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How Partnering With Local Service Providers Builds Customer Loyalty

Whether it helps customers check off tasks on a household chore list or provides the means for them to enjoy favorite hobbies, a store that offers special services has many opportunities for building customer loyalty. Customers appreciate when retailers make their lives easier and they value being able to support local businesses.

Even as more customers turn to tackling projects themselves, there are still areas where they need a professional, which is a need retailers can fill by offering services in-house and with local providers. If retailers cannot hire employees with specialized skills to do the work in-house, they can link customers to services by developing relationships with locals who do blade sharpening, specialty printing and other services.

Choosing the right outside service provider for your business includes doing your homework to discover what your customers need, finding what business can best fulfill those needs and considering how you can use cross-promotions and encourage add-on sales.

Hardware Retailing talked to three retailers who have partnered with local businesses and gathered helpful tips and best practices for finding local providers, establishing business relationships and promoting special services.

Do Your Homework
When adding services to your store’s offerings, take into consideration what your customers need and want, and then do the research to find the right fit for your customers and your company.

Stace Heston, owner of Spokane Ace Hardware and Miller’s Hardware, purchased the Spokane Ace store in 2018. Soon after he took over, he started looking for a sharpener because he heard from customers that having access to sharpening services for knives, scissors, gardening tools and other implements was important to them.

It was also important to Heston that any service provider he chose could offer the same level of service he strived to offer customers in the store.

“When starting a relationship with a new provider, make sure whoever you choose does quality work,” says Heston. “Service providers are an extension of your business, so you want to be sure they are consistent and thinking about your customers first.”

Heston says he used his existing business relationships to search for a sharpening company for his new store. That initial networking led him to C&R Sharpening, a local company with a respected reputation in the area.

When Heston purchased Miller’s Hardware, also located in Spokane, Washington, in 2020, he was fortunate to inherit an established partnership and didn’t have to do as much legwork to find a quality service provider for that store. Another local sharpening business, Sharp Stuff, had been servicing Miller’s Hardware for decades before Heston bought the business.

“I reached out to Steve Schmauch, the owner of Sharp Stuff, and he was more than happy to continue the partnership with us,” he says. “He has a very long and strong reputation in Spokane, and it’s great he still brings customers to us.”

Sometimes, your homework may already be done for you, and it just takes looking at your current business relationships in a new way.

For nearly 20 years, Vince Christofora, owner of Woodstock Hardware in Woodstock, New York, had been using a local sign company for all his store’s window signs, sandwich boards and parking signs but outsourcing customer’s custom sign orders to an out-of-state company. When that company closed, he immediately turned to the local sign company for all his customer’s sign needs.

“Having gone to this other signmaker enough times over the years for my store’s sign needs, I thought, ‘We should do this with him, he’s right down the street,’” Christofora says.

He says the partnership with the local signmaker has been beneficial for both parties, and he’s been able to continue to fulfill his customers’ needs for custom signage.

“When we moved to the local company, we were able to provide our customers with high-quality generic signs and still offer the customized services,” he says. “The signmaker received a boost in business with all the additional customers who use him now through Woodstock Hardware.”

Christofora says many of his customers are people who own second homes in the area and want custom signs that display house numbers, house names and instructions like “private driveway” or “no trespassing.” These busy customers appreciate the convenience of one-stop shopping and being able to customize signs for their homes.

“Our customers think it’s a great partnership because they don’t have to find a sign person on their own,” he says. “They give us their orders and know in a week or so they can come pick up their signs.”

Looking to Local Interests
One of the cardinal rules of marketing—knowing your audience—is another part of doing your homework to determine what your customers actually want and need in terms of services. Managers at Great Lakes Ace Hardware, which has 57 stores in four states, took note of its customers’ outdoor interests and brought a highly successful local service to its stores.

Great Lakes Ace Hardware partners with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to provide licensing services for hunting, fishing and all-terrain vehicles to customers in Michigan. The idea started five years ago at just a handful of the stores and quickly expanded to all of the Michigan locations.

Becky Killarney, director of marketing for Great Lakes Ace Hardware, says the company allows each store manager to choose what fits best for their market, and the managers at those first few stores did just that, adding licensing services to their stores.

“We saw the success of the licensing program with that first group of stores and thought it had potential to work chainwide,” Killarney says. “Michigan is a big outdoor sports state and we saw the opportunity to capitalize on the interests of our customers.”

Along with expanding the licensing service to all of its Michigan stores, Great Lakes Ace Hardware has used the service to boost sales. The company added fishing and hunting departments in several stores so customers can buy the hunting, fishing and outdoor gear they need when they purchase their licenses.

“Our everyday product line also has items that outdoor sports customers need like hand warmers, tarps and coolers and drinkware,” she says. “Customers are coming in for the licenses and buying other items. It’s a great sales boost.”

Getting the Message Out
Partnering with local service providers is also an excellent opportunity for cross-promotions. When you advertise the local service provider and that service provider returns the favor, you both extend your promotional reach.

Heston uses Facebook to advertise the sharpening services, and one of the service providers he partners with lists Miller’s Hardware and Spokane Ace as drop-off locations on his own business website.

Christofora doesn’t engage in specific cross-promotions with his local signmaker, but has dedicated a page on the store’s website to advertise the sign services.

You can leverage the services you offer and the partnerships you develop with providers to grow overall sales. Christafora says the signmaker he uses purchases all his paint from the store and refers customers to Woodstock Hardware if a customer needs additional paint or other items for their signs.

Services can consistently bring customers in the door. For Heston, using the services to attract more customers to the stores has resulted in more sales.

“Our sharpener has such a strong reputation for quality work that people seek him out and know that Miller’s is where they go for his services, which has helped increase customer transactions and overall customer flow,” Heston says. “We see more people visiting both of the stores because we offer the sharpening services.”

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

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