When you go to a buying market, the new products on display are there because someone else did their homework to find what might be popular among customers. Buyers for co-ops and distributors are continually on the lookout for new products. To get that perspective, Hardware Retailing talked with Gary Loosle, lawn and garden merchandise manager at Do it Best Corp.
Loosle grew up working in his parent’s hardware store and has been a merchandise manager at Do it Best for nearly 12 years. While he works at the wholesale level, his insights are valuable for any retailer searching for new items.
Hardware Retailing (HR): What are some of the places you look for new products?
Gary Loosle (GL): The first and most obvious place is with our existing vendor base. Especially in the lawn and garden department where I work, vendors are always introducing new products, so we have many new items to review each year.
I also attend major industry shows, such as the National Lawn and Garden Show, the National Hardware Show and the Independent Garden Center Show. While these shows are all great, it can be difficult to find the really cool items because there are so many vendor booths. I also read trade magazines, such as Hardware Retailing, to see what might be new. Our member store owners have provided many leads to new regional and national items. I look to our members for ideas as well as other retailers both inside and outside our channel.
HR: How do you determine which products are the ones you want to offer your retailers?
GL: I’m looking for those new, unique and trendy items that offer something different than what is already out there. It’s important to find those regional items that may be popular in a particular area of the country. Sometimes, we just need an update of products that we currently sell.
As a co-op, we need to have a plan in place to get a vendor’s products into our members’ stores. So it’s important that the vendor can follow through to the next step. It isn’t just about selling us a unique product. The vendor needs to have the capability to keep the shelves stocked and provide ongoing support to the retailer. What’s most important is that, as a retailer, you are not afraid to try a new item. Not every new product will be a hit, and sometimes that new item won’t make it, but you never know until you try.
HR: Do you have any advice for retailers about promoting new products in their store?
GL: The first thing to do is to make sure you train the sales staff on the item and get them excited about it. Shoppers tend to go to the sales staff for product knowledge, so if the staff doesn’t know anything about the new product, it may not sell.
Pet friendly ice melt, which is a trending item right now, is a great example. If you just put this item next to the regular ice melt and don’t offer an explanation as to why it’s more expensive, customers are less likely to buy it. But when employees communicate the benefits of this product to shoppers, more will buy. Also in the store, put new items on endcaps, in dump bins, in impulse displays at the checkout counter, or, for larger items, as a stack display. Those basic merchandising tools can go a long way to promoting new products.
HR: How long does it take a product to “prove itself,” or when do you decide to drop it?
GL: It varies from item to item. Some items take off in a couple of weeks, while some take a year or two. It ultimately comes down to sales, but we have to make sure we’ve put in the effort.
In the lawn and garden department, we look at products seasonally. If something doesn’t sell well in the first season, we might drop it, but we’re more likely to work with the vendor to see how we can improve the program. If we have made the effort to bring a vendor into our warehouse, we’re going to work with them as much as we can to make sure we’ve done everything we can to sell that item.
Then, if it still isn’t selling after the second season, we might end up dropping it. Sales at our buying markets are a good indicator, too. If there is a lot of excitement around the booth, then that’s a good indicator it’s going to sell well.
HR: Why are new products so important to the independent retailer?
GL: New products are a great way for independent retailers to differentiate themselves from other retailers, especially the big boxes. In particular, look for regional items. Big box stores have a hard time working with regional niches because so much of what they do happens at a national level.
In addition, independent retailers can be the ones who get the new product first. Don’t be afraid to be the first one to try something new. Some stores only want to add a new item after it’s been out in the marketplace for a while and sold well in other stores. Those who do that will miss out on the initial excitement surrounding the product and won’t be known as the place to go to find what’s new.