While on the surface they may not go together like peanut butter and jelly or rock and roll, some business partnerships just work. From food to flowers, Hardware Retailing found four retail operations with unusual business combinations that have paid off. Learn more about how these retailers have added unconventional side businesses you typically wouldn’t connect with a home improvement business to bring in additional customers, provide an extra layer of service, become a destination stop and boost their bottom lines.
For over 40 years, the Brownsboro Road location of Brownsboro Hardware & Paint in Louisville, Kentucky, has provided an extra level of service to customers with an in-house U.S. Postal Service contract post office. The store also touts a UPS shipping department that can ship packages anywhere in the U.S. and accepts most return packages.
Owner Doug Carroll says nearly 25% of the store’s customers come in to use the post office, with around 200 customers mailing packages, purchasing stamps and conducting other business services each day. Of those customers, he estimates 20% purchase items from the hardware store during their visit.
Carroll purchases the supplies for the post office and hires and manages the employees who work in that part of the store.
“Because of where it is in our store, people walk through many departments to get to it. It’s almost like milk in the grocery store; on your way to the back, you pass other items you may not have known you needed,” Carroll says. “I feel the post office is a huge part of our business and provides an extra layer of service to our customers.”
Tucson Estates Hardware in Tucson, Arizona, also has a U.S. Post Office contract unit, which opened in 2016. Owner Janet Beatty added the service as part of her robust merchandising strategy to drive increases in market exposure, foot traffic and overall retail sales. Beatty was approached by a USPS representative after a nearby post office in a gift shop closed. She says the contract process took about six months, and during that time, residents also advocated for the store to be awarded the post office contract because the service was much-needed in the area.
“The USPS rep we had at the time was amazing and did most of the legwork to make this happen,” Beatty says. “We did some construction in the store to accommodate the requirements for size and security, but we were able to complete the construction in-house at minimal cost.”
One of the biggest challenges the store has faced since adding the post office has been the number of people utilizing it during the holidays to ship packages. Beatty says they have learned how to better staff the post office and direct the long lines around the store during those busy times.
The store’s customer count throughout the rest of the year has also increased. Beatty says sales in the office and shipping supplies department are up 100% since the post office opened, and sales for cards and gift items have also increased.
“We have seen a significant number of new customers who come in for the post office and realize what we offer, and they end up purchasing other items and come back to the store for hardware-related goods,” Beatty says. “We have definitely seen a different demographic of customers start shopping in our store as well.”
When customers of Alger Hardware and Rental are craving a frozen treat, they can stop in at Heights Cream, which opened inside the store in August 2020 and serves hard and soft-serve ice cream and other treats.
The shop occupies just 200 square feet of the hardware store’s footprint but makes excellent use of what was previously unused retail space. The front windows that face the sidewalk and front of the store are ideal for walk-up service, says Joel DeJong, who co-owns Heights Cream with his dad Bill DeJong, owner of Alger Hardware and Rental in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“We wanted the neighborhood, which is close-knit and walkable, to have an ice cream shop, and we were finally in a place to build one,” Joel says. “Many hardware store customers are surprised that we have an ice cream shop. We’ve been able to market the shop to the neighborhood directly through a thriving community Facebook group.”
Heights Cream sources all of its ice cream through the local Moo-Ville Creamery, a family-owned and -operated dairy headquartered in nearby Nashville, Michigan.
The ice cream store is only open seasonally, but the DeJongs have added an ice cream cake cooler in the hardware store so customers can still enjoy delicious Moo-Ville ice cream and treats year-round.
“While on paper the ice cream shop and the hardware store are two separate businesses, they are both driven by the mission to make our community the best it can be,” Joel says.
Having the ice cream shop sign outside the hardware store has increased the visibility from the street side, Joel says. The ice cream shop has also brought in customers from a farther radius, including customers looking for the specific brand of ice cream the shop carries and those seeking dairy-free and vegan options. Through the ice cream shop, customers are introduced to the hardware store and the wide variety of products it carries.
“Seeing large groups of people outside the ice cream shop, and therefore the hardware store, throughout the summer raises visibility for both businesses,” he says. “The ice cream shop also provides frozen goods for the hardware store to sell as impulse items year-round, which further emphasizes the partnership between the two businesses.”
Adding a touch of beauty and providing a well-received service, Hagan Florist & Gifts has been serving the floral needs of the Jacksonville, Florida, area for two decades. The floral shop is located next to the Mandarin location of Hagan Ace Hardware, which has nine locations in Florida, and specializes in unique and creative floral designs for all special occasions, including weddings. Director of store operations Jacob Hagan says Hagan Ace opened the floral shop because there was no nearby competition and it provided an opportunity to offer a fun and unusual niche and draw from a different customer base.
“With many female shoppers, it’s a nice getaway after completing their task lists in the hardware store,” Hagan says. “We sell everyday floral arrangements and have used different types of marketing to promote our custom floral arrangements for proms, weddings, funerals, churches and more.”
Customers can shop in the store, call ahead and pick up their order curbside or take advantage of the shop’s delivery service.
“The niche has brought more sales to the overall store,” Hagan says. “With many DIY customers, it allows them a joyous shopping experience away from the current task at hand.”
A Winning Ingredient
Hungry customers can grab a coffee and food while shopping at Paint Perfection in El Campo, Texas. The Coffee Bar at Paint Perfection started as an idea owner Molli Bodungen had for utilizing her paint store’s building better. Soon, Bodungen’s creative dream took on a life of its own, becoming a popular spot in town.
“We didn’t have a coffee shop in our town at all,” Bodungen says. “I started getting ideas. What if I opened a real coffee shop?”
She built a coffee bar in the paint shop, added a sandwich station and began selling drip coffee, espresso drinks, cinnamon rolls, hot soups and sandwiches. She also arranged tables around the store for customers to sit and eat.
Paint sales went up 30% the first year as local DIYers dropped by to get coffee and realized their new coffee shop was primarily a paint store.
Then Bodungen noticed her loyal contractor customers started avoiding the store around lunchtime because they couldn’t find parking during the lunch rush. Some of her DIY customers began asking her to get rid of paint to make space for more tables for dining.
Her solution was to open Molli B’s, a standalone restaurant across town designed to accommodate dine-in customers. Bodungen kept the coffee bar, but now only offers Grab & Go items and pastries at the paint shop.
Customers can get a free drip coffee or iced tea while shopping, or they can opt to buy fancier drinks.
The new arrangement has kept customers happy while allowing the in-store coffee bar to continue attracting the DIYers who didn’t previously shop at Paint Perfection.
“We have built a relationship over coffee and so they trust me with their paint,” Bodungen says.
Outside the Box
Check out these other unconventional business revenue streams that can add to your operation’s bottom line.