From the day Kristine and Scott Landry got married, they planned to run a business of their own someday—they just needed the right opportunity.
For years, Kristine had been working as a manager at several Kief Hardware locations in Louisiana, and Scott was a crane operator in the oil fields, but last year, their opportunity to become full-time business owners came to fruition.
James Cabirac, owner of Kief Hardware, decided to sell a location in Raceland, La., the same location that Kristine had managed for two years. The Landrys jumped at the chance to purchase it.
“It was always our intent to have our own business,” Scott says. “Once we gathered enough to invest, we waited for the right option for us.”
The Landrys purchased the 4,500-square-foot store on July 1, 2010, from Cabirac and they haven’t looked back since. The first order of business for the couple: change the store’s name.
“Now it’s called Sugarland Hardware,” Kristine says. “It gives it a good ring and fits well with the community.”
Changing for the Community
“My dad was a business owner for 15 years, so I grew up in a business-minded family,” Scott says. “We knew being business owners was something we wanted to do.”
That business upbringing inspired the Landrys to dive right into business ownership, and they quickly began making changes to grab more market share and become a viable competitor in their community. In December 2010, they added a paint department to supplement their paint sundries, which was one of the store’s best-selling categories.
“Customers are finally getting to know that we have a paint department and that our prices are competitive with Home Depot,” Kristine says.
Kristine also works to retain her most loyal customers by offering them special pricing that is often better than what they can get at the big boxes.
“We have a couple of key customers that we give custom pricing to so that they continue to buy from us. They are committed to buying our products because they know they will have a set price,” she says.
Because Sugarland Hardware’s customer base is mostly DIYers and the store has a very small footprint—the salesfloor is only 30 feet wide—the Landrys must be selective with the merchandise they bring in. The paint department, while a big addition, is fulfilling the needs of the store’s customers, who otherwise would have to drive 50 minutes to the closest big-box store.
“The store is small so we work with what we have to give our customers the best. We’re trying to bring in as much product as possible to help out the local community,” Kristine says.
The Landrys have also made changes to the store’s layout in order to make it more shopper friendly. A brand-new sales counter has been installed; the popular dollar deals section, which sells household cleaning supplies, cooking utensils and other products for just a dollar, has been placed in an easy-to-see location at the right of the store; and the new paint department sits just to the left. Kristine says the layout makes it possible for customers to know exactly where everything is.
Even though having a small store can be limiting, the Landrys know their hometown community store is a place where residents can get what they need.
“We always bring in the newest products that we have available from our vendors, but if there is something we don’t have, we’ll get it on our shelf so that next time they come in it’s there waiting for them,” Scott says.
‘Feel Right at Home’
Being part of the community and making customers feel right at home is what Sugarland Hardware is all about. Kristine, who runs and operates the store, leads a team of four employees and provides training and leadership to deliver her high customer service expectations.
“Our No. 1 focus is customer service. I have been in the retail business for more than 10 years, and in every company I was with, our primary goal was customer service,” she says. “When our customers walk in, we want them to feel at home in our store.”
In addition to Kristine’s retail and customer service experience, the Landrys did some market research before opening a store of their own to see what kind of customer service levels they were up against. They shopped at the two other independently owned stores nearby—one just five minutes away.
“We went into our competitors’ stores to check them out and we noticed a big difference,” Scott says.
“We think that is what is keeping us above everybody else—our high levels of customer service.”
And so far the hard work is paying off. Kristine says customer feedback reinforces her staff’s ability to provide the best service in town.
“We get comments from customers all the time saying, ‘Ya’ll are so nice. How do you stay happy all day long?’” she says. “Our employees are happy and they enjoy their job so they are willing to go above and beyond a customer’s needs.”
Employees at Sugarland Hardware are trained in all aspects of the business— from stocking each department to managing inventory levels to analyzing price changes—an important part of Kristine’s retail philosophy.
“Everyone in the company is well trained on every aspect. For new employees, the best way to learn how our business works is to do everything: put out product, check inventory levels, compare current costs versus resale cost… all of our employees can do all of that,” she says.
But the expectations for Sugarland employees don’t stop there. In addition to knowing the ins and outs of the business, the Landrys demand a winning attitude, and they know how to cultivate it.
“We have new members shadow other employees to observe how they interact with a customer,” Scott says. “After that, it’s like a weed. Once you get the employee to understand what you want they take it and run with it. There’s no stopping them.”
All this attention to customer service has paid off. The Landrys have a capable staff they can rely on to get the job done and provide their customers with downhome service.
“If we didn’t have the key people we have working for us I definitely don’t think the business would be what it is today,” Kristine says. “Our employees are like family.”
In fact, one of Sugarland Hardware’s employees actually is family—Kristine’s mother works at the store. Kristine says having her mother on her team and the rest of her devoted staff allows her and Scott to build the business successfully and keep looking for more opportunities to grow.
“Without them, the business wouldn’t be running as smoothly. Scott and I really feel like we have no worries when we are not there,” she says. “We know they’ll take care of the store as if it were their own.”
Full Steam Ahead
With just a little over a year under their belts, the Landry’s are already hungry for more. Earlier this year, the couple founded Sugarland Lawn Care, a lawn care service for commercial and residential clients. The new company, the Landrys hope, will add value to their retail business.
“We wanted to have a lawn care company as an added service to our customers,” Scott says. “One day we found one for sale in the paper; it was a great deal so we decided to go through with our idea.”
After purchasing the lawn care business and hiring employees, Sugarland Lawn Care hit the ground running. Right now, the lawn care business boasts 220 customers and has employees on the ground five days a week. The Landrys plan to grow the company throughout the next year and then start promoting this added service to their hardware store customers.
“We are new at the lawn care business and just getting a grasp on it,” Scott says.
“Next year we will start promoting Sugarland Lawn Care through our store and telling more customers about it.”
In addition to drawing more retail customers with this unique service that their competitors don’t offer, the Landrys had another motive for buying the lawn care business: more cash flow to put into Sugarland Hardware.
“One of the main reasons Scott wanted a lawn care business was that it would generate the extra cash flow that we would need when we’re ready to expand the store. We’ll have the extra capital we need,” Kristine says.
In fact, expanding the Sugarland Hardware business is already on the horizon. Kristine and Scott say they would like to have another location within five years.
“Because our hardware store can’t get any bigger, we can’t add much more product,” Kristine says. “The lawn care business is key to expanding our retail business.”
The Landrys are currently looking for another location in the area where they can meet the home improvement needs of the community and include a lumberyard— something they don’t have room for in their current location. Wherever their new location may be, the Landrys are confident their success will continue.
“Working long hours and having a good work ethic got us to where we are,” Scott says. “If you want to be a business owner you just need to work hard—everything else is learnable.”