The holidays are a time for gathering with family and friends, hosting parties and celebrating the season. Getting together with loved ones will feel even more special this year following the canceled events and socially distanced gathering from the last year and a half.
Your customers know they can count on you for tools, paint and plumbing. By adding the right products, you could also be the go-to spot for all of their holiday entertaining needs.
Hardware Retailing spoke to four retailers who shared why they offer unique niches that cater to entertaining, including gourmet food, cookware, party rentals and formal rentals, and how those departments have increased overall sales for their businesses.
On the following pages, learn best practices for merchandising and marketing these niches and how to bring these products into your own store to help your customers check off their holiday party lists.
Feeding Guests With Festive Food
When the holiday season rolls around, customers flock to Northeast Jackson Revell Ace Hardware in Jackson, Mississippi, to stock up on gourmet food items for parties and gift giving. Lisa Rooks, who co-owns seven Revell Ace Hardware stores with her husband Joe, opened the Revell at Home department in the Northeast Jackson store in November 2017, realizing a lifelong dream of owning a kitchen and housewares store.
In the four years since Revell at Home opened, Rooks has learned what it takes to be successful in the gourmet food niche. It starts with choosing brands with deep product lines and picking a variety of products. She says she chose one specialty food vendor because it offered a wide assortment of food products that would appeal to her customers, including jellies, pancake mixes, syrups, relishes and olive oils.
“When I was opening Revell at Home and purchasing products, my husband said, ‘If you’re going to buy, buy big,’ and recommended I purchase enough products for the department to look full,” Rooks says. “If you’re going to sell tea, for example, choose several different types to sell and the accessories to go along with the tea.”
Offering a wide assortment of food products gives customers choices and can tie into housewares products you’re already selling, leading to add-on sales. For example, Rooks sells popcorn makers to go with the local popcorn she stocks and specialty pancake pans that pair well with the pancake mixes and syrups sold in the store.
Taste and appearance are other important factors Rooks considers when choosing gourmet food products. Prior to the pandemic, Rooks hosted product tastings and cooking demonstrations so customers could try before they bought; she hopes to resume those events this holiday season.
“I also look for high-quality product packaging because I’ve found a product’s look helps it sell,” she says. “The packaging should make the food appetizing, even in the container. This is especially important if you’re giving the food product as a gift.”
Cookware for All Seasons
In southern Louisiana, traditional holiday cooking often takes on a Cajun twist, and Brasseux’s True Value Hardware is ready with a wide selection of cookware, including several lines of pots and pans, cooking utensils and accessories. At Brasseux’s, which has locations in Abbeville and Maurice, Louisiana, cookware is the third best-selling department. That success can be traced back to owner Gerrod Brasseux, his love for cooking and the culture of food in Louisiana.
Both Brasseux’s Hardware locations are situated in the heart of Cajun country and close to the Gulf of Mexico, where seafood and Cajun cooking reign, so Brasseux stocks specialty cookware like seafood broilers, fryers and griddles. Brasseux says they also stock restaurant-grade pots and skillets for professional chefs, but home cooks are the main audience in this department.
“We cater to home chefs who love food and enjoy cooking,” Brasseux says. “Before I bought the hardware store, I had always wanted to open a meat market, so this is my way of sharing my love of cooking with others.”
To bring people in the door, Brasseux, whose dad was a restaurant owner, hosts cooking classes throughout the year. In November, the Maurice store hosts holiday cooking classes featuring turkey and traditional Thanksgiving sides. Those cooking classes not only bring in customers, but have led to another niche category for both stores—cocktail accessories.
The store was serving beer and wine during the cooking classes because they are private events, but Brasseux wanted to up the ante with signature cocktails. So, he reached out to a Charleston, South Carolina, company that made cocktail mixes and added its products to the stores. He has also added locally made cocktail mixes, frozen drink mixes and accessories like tumblers, rocks glasses and ice cube trays.
“During the holiday season and around Father’s Day, we sell an Old-Fashioned cocktail kit with a glass, silicone ice cube tray, cocktail mix, cherries and bitters,” Brasseux says. “It’s a great gift for guys.”
From Tents to Tables to Tanks
Whether it’s a simple soiree or an extravagant family gathering, if a customer is throwing a holiday party, Roselawn True Value in Roselawn, Indiana, probably has what they need. The store specializes in party rentals, renting a wide variety of party and entertainment items, including tents, tables, chairs, helium tanks and drink dispensers.
General manager Daren Padgett says the store started offering party rentals in 2017. The store is located in a rural community and area residents have no other options nearby for party rentals for holiday parties, graduations and backyard barbecues.
“We have a large trade area of about 25 miles, with broad customer demographics,” Padgett says. “Party rentals are a way to reach these different people with a service and product no one else in the area is carrying.”
Offering party rentals has also brought in customers from outside Roselawn’s geographic area. Padgett says the store has customers from other towns rent from them because it’s the closest place that rents party supplies.
“We’ve also seen more and more customers come from other areas to rent our party supplies because our items are newer than the rental shop in their town,” Padgett says.
While pandemic stay-at-home orders hit the party rental market hard, Padgett says business picked up last fall. During the busiest months—May through July—party rentals can increase store sales by 35 percent.
Padgett says one key to success in this category is setting a goal for return on investment. Keeping up on regular maintenance is also important.
“Keep your party rentals fresh and looking new, and you will continue to thrive,” he says. “Monitor your inventory so you can purchase new pieces and sell older ones before you need to invest more than the unit is worth.”
Dressing Up the Holiday Party
When customers want to elevate their holiday wardrobe for a party, Reeves Ace Hardware has them covered with tuxedo rentals out of its store in Clayton, Georgia. Reeves Ace Hardware began offering formal rentals in 2018 after seeing a demand for tuxedo rentals in the area, says Hannah Bleckley, who does marketing, advertising and sales for Reeves.
“As a hardware store, we never thought we would be renting tuxedos, but it has been a great experience,” she says. “It’s not every day you walk into a hardware store that rents tuxedos. We listened to what our town needed and filled the request because we always try to give our customers what they need.”
Formal rentals were also a natural fit with the store’s wedding registry, which brings in engaged couples who may also need formal rentals for their wedding day.
Bleckley says they rent tuxedos year-round but are busiest during the spring and early summer with weddings and prom season overlapping.
“Our rental department has done very well with weddings,” Bleckley says. “We also have students from several local schools who rent tuxedos for homecoming and prom.”
The store partners with Jim’s Formal Wear, a nationwide formal wear rental company that works with 5,000 retailers in all 50 states. Customers can make an appointment with Reeves to come into the store to browse the selection and be measured for a tuxedo.
Adding tuxedo rentals to its offerings has allowed Reeves to serve customers in a new way and has brought in additional customers, says Bleckley.
“Every year we see new and familiar faces,” she says.