Eight years ago, when Hardware Retailing magazine, the North American Retail HardwareAssociation (NRHA) and the NationalHardware Show® set out to showcase the industry’s elite independent retailers by honoring them with a special award, we knew the field of candidates would be deep.
Throughout the years, the ranks of Industry Top Guns have been true representations of the diversity found throughout the independent segment of home improvement retailing. Past honorees have ranged from relative industry newcomers running rural stores to veterans operating large-scale home center operations.
So it is with great pride that we introduce you to one of this year’s Industry Top Guns, Joe Taylor of Taylor’s Do it Centers, with 11 retail locations throughout Virginia.
The story of Joe Taylor and the Taylor family has become deeply ingrained with the story of the home improvement industry. Taylor’s Do it Centers has emerged as one of the most successful family-run hardware operations in the nation not just for its longevity (85+ years) but for its growth, innovation and the operation’s commitment to giving back to the community. There’s no doubt that his time at the helm of Taylor’s Do it Centers has earned Joe Taylor the designation of Top Gun.
Below is an excerpt from his Q&A with Hardware Retailing editors.
Hardware Retailing (HR): Could you share some background about your business, including how you first got involved in the business?
Joe Taylor (JT): Taylor’s Do it Centers is a third-generation (now entering the fourth generation) family business established in 1927 by my grandfather and several friends. I was exposed to the family business at a young age. I worked part time some during high school as well, but my ultimate return to the business was in 1985, after I worked a couple of years for Ferguson Enterprises upon my graduation from MBA school. Working outside the family business for a couple years provided some valuable training for my future in the hardware business.
My father started me out in sales, managing a department and waiting on customers. I rose through the ranks to store manager and then to merchandise manager. With my brother Bob as president, brother Russ as operations manager and dad as chairman, we all managed to respect each other’s roles and successfully manage the daily business for many years. Bob moved on to Do it Best Corp. leadership in 2000, while Russ and I have been leading and growing the business since.
HR: What sets your retail operation apart from the competition?
JT: The Taylor’s Do it Centers’ company slogan is “One family helping others since 1927.” We’re all natives of Virginia Beach, so our local brand is established and recognized fairly well in the 11 communities we serve. Our stores are clean, neat and attractive and are conveniently located near our customers’ homes, giving them a choice to shop with us before heading to a big-box store.
We offer many fun niche categories of merchandise that are not available at a big box. Customers often revisit our stores just to see what new items we get in. Lawn and garden is our signature category. We erect temporary greenhouses at all locations for the spring and sell many fresh, quality flowers and hanging baskets grown at local nurseries.
HR: Over the past five years, what would you say have been the most dramatic changes for your business? What about the most dramatic changes for the home improvement industry at large?
JT: Our significant growth in new stores during the recessionary period of the past five years was a risk and a challenge, but one that is proving wise. Opening four stores in the past six years has had its growing pains, but has provided us economies of scale in many areas of our operations, mainly centralizing overhead and advertising costs. Now with the economy improving, Taylor’s is positioned in the marketplace to grow business during the coming years.
The most dramatic change in the industry has been the growth in competition from Internet sales. We compete with that as best we can through the Ship-to-Store program at Do it Best, which provides Internet purchasing on our website and the entire Do it Best warehouse, and resulting pickup of the merchandise at our stores.
JT: Our willingness to change and evolve over the years as the market and competition dictated has been our key to success. Adding new inventory or services, remodeling an old store, closing an old store and opening a new one in a better location or stretching personnel and resources to open an additional store have all been practices we have used to grow over the years. We learned early on when big-box stores landed heavily in Virginia Beach that if we were to survive, we’d better know how to change.
HR: You and your teams are also very aggressive with marketing and promotions. Why do you think this is such an important thing for the business, and how do you execute this strategy?
JT: Finding the right advertising program mix is an ever-changing proposition. With our larger geographical footprint now, a proper mix of print, TV, radio, direct mail, customer rewards and e-marketing have all been part of our attempt to attract customers to our stores. Advertising is expensive in total and hard to measure, but it is so important for our Taylor’s brand.
HR: What unique challenges do you think independent retailers such as yourself face in today’s market?
JT: As we all know, the ways our customers and future customers shop is changing with technology and developing habits. My predictable baby boomer customers still have plenty of money and are spending it, but they are not getting any younger! All independent retailers need to commit more time and resources to reaching the growing X and Y customers.
HR: What would you say is the greatest asset that independent retailers have at their disposal?
JT: There is great energy and momentum behind buy-local initiatives nationwide. Whether it is through Independent We Stand or the many other national and local programs, I believe independent retailers can gain success from these programs and drive customer traffic to their stores.
The education of the consumer that it is the local independent retailers that support all the local causes in the community, not the big boxes, is a great story to tell and promote. “Buying local” is a big asset for independents that has big potential.
HR: How would you respond to the statement “independent retailers just can’t compete against the big boxes or Internet”?
JT: If that statement is coming from a retailer, then he might as well shut off the lights and sell his store, because he has already convinced himself he cannot compete. Most independent retailers know they will never win a price image war against a big box, but by together providing competitive pricing, quality products, convenience, superior customer service, niche product categories and services, all together in a neat, clean place to shop, they can compete very well!
HR: What would you say is your favorite part of your job?
JT: Visiting and working in the stores during the busy spring lawn and garden season is the most fun! Our stores truly shine and look their best during April through June. The personal interaction with the customers at the different stores is rewarding. I enjoy unloading flower trucks and working in the greenhouses. Certainly the fall and holiday selling seasons are good times as well, but nothing beats springtime selling, especially after this past winter.