As consumers pinch pennies and competition from big boxes and e-commerce companies gets tougher, the need for independent retailers to differentiate their operations is even more important. One way local operators can become the place to be is to enhance the service side of the business. Hardware Retailing editors have collected these stories from independent home improvement retailers who are leveling up in the service game and offering more to their customers. While some of these services are additions to common hardware categories, others are focused on community.
Stop and Smell—and Buy—the Roses
Adding a touch of beauty and providing a well-received service in the area, Hagan Florist & Gifts has been serving the flower needs of Jacksonville, Florida, for two decades. The shop is located next to the Mandarin location of Hagan Ace Hardware, which operates nine locations in Florida.
The shop specializes in creative floral designs for special occasions, including birthdays, funerals and weddings. Director of store operations Jacob Hagan says they opened the floral shop because there was no nearby competition. It also provided an opportunity to offer a fun and unusual niche and draw from a different customer base.
“For many female shoppers, it serves as a nice getaway after completing their task list. Women have also brought their husbands in who shop in the hardware store,” Hagan says. “Beyond everyday flowers, we’ve used different types of marketing to let customers know about our floral arrangements for prom, weddings, funerals, churches and more.”
Customers can shop in the store, call ahead and pick up their order curbside or take advantage of the shop’s delivery service.
“The niche has brought more sales to the overall store,” Hagan says. “With many DIY customers, the flower shop allows them a joyous shopping experience away from the current task at hand.”
Paying It Forward for Prom
Whitmore Ace Hardware, which has 13 different locations in Illinois, tragically lost beloved employee Melissa Michalowski in a car accident in 2008. To honor and remember Melissa and her friend Crystal Carr, who also died in the accident, the operation started Melissa’s Closet and Crystal’s Jewelry Box. During the organization’s annual event, it outfits high school students with $5 prom dresses and inexpensive accessories, says Whitmore Ace Hardware marketing director Laurie Becker.
“Melissa came to work every day happy to be there, sharing her smile and positive attitude with everyone, and so we wanted to do something in Melissa’s memory,” Becker says. “A number of our employees expressed how expensive prom is and were asking to work more hours to be able to afford it, and the idea for Melissa’s Closet was born.”
The first event brought in 120 dresses and has grown to over 1,900 dresses, tons of accessories, hair and makeup lessons and a scholarship fund. During the event, which takes place in early spring, 80 to 100 volunteers set up the shop and help students choose dresses and pick out jewelry.
To date, the event has dressed over 3,500 students for prom. Community members and local stores donate dresses, shoes and purses. Students from the local Paul Mitchell School set up a beauty salon to do updos and makeup for free.
“It’s hard to explain what it’s like to experience this day and the joy it brings, not only to the students, but their parents,” Becker says. “This event makes life a little easier by cutting expenses for prom and brings us happiness to celebrate two beautiful girls who we miss greatly.”
Samples Get an Upgrade
In an effort to help customers choose paint colors, Adelaide’s Paint & Decor on St. Simons Island, Georgia, offers paint board samples. Customers can choose any color, including custom match colors, and the staff at Adelaide’s Paint will paint the colors they choose in 1-foot squares on a foam board.
Customers can take the sample boards to the space they’re painting to see how each of the colors will look and compare similar colors to each other. The most common colors customers choose for the boards are various shades of white, but employees love creating fun color combinations, says sales associate and warehouse manager Kenny Newton.
Going Pro in Plumbing
Over the last century, LeVahn Brothers has evolved from a plumbing contracting business into a full-service hardware store with a focus on plumbing repair items. Andy LeVahn took over the business from his father in 2018 and is the fourth generation to own and operate the business.
LeVahn Brothers employs three certified plumbers, who provide plumbing services for commercial and residential customers, including installations and repairs.
“If customers have questions, need a specialty item or want to learn more about plumbing, our business is the place to go,” LeVahn says. “Because we started as a plumbing business and expanded from there, we have the know-how and experience our customers need.”
Certified plumbers have always been a part of the staff since the start of the business in 1923. The current professional plumbers on staff have been with LeVahn Brothers for five to 15 years. The operation employs a plumbing estimator, who meets with customers directly to discuss their projects or repairs and finds the best solution.
The estimator also assigns jobs to the plumbers on staff. Offering certified plumbing services through the store has expanded the category overall and established the business as a reliable source, LeVahn says.
“When customers come to our store for a project and it seems complicated or would be better tackled by a professional, we steer them toward our affordable and reliable services to get the job done right,” LeVahn says.
Filling a Community Need
After a local power equipment dealership closed in 2014, Gladieux Home Center had the opportunity to go all-in with its outdoor power equipment (OPE) department. The business, located in Oregon, Ohio, had been serving customers’ home improvement needs since 1938 but began its expansion in the OPE category after STIHL approached the owners, Ron Gladieux and Brandon Zieglehofer.
Trent Harp, outdoor power equipment manager, hired three full-time mechanics to work in the store’s maintenance department, each with expertise in repairing equipment from major OPE brands. Offering a large selection of mowers can make it overwhelming for the customer to choose the right one. To mitigate this challenge, Harp introduced test drives for lawn mowers, allowing customers to learn how the mower feels in their hands, experience its turn radius and test any additional features they may be interested in.
“Allowing our customers to test out the mowers makes them confident in their purchase and boosts their loyalty level,” Harp says. “They also get to see what maintenance services we offer so they have the highest confidence in their purchase.”
Tackling Tax Time
To ease the stress that can come during tax season, J-town Hardware and Rental in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, has provided a convenient place for customers to have their taxes done. For the last three years owner Bradley Carson has given up his office every Saturday from February through May for five hours to allow a local tax accountant to use it as a home base to prepare taxes for customers.
“At times, she has 10 people waiting to have their taxes done, so the service has been a great way to bring new customers into the store,” he says. “It’s been an excellent way to drive traffic, but we also enjoy providing an extra level of service to our customers.”