In 2010, Dave and Candy Gutierrez, owners of Placerville True Value, were looking to expand their one-store operation to fit their succession plan for their twin sons. Around that time, the owner of Airhill General Hardware in Penn Valley, California, who had run the business since 1978, decided to close the store. The Gutierrez family took advantage of the expansion opportunity and purchased the business, reopening it in 2011 as Penn Valley True Value with the help of their son Scott Gutierrez.
Gutierrez, who grew up working at Placerville True Value and spent 13 years employed at another hardware and lumber business, worked at his parents’ new store and made improvements until 2017 when he purchased the store from his parents. That same year he opened up a 1,600-square-foot outdoor power center that features a 1,000-square-foot show floor and an additional 10,000-square-foot outdoor selling space, which brought a 52 percent increase in sales the next year and an 80 percent increase the following year.
Hardware Retailing spoke with Gutierrez about his operation’s outdoor power equipment category and what it takes to succeed in this department. Continue reading to discover four best practices to apply to your outdoor power equipment category to boost your sales.
Know Your Customer Base
When drivers enter Penn Valley, they are greeted with a sign that reads, “Penn Valley: Lifestyle With Opportunity,” and that is exactly what Gutierrez has found in the town. Located near a gated community, Penn Valley True Value caters to many professionals whose clients are constantly looking for ways to make their yards beautiful. The store also has a corner on the market, with the closest hardware store option located in Grass Valley, which necessitates an hour round-trip excursion, not ideal for contractors who need to quickly pick up items they forgot.
“People in Penn Valley think they are going to the other side of the earth when they have to go to Grass Valley,” Gutierrez says. “It’s a 1,000-foot elevation climb and can be as far as a 20-minute drive one way. It’s also a lot busier and my customers are more comfortable in their quiet town.”
With his customers putting extra time and effort into their outdoor spaces and little competition in his area, Gutierrez realized early that outdoor power equipment was vital to assisting his customers with their needs.
Make Your Store a Destination
With a substantial understanding of his customer base, Gutierrez has been able to work on making his store a destination.
“Our focus has been on becoming a destination, whether that is breadth and depth of product lines, having multiple knowledgeable employees working at any given time, making the customer experience enjoyable or catering to pros,” Gutierrez says.
All employees at Penn Valley True Value’s outdoor power center are Stihl certified in at least one category, and a mechanic on staff holds a Master Wrench Stihl certification.
Becoming a destination for professionals and catering to their needs has been key to Penn Valley True Value’s success.
“Professionals are looking for an all-inclusive store where they can get their equipment serviced and that has a wide product selection,” Gutierrez says. “We advertise to our professional customers that we have the correct parts for their equipment or we can get them in a couple of days. We also guarantee that any piece of Stihl equipment brought in for repair will be done in two weeks or less. They know that they are our priority, and that has brought us success.”
The equipment repair guarantee was brought on by the realization that sometimes less is more. He had spent four years running a repair shop that fixed any small engine before deciding to scale down its offerings in 2018 and only repair products from brands the store sold. The change was brought on by the seasonal nature of the shop and a limited ability to achieve high customer satisfaction through the service, Gutierrez says.
“A lot of outdoor power equipment today are consumable products; once the product stops working, it is usually cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one,” Gutierrez says. “That, along with long lead times during the four-month span of the busy season, made us feel like we were always disappointing our customers. As a business that has grown 100 percent through its customer service, downsizing our offerings made it easier to please people.”
Believe in What You Sell
Over the years, Gutierrez has also made an effort to research and select brands and products that he genuinely believes in.
“I feel like you have to believe in what you sell,” Gutierrez says. “You can sell anything, but if you believe in what you sell, you can sell a whole lot more.”
When the store first opened, it sold Echo power equipment, with only 12 feet of inline sales space.
“We did not do very well with outdoor power equipment at first,” Gutierrez says. “The first three years we sold Echo, we made a 17 percent margin on average.”
In 2015, Gutierrez added a 48-foot aisle for Stihl equipment.
“With Echo, we had to work hard to sell the product. A customer would come in and want to know the difference between two trimmers,” Gutierrez says. “With Stihl, it’s like many customers have done their research already, and they specifically seek out a place that sells Stihl.”
During the store’s first year selling Stihl, sales in just the handheld power equipment category increased by 358 percent and the transaction count in that category increased by 300 percent, Gutierrez says.
In the last seven years of selling Stihl, the store has made a 22 percent margin on average, and with the opening of the outdoor power center, it has flourished into a destination store for many professionals and DIYers alike.
Merchandise to Succeed
Exemplary, intentional merchandising can improve the customer experience and make an operation into a destination. Gutierrez has implemented three merchandising strategies in his outdoor power center to boost sales and customer satisfaction.
Bring the Outdoors In
When Gutierrez was looking for ways to connect the outdoor power equipment products sold outdoors with the products sold inside the outdoor power center, he decided to install a glass garage door.
“The glass garage door gives the indoor space an outdoor feeling,” Gutierrez says. “During the biggest selling season in the spring, we open up the door, and it’s almost like you’re shopping for outdoor power equipment while you’re outside. During hot summer months or cold winter months, the closed glass garage door still gives that outdoor feeling.”
Light It Up
Gutierrez pays close attention to how products are displayed and the experience each customer has while shopping.
“I installed spotlighting that shines right onto the equipment,” Gutierrez says. “It makes the products pop and sparkle, and I think that it helps with sales. When customers are spending $500 to $1,000 on a piece of equipment, they want something that is aesthetically pleasing, and the lighting helps enhance that.”
For many stores, floors are not a focus when it comes to cleaning, Gutierrez says. But for him, floors need to be a priority to maintain an overall clean operation.
“Having clean floors is the easiest way to change the culture of your store. If you have clean floors the shelves don’t get as dusty, the products stay more faced and employees tend to take care of everything a little bit more,” Gutierrez says. “We always make sure the floors are clear, clean and sparkling, and we have a floor cleaner that comes out twice a week to mop and buff our floor.”