Next year, Rollier’s Hardware will celebrate 100 years in business and a century of evolution to best serve its customers. From a small local plumbing business to two flourishing e-commerce sites, Rollier’s has experienced major growth in the last century.
Brothers Herman and Emil Rollier established Rollier Brothers Plumbing in 1922 in Shadyside, Pennsylvania, and in 1939, Herman’s son-in-law H. Doyle Satterfield suggested that they sell home improvement items out of the plumbing business’s storefront.
The Rollier brothers opened a self-service hardware store in Mt. Lebanon in 1953 called Rollier’s Kwik-Serv Hardware, the first store in the area to prepackage nuts, bolts and nails for convenience and offer self-service shopping. In 1966, the Satterfield sons took over the Mt. Lebanon store, changing the name to Rollier’s Hardware. Nearly 30 years later, Rollier’s made another big evolution, opening a brand new 52,000-square-foot retail store.
The growth and progress didn’t stop there; brothers Brett and Derek Satterfield brought their family business into the digital world in 2008, when they launched HardtoFindItems.com. The e-commerce site specializes in unique and useful products not found in most hardware outlets. The goal of the website was to reach online customers with some of the products Rollier’s was selling in the store that customers said were hard to find, which also led to the name of the website.
“When we first started online, we really didn’t know what we were doing,” Brett says. “We launched our website, but sales were slow. So, we decided to list some products on Amazon and found some quick success. Sales really started to take off when we signed up for Amazon’s shipping service called Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA). Amazon’s fulfillment service allowed us to ship economically and quickly across the U.S.”
Sales on HardtoFindItems.com started to grow as well, but never reached the level of success the brothers had found on Amazon. Brett says the market on Amazon quickly became competitive, so they shifted into more tight-knit relationships with vendors that truly represented the core concept of hard-to-find items.
In 2015 and 2016, the market shifted again as private label brands gained popularity on Amazon and some brands moved to selling their products themselves, Brett says. They discussed private labeling or custom curating their own products with a select group of vendors that produced Christmas-related decorations. It was then that a new website www.612Vermont.com was born. The e-commerce site is named after the street address of the home where the Satterfield family grew up cherishing and celebrating the holidays.
“The combination of these vendors’ unique products and patents, along with our experience selling similar products on Amazon, allowed us to launch a good mix of products,” Brett says. “We’ve done very well so far and have actually underbought every year on most of the items. Like any business we have had some duds, but not too many.”
612 Vermont features unique holiday-related goods, including window candles, replacement bulbs for pre-lit Christmas tree lights in different voltages, amperages and wattages and unusual Christmas light set combinations, such as gold frost lights on green wire and clear lights on brown wire.
Service Stretches Digital Boundaries
Along with selling unique products, both e-commerce sites deliver the same level of customer service patrons of Rollier’s Hardware have experienced for years. The products sold on HardtoFindItems.com and 612 Vermont are quality products, many backed with a product warranty. Rollier’s also provides in-house phone and email service to online customers.
“Basically we take care of our online customers just like we do our in-store customers,” Brett says. “Derek and I currently answer most of the phone calls, so service level is high, and we do our best to provide full descriptions of our products online so customers can use that information to make an informed purchase decision.”
What the Satterfield brothers are doing is working. Revenue from online sales last year was about equal to the brick-and-mortar store. This year, online sales are tracking to be about 30 to 60 percent higher if the fourth quarter goes well, Brett says.
“Logistics of sourcing and quantity restraints on the capacity Amazon will allow us to send into their fulfillment centers will dictate how well we can do in the fourth quarter,” he says.
Looking to the future, the Satterfields plan on diversifying more of their revenues from Amazon to other sales channels, such as Walmart Marketplace, and growing their own websites’ e-commerce sales. They also plan to expand the window candle product selection, which is a core offering that no other company offers in terms of quality and variety.
“Beyond the next few years, it is hard to say where we will be in 10 years because the retail market is changing rapidly,” Brett says. “If you asked me 10 years ago, I certainly would not have pictured what we are doing online today.”
Brett says for all the challenges of launching and running an e-commerce site, he wouldn’t trade the experience for any other career.
“We have had many hurdles to jump over and changed our path many times to maintain sustainability,” he says. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do what I have always wanted to do, which was to be involved in the process of developing, launching and selling products in a business. I thought I might do it as part of another company, but to do it with my family and be one of the lead decision-makers has been very rewarding.”
Learn more about the importance of e-commerce for retailers here.