Each and every day, independent retailers are changing their playing fields—developing new ideas and blazing new trails along the retail landscape. The Retail Innovators of the Year awards program is dedicated to recognizing these retailers.
Sponsored by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and Vermont American Power Tool Accessories, the Retail Innovators of the Year Awards allows us to single out these retail pioneers who are raising the bar for others and setting a new standard for retail operations.
Marvin’s Building Material and Home Centers, Alabama
Marvin’s Building Material and Home Centers has emerged as one of this industry’s brightest success stories. This Alabama-based chain of 26 home centers has managed to grow its business and expand its brand, even during today’s difficult economy.
Brad Battles, who manages the Marvin’s location in Albertville, Alabama, is an ideal representative of how Marvin’s has been able to find such success.
Battles started as a part-time employee in the store’s lumberyard in 1999 and entered the manager-training program six years later. Even in the midst of an economic downturn, the Albertville store posted gains of 25 percent in sales from 2008 to 2009, with certain months showing 40-percent gains. In all, the store saw 109 percent more profits in 2009 than in 2008, which is no doubt due to Battles’ leadership. Battles was also selected in 2009 as Marvin’s manager of the year.
Kief Hardware, Louisiana
Flexibility and an easy-going attitude have characterized James Cabirac’s leadership style at the three Kief Hardware stores that he owns in the bayous of Louisiana, and the results have been impressive. Fierce customer loyalty, increased sales and a Facebook following of more than 2,000 people all indicate that Cabirac has been doing something right.
One reason for his operation’s success has been Kief’s willingness to think outside the box. Whether it is in newspaper ads that directly compare his stores’ prices with prices at the local big-box or creative promotions—like accepting gift cards from other merchants or offering $1 off New Orleans Saints jerseys for every point the Saints scored—keep customers coming back for more. Cabirac even arranged for the local public TV station to air “Do it Best on the Bayou,” a twice-weekly, hour-long public service program that Cabirac and his team produce in-house.
Cole’s Home Solutions, Tennessee
When Charles Cole and the team at Cole’s Home Solutions in Millington, Tenn., unveiled the new design of its home center, the industry took notice. The new Cole’s Home Solutions store was unlike anything the industry had seen to date.
The store includes a series of vignettes to highlight different categories such as tools, plumbing and lighting. With everything from a garage area where customers can test-drive power tools to working sinks, showers and toilets in the plumbing area, Cole’s Home Solutions creates a truly unique customer experience.
Charles Cole wasn’t content recreating a neighborhood home center, instead he broke through the boundaries of what a home improvement store was thought to be and sought inspiration from retailers such as Bass Pro, Cracker Barrel and Harley Davidson. This truly courageous and unique approach set his operation apart from any competition.
Alan Bryant, Advertising/Promotions
True Value Homecenter in Oakhurst, California, is known for its unique promotional events, many of which are regarded as community traditions. Co-owner Alan Bryant has organized and overseen many of these events, including yard sale-type events, like “The Community Clutter Clearance” and the “Motorsport Swap and Sell,” and has fronted several projects with local nonprofits like the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Boys & Girls Club and Toys for Tots. Bryant has also been recognized by True Value for his contributions—he sits on the company’s 12-member Marketing Advisory Council and helped lead his store to a 2008 “Best Hardware Store in Town” award.
Dave Ralph, Merchandising
Dave Ralph’s tenure with True Value began more than 32 years ago when, as a high school student, he stocked shelves and cleaned at Marchwood True Value in Exton, Pennsylvania. Ralph transitioned to manager then to co-owner. Ralph’s merchandising expertise has positioned the 12,500-square-foot store as a go-to destination for grills and paint. The store carries almost every product made by Weber—from grills to cookbooks. Ralph has created a deep paint department, with six exterior paint lines and four interior paint lines from multiple manufacturers. The paint center’s three color computers, six paint shakers and six-aisle span attract homeowners and contractors alike. Ralph’s store received the 2010 “Best Hardware Store in Town” award from True Value.
Amy Kaplanis, Employee Training
Before recruiting Amy Kaplanis of Country Ace Hardware in Granby, Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Ace Stores (RMAS) Board of Directors played their training by ear rather than taking a proactive approach. Now, thanks to Kaplanis’ work with RMAS, the group has a robust, cutting-edge training program to offer to its members. A new webinar series was launched in March, and seven webinars have already been presented, covering topics such as exterior stains and common Colorado pests. The webinars have filled a gap in employee training, allowing staff members to interact with experts and ultimately become more knowledgeable sales representatives.
Stan Yates, Green Marketing
Stan Yates, manager of Yates Building Supply in Philadelphia, Mississippi, doesn’t just practice innovation in his store, but also inspires others in his community to follow in his footsteps. His store is the only building supply store in the nation to earn LEED Gold certification, embodying the principles of sustainability and environmentally responsible building. Permeable concrete in the parking lot channels rainwater for use, a white roof coating reflects sunlight and keeps the interior of the building cooler, skylights and sensors adjust interior lighting, the floor stain is made from soybean product, and more. Yates has become a destination for contractors who want to build responsibly.
Rick Arena and Michael Ervolina, Community Involvement
Since 1993, Valu Home Centers has raised more than $2.5 million for 15 chapters of Habitat for Humanity in western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania, and every dollar has gone directly toward homes for needy families. Valu president Mike Ervolina and executive vice president Rick Arena say that it’s particularly inspiring to see the company’s donations support the people who have supported Valu throughout the years. In addition to organizing annual fundraising efforts for Habitat for Humanity, Valu also encourages its customers and staff to participate at Habitat job sites and donate their time in other capacities.
Rick Karp, Technology
Cole Hardware in San Francisco was one of the first hardware stores in the U.S. to computerize its entire inventory, and the store continues to be a technological front-runner. Rick Karp, president and owner, strives to increase efficiency in any way possible by implementing new technology in his four stores. Cole Hardware is an alpha tester for developing software; sends daily, weekly and monthly sales reports to personnel; sends a daily blog to all employees with updates on sales, new products, upcoming events and more; sends a twice-monthly e-newsletter to customers; sends information to customers’ mobile phones via text messaging; will soon roll out an online gift registry system; and has digitized its entire product catalog for commercial customers.
Home Hardware Building Centre, Store Operations
At Lloydminster Home Hardware Building Centre (HHBC), the customer base splits right down the middle—50 percent contractor customers and 50 percent retail consumers—but every customer gets 100 percent of what they need from HHBC’s unique store operations and exceptional customer service. Contractors and homebuilders have access to a 4-acre lumberyard and half of the 25,000 square feet of indoor retail space, which includes their own entrance, cash register and service counter. Call-in ordering, same-day deliver and access to an extensive fleet of trucks and forklifts make HHBC even more efficient for contractors. For retail customers, HHBC offers a 9,000-square-foot Garden Centre, interior design boutiques staffed with experts, Gingersnaps Coffee Shop, a baby boutique and much more, all in addition to an extensive collection of the more traditional hardlines offerings. Lloydminster HHBC is truly a one-stop shop for all customers.