Investing in categories that are consistent traffic-drivers, like fasteners, can lead to more satisfied and loyal customers and increased sales. Offering a specialized selection of products and providing purchasing flexibility plus high-quality customer service are some of the strategies that can take this basic category to the next level.
Phil Cheeves and his wife Deanna opened Hometown Hardware Co. in Senoia, Georgia, in 2018. Since then, the store has almost doubled its fastener retail space, and the category has become the operation’s most consistent category. Hardware Retailing spoke to Cheeves and his manager, Allan Morris, about how they grew the fastener category in their store and their strategies for success.
Expansion and Organization
Hometown Hardware Co. opened with a basic assortment of fasteners. Just six months after starting the business, Cheeves and Morris began expanding and customizing the store’s fastener selection.
“I started exploring the catalog to educate myself on our additional options,” Morris says. “On top of that, once a product is asked about two or three times, I take those requests and add them to our assortment when it makes sense.”
To make room for the additional product, Cheeves says he did some rearranging, taking down a whole row of gondolas, building a fastener island and filling it with the specialized options.
Cheeves and Morris have continued to add merchandise and expanded to three additional endcaps in recent months, with the organization of the category key to its success.
“With so many small products in this category, it is important to keep the area clean and organized so customers and employees are able to find what they are looking for,” Morris says. “To the left of the island we stock U.S. standard options and on the right side we keep metric fasteners.”
Hometown Hardware Co. also has various fastener gauges available around the fastener department to help customers and employees find the right product.
“Our customers definitely appreciate the fastener gauges,” Cheeves says. “Some of them even try to take them home.”
Assortment and Flexibility
Hometown Hardware Co.’s specialized fastener selection has set them apart from their competition, as has providing flexibility to their customers when purchasing, Cheeves says.
“We allow our customers to buy however many fasteners they need for a project instead of forcing them to purchase a whole pack,” Morris says. “Our customers have been very verbal about how nice it is to just buy what they need.”
With the many different products in the fastener category, staying on top of stock is important to success.
“A customer can come in at any time and wipe you out of a type of fastener,” Cheeves says. “There is a fine line between being overstocked and being perfectly stocked. It is critical to find the balance because if you don’t have a product, customers will go somewhere else. But it is also not beneficial to have too much money tied up in slow-moving merchandise.”
If the operation doesn’t have enough of a product, Cheeves says there is a system in place to order it for a customer, though sometimes the wait time for that order is too long.
“I place orders once a week, which is helpful in finding that balance,” Morris says. “Knowing that we order that often, it is just a matter of making it until the next order comes.”
Customer Service and Experience
A large part of a successful fastener category is customer service.
“When it comes to fasteners, probably 50% of our customers come in with no idea what they are looking for, and an even larger majority have no idea where to find it,” Cheeves says. “We make a point to have an employee near the section when possible and walk customers to the product instead of making them find it themselves.”
When helping a customer, asking the right questions is imperative.
“Sometimes customers will come in asking for a specific product we don’t have,” Morris says. “Instead of telling them we don’t have it, we ask questions, learn what they’re working on and visualize the project. A lot of times there’s a way to complete their project with fasteners we have in stock, so offering that alternate solution keeps the sale alive.”
When it comes to the questions customers are asking employees, Morris and Cheeves have noticed a slight difference between DIYers and professionals.
“DIYers often know what the end goal is, but need you to recommend how to accomplish it,” Morris says. “Professionals often ask us if there is a cheaper way to complete a project.”
Providing quality customer service will result in happy and loyal customers, Cheeves says.
“Because of our customer service, customers are very vocal about how quick and easy the process was and how they never would have found the right product without our help,” he says.
Morris and Cheeves have also found personal experience to be a useful selling tool.
“When you’ve used the products you sell, you get a better understanding of the ins and outs of the product,” Cheeves says. “That understanding also brings a sense of confidence to your voice and interaction with the customer that increases the chance of a sale.”
While specialization, organization, customer service and flexibility will improve success in the category and bring consistent business, it can’t be done all at once.
“You have to be willing to continually invest in the category,” Cheeves says. “Customers might not spend much on fasteners in a single purchase, but they will come in often, especially when they continue to have a good experience with the process.”
Providing a positive customer experience while staying on top of merchandising will boost sales in the category and make it a constant traffic driver in an operation.
“I’ll never stop adding to the fastener category or dedicating space to it because it has proven itself over and over again,” Cheeves says. “There are products that will come and go in a hardware store, but fasteners will never go away.”