Keith Payne works hard to make his downtown Indianapolis hardware store stand out. With a handmade granite paint counter, soft pendant lighting, wide aisles and bright, alluring colors and signage, the store resembles a high-end specialty shop with a wide variety of assortments.
Payne, however, doesn’t limit his innovative retailing strategies to his store’s design and decor—he has also worked hard to become a fixture in the local community and even hosts his own how-to segment on a local television show.
The result of Payne’s vision and efforts has been overwhelmingly positive feedback from a growing list of loyal customers, a trend Payne hopes to build upon as he looks for ways to make North Meridian Hardware a well-known and well-respected community resource.
“We want to be the resource to help DIYers—the hub where we can sell products but still bring in new, innovative ideas,” he says.
Background in Building
Payne’s career in the home improvement industry didn’t begin in retail. His past experience in city planning and custom home building led to work as a wholesale supplier for large-scale projects, including the Indianapolis International Airport and Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.
But four years ago, his interest turned to retail when he saw a need for a hardware store to provide products to the growing downtown population occupying new and redeveloped apartment buildings.
The contacts Payne built during his time as a wholesale supplier proved crucial to the initial success of his retail venture. The professional accounts provided a solid customer base for North Meridian while the store was establishing stronger traffic among D-I-Y customers.
“Most hardware retailers coming in to an urban setting typically don’t have a lot of retail experience,” he says. “We don’t either, but we’re strong into commercial sales, which will lead to us having a stronger business. It’s very easy to leverage the commercial contacts we already have.”
Payne says many of his employees’
professional building backgrounds set the business apart from the competition as well.
“When the customer comes in, we can share our experience and knowledge from the on-site problems we’ve dealt with,” he says.
Contemporary and Convenient
In addition to their skills relating to the store’s pro customers, the staff at North Meridian also understands what consumers want from a retailer. This understanding is clear in the store’s creative and colorful design. The team gutted the building, and used recycled and refurbished materials, creating an upscale look in the store.
The result is a 7,000-square-foot salesfloor, complete with hardwood floors, an open ceiling, brightly painted walls, flat-screen TVs, contemporary signage and room for core and niche categories, including paint, pet supplies, electrical and more.
To further meet the needs of his contractor and professional customers, Payne also operates a company called Affordable Building Supplies LLC, which carries bulk items for construction companies. He also leases the building’s 10,000-square-foot second floor as office space.
“The store is a very unique compilation of my whole experience throughout my career. It has a very contemporary, California feel to it because it is very bright, and we have really tried to have a progressive, upbeat, knowledgeable staff,” he says.
Payne’s hard work in the store has paid off—local media outlets noticed the store’s fresh, urban look. One local station even offered him the opportunity to host a home improvement segment on a local network television show.
So far, viewers, who Payne says often turn into customers, love the segment.
“It’s encouraging that (the show) is really working and people are paying attention,” he says. “That’s the whole goal—trying to do very simple things that apply to everybody’s everyday life.”
But Payne doesn’t stop there with community outreach. He also interacts with all customers host in-store how-to seminars.
To keep the feeling of community alive in the store, the staff at North Meridian also tries to exceed expectations on a daily basis. This means doing things like making basic cuts in lumber for free and lending advice to customers with projects of all sizes. One notable project included helping a customer landscape his backyard to create a setting for an outdoor wedding.
“We’ve had a lot of people come back who say, ‘I’ve tried what you said and it’s worked well,” he says. “In turn, we ask them to post it to our Facebook page.”
Payne says those customer relationships are a driving force in his business plan.
“A natural part of working in an urban store is being able to ask customers questions and interact with them and their projects,” he says. “When you create those relationships, that’s what makes people come back, especially when you help them through a problem.”
Diverse Customer Base
Payne’s commitment to the community also shows in his emphasis on diversity. Both of his companies are certified with the city and state as Minority Business Enterprises. And as a retailer in a socially and economically diverse area, he strives to keep a wide customer base in mind when making layout, purchasing and merchandising decisions.
He and his staff are diligent about offering a broad array of products online and in-store at varying price points that allow all levels of his customer base to find a quality product.
“The store feels very high-end because I believe in excellence, but I think you can still have excellence and still offer products that attract everyone,” he says.
While Payne’s extroverted personality lends itself well to a diverse setting, he says opening a store in an urban setting isn’t for everyone.
“Ask yourself questions before deciding to open any store: Can you get involved with the community and deal with people across the entire economic spectrum? If the answer is yes, then ask: Where am I going to want to locate?”
Above all else, though, Payne says retail success in an urban environment starts with community involvement. For that reason, he reaches out to local churches, government officials and neighborhood organizations, who are often supportive of his business.
Payne is proud to be a part of the Indianapolis community and says he continues to see the value of the city increase as downtown revitalization efforts continue.
“We know that the best is yet to come,” he says.
Fix it Up Friday
It didn’t take a local TV news crew long to discover Payne’s telegenic personality, entrepreneurial spirit and home improvement know-how. The store opened in March, and by June, Payne had signed on to host “Fix it Up Friday,” a live home improvement segment on “Indy Style,” an Indianapolis lifestyle show.
Payne loads up a hand-built set and travels to the television station just down the block from his store two times a month for the segment, which provides viewers with a quick tutorial on a simple home improvement project, such as repairing a hole in a screen or fixing a thermostat.
“The reality is the average person wants to know how to change out a screen or know how to go through the process of fixing up their house,” Payne says.
Payne says the TV segment helps him connect with current and potential customers, who often stop by after watching the show. He also uses his airtime to advertise products and to encourage customers to visit PlanItDIY.com to learn more about home improvement projects.
“We’re finding we’re gaining more traction with customers as people are noticing and watching the show,” he says. “They’re more empowered to take on projects themselves and know we’re here to help.”
To see the latest segment of “Fix it Up Friday,” click here.