“During the pandemic, everything sold. You realize that the community depends on you, but it also made more people realize we were there,” he says. “We were their source for everything when supplies were scarce at other places. Water, face masks, bleach—we stayed in stock. It pretty much changed our whole customer base. A lot of other retailers weren’t open when we were.”
He adds, “I never closed once during the pandemic. I worked my butt off for 10 years and then was in the right place at the right time. I worked unbelievably hard in 2020, but it was an amazing year. I hope we can get back toward normal soon.”
He has definitely seen a shift toward buying local during the pandemic, a trend he expects to continue. “I ask for everyone’s opinion and most are afraid to say anything. I guess they don’t want to offend or be presumptuous, but I really want to know so I can better meet their needs,” he says.
Although Taylor wants to be known for running a hardware store and not a general store, he stocks essentials like toilet paper, bottled water, laundry detergent and a full line of janitorial products.
Since opening his first store nine years ago, Taylor has shifted more toward brands that consumers know and trust. As he puts it bluntly, “People just want shit that works.”
Taylor is always striving to create a unique experience for customers. “You have to have that appeal that keeps people coming back. I’m trying to create a brand that is Amazon-proof,” he says.
Indeed, the whole point of keeping his stores open 24/7 is to not let Amazon have the advantage. “The number one way to compete against Amazon is to stay open,” Taylor states.
He adds, “I used to be inventory and cash poor, now I’m inventory rich and cash poor. The next 60 days will be challenging as I try to get this new store up and running smoothly while still juggling the other two stores.”
Fine-Tuning the Process
Even though he is now up to three stores, Taylor finds it’s getting easier and easier to keep the business running smoothly.
“My efficiencies work. I don’t need 20 employees. I’ve seen sales go down when two or three employees are there at the same time. The customer doesn’t know who to deal with and you’re stepping over each other. You don’t need as much service as you think,” he points out.
When he opened his first store, Taylor says he wasted so much time going back and forth across the store. “I used to have a paint counter, a key counter, a checkout area—now everything is consolidated in one place,” he says. “The way I’ve set up counters you see the same person behind there. You can pull paint, sharpen blades, cut keys and do everything right there in one place—even printing and retagging. So much money is made right at the counter.”
The new Mass Ave store will cater to a younger clientele more apt to live in an apartment or condo than a house.»
If Taylor can get his third store rolling without any hitches, he anticipates having all three stores paid off by June or July. It took him 10 years and seven months after high school to open store number one, eight years to open store number two, but just six months to open store three. Now store four is close to being finalized before a permanent sign is even up for the downtown store.
“It’s starting to get easier and easier to keep the business going even though I’m up to three stores,” he says. “My stores can almost always run with just one person in there at a time. I don’t hire people for $10 an hour. My lowest salary is $34,500.”
Rather than trying to compete with Amazon in online sales, Adam Taylor focuses on having what people need for the best in-store experience.»
Roscoe, a yellow lab beloved by customers, can usually be found at Adam’s side.»
Still, his number one concern is staffing and getting the right people on staff, primarily because it is harder to find people for the third shift. “I think it will be a little easier staffing the downtown location, which has a younger demographic,” he says, adding that he is working on a standard operating manual.
Ecommerce is not part of the store’s mission right now. “It’s a simple time issue. This is my block of time and what do I want to do with it?” he says. “Selling online to customers locally is not as important as people coming in my store. It’s about creating an experience and you can’t get that when you buy online. I’ve spent more of my time and money working on the in-store experience.”
Delivery is another dilemma. “People mostly want bagged goods delivered and that’s a low-margin item. How many times do you want to touch a product before you complete the sale?” he says. “I will listen to my customer base, but don’t know if I could be good at delivery. We can’t be like Amazon on some of that.”
He adds, “I found myself driving around like a madman and I’d pull into the wrong driveway. I do want to ramp up delivering water softener salt. That’s easy and recurring revenue and can be set up with a monthly subscription.”
Opening three or four hardware stores is a nice accomplishment, but Taylor has much loftier goals. He says, “It’s still my goal to have 1,000 hardware stores, all open 24/7.”
It wouldn’t be wise to bet against him.
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