In 2018, Middleburgh PRO Hardware received its town’s Business of the Year award, an honor giving tribute to a business with an extraordinary history of supporting its community. Rich and Heather Vilegi, store owners, have never faltered in giving back to Middleburgh, New York, especially when a flood inundated the town and their store eight years ago. At the same time, they’ve continued to make improvements to their business, creating more value for their customers and investing in the future of the local economy.
This year, the couple and their team of employees received another award. The Bostwick-Braun Co., based in Toledo, Ohio, named Middleburgh PRO Hardware its 2018 Retailer of the Year. This year, PRO Group recognized the business as its National Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award Winner. The award is presented annually to a PRO Hardware business in recognition of its superior commitment to the principles and ideals of effective hardware merchandising set forth by PRO Group founder Paul L. Cosgrave.
A second-generation retailer, Rich purchased the hardware store from his parents in 2003. Having grown up in the business meant he was well acquainted with the demands of running a retail operation, but a big test of his mettle came in August 2011. Hurricane Irene sent heavy rainfall inland, flooding many small towns, including Middleburgh. The surge of floodwater reached 3 feet, damaging businesses on the town’s main street, including the hardware store.
As the Vilegis and their employees worked to clean up the mess in their store, they kept the business open. Area residents desperately needed generators, water heaters and other supplies in the wake of the disaster. During those first few days after the flood when the power was out, Rich sold a lot of merchandise on credit, trusting people would pay him later. He arranged for extra orders from his wholesaler supplier Bostwick-Braun. He even used a trailer as a temporary salesfloor while his own was being restored. The store never closed during and after the flood.
The ordeal brought the town closer together, and it’s a spirit the Vilegis continue to foster. They always participate in community events and have raised thousands of dollars during raffles and other fundraisers to benefit local nonprofit organizations, including the local fire department and a youth organization. The store is always a hub of activity. In many ways, it’s the community gathering place.
Vintage Meets Modern
As they were recovering from the flood, the Vilegis did more than just return to the status quo. In the years since, they took gradual steps towards expanding and improving the business.
One of the unique features of the store is its old-fashioned charm. The wooden floors (which managed to survive the flood waters) have been there since the store opened in 1888. Scattered throughout the store are antiques, either hanging from the ceiling or serving as merchandisers, such as jars of locally produced honey atop a vintage stove. Upstairs, there’s a 1950s-era Chevy truck with the store’s name emblazoned on the door.
But while they love antiques, the Vilegis are also always looking for ways to bring modern ideas to the store. One indication is how they’ve been gradually resetting the salesfloor to make it easier to shop. Long narrow buildings that are common in Middleburgh are notoriously difficult to merchandise. Working with their distributor, the Vilegis created a plan to begin resetting departments to increase product visibility and add endcaps.
“Resetting the store allowed us to bring in new products and let people see more of what we have,” says Heather. “We also increased our shelf space. Whenever we reset an area, that department’s sales will pick up 20 percent or more.”
Earlier this spring, they expanded their lawn and garden department and are planning on adding a convenience selection of lumber.
“We don’t like people having to leave town for their hardware needs,” says Rich. “If we don’t stock something and I hear a customer ask for it a time or two, then it’s automatically stocked and on our shelves.”
Another recent addition is signage created by PRO’s merchandising team.
It’s really easy to do more for the store with PRO flyer customization. They connect with the merchandising in the store, so it really helps sales.
—Heather Vilegi, Middleburgh PRO Hardware
“The PRO signage definitely makes the aisles more clearly marked,” says Heather. “PRO has helped make our store more shoppable.”
Most recently, they’ve started creating a website for the store and are undertaking a digital marketing campaign using tools available to them from the PRO Group, including PRO’s mobile coupons. Rich hopes this digital investment will help the business connect with a younger generation of shoppers and diversify its customer base.
The mainstay of marketing is still the monthly circulars from PRO. The Vilegis have a high degree of flexibility over what they put in each circular, and PRO provides additional signage they can use in the store to reinforce each sales event.
“It’s really easy to do more for the store with PRO flyer customization,” says Heather. “They connect with the merchandising in the store, so it really helps sales.”
Those marketing tools, says Rich, have gone a long way to creating a favorable price image for the business. When customers see the ads, they realize they’re not sacrificing price for the convenience of shopping in town.
“Customers like seeing what’s on sale in the circulars,” says Rich. “They might think small stores can’t match big-box prices, but when they see the sales in the circulars, it’s phenomenal. PRO pricing makes us look better and keeps customers coming back.”