Warm gulf breezes whip the water underneath the bridge connecting Alabama’s southern coast to Dauphin Island, a six-square-mile split of land with beautiful, sandy beaches and no traffic lights. For almost six decades, Ship & Shore Supplies has been an island mainstay, providing groceries and hardware to about 2,000 full-time residents and thousands of vacationers.
In the fall of 2014, Janson Graham and Bal Bhogal bought the store from its longtime owner. Graham has a background in boat and oil industry supply sales. Bhogal has owned and managed other types of retail outlets. But even without retail hardware experience, they knew their first order of business: clean up. To refresh the store, the two spent about five months cleaning—sometimes 20 hours a day. They also realized they needed a better way to stock and merchandise hardware.
“The store had pretty much stayed the same over the past four decades,” Graham says. “When customers would ask for a hardware item, the store would buy two, so the assortment grew and grew without much planning. Products weren’t tracked, so they didn’t know what they had and it was randomly displayed.”
For example, longtime employee Rudy Skinner recalls that the store had five different hammers in five different places in the store. As part of their ownership, Bhogal and Graham sought to incorporate new retail concepts and merchandising. To better manage their hardware assortment and guide the 10,000-square-foot hardware section of the store, the business partners signed with House-Hasson this past January.
“When we bought the store, the hardware department was in disarray,” Graham says. “We didn’t know anything about hardware and House-Hasson has made the process lots easier.”
Jamey Merritt, House-Hasson’s market development manager, worked with Ship & Shore to begin the reset and restock process. An integral part of that process was selecting products at the wholesaler’s dealer market.
“We went to the House-Hasson show and Jamey walked us around every aisle,” Bhogal recalls. “He’d offer suggestions for products that would fit with our store. And what we value most about our relationship with House-Hasson is that they back up what they say in writing. They’re genuine people.”
The reset team spent about seven weeks at Ship & Shore, creating new displays, fine-tuning the assortment and removing out-of-date items to make room for new lines. As part of the reset, faster-turning items were moved up to the front of the store and slower-moving items, such as fan belts and automotive supplies, were positioned on the back wall.
“House-Hasson has made the store cleaner, more organized and friendlier to shop,” Skinner says. “It’s easier for customers to find where products are in the store and on the shelves. Customers are always saying ‘Wow, what a change!’ ”
The House-Hasson reset team also tailored the reset to Ship & Shore’s specific needs. One example: Because of the large demand for air conditioner filters on the island, the store stocks a large variety of filters. To display the filters and save space, the reset team built a custom shelf that runs down one side of the store. Now, customers can easily browse the aisle and pull down the right filter.
New items were recommended that the store hadn’t sold in the past. Wheelbarrows, for example, were not previously stocked. Now they are quick sellers.
“The House-Hasson team did anything we asked,” Graham says. “They helped us create new displays. They simply did an excellent job.”
Ship & Shore now has access to House-Hasson’s online catalog, making it easier to determine what and when items need restocking. Before, there was almost no inventory control. House-Hasson provided training to show employees how to process and order inventory.
As part of employee training, House-Hasson experts stressed project awareness when helping customers. For example, if a customer is fixing a deck, he will need stain, screws and other supplies. The store’s assortment has been increased based on such add-on selling with projects.
“House-Hasson has given us the flexibility to take our store to the next, higher level,” Graham says. “We want to continue taking the store to the next level and not be stagnant.”
Another area of improvement: pricing. In the store’s previous incarnation, prices never changed. The store missed opportunities to appear competitive and to make more margins. House- Hasson market experts provided some pricing guidelines.
“One of the stigmas about the store is that our prices are too high because we’re a convenience-type location and the only big store on the island,” Bhogal says. “But House-Hasson has helped us come down on prices. We’re competitive, or lower, than Home Depot or Lowe’s on many items.”
How has the reset, new strategies and new assortment worked so far? After signing with House-Hasson, the store increased the amount of products in every department by one-third, and orders doubled in the first few months and continue to grow.
“Bal and Janson have done an amazing job,” Merritt says. “Their sales have been so strong that vendors have to really hustle to catch up.”
Maintaining the Island Vibe
The store’s character is a mirror of the island life. Skinner has befriended a heron he’s named George. Lined up out front of the store is a fleet of beach cruisers the store rents. At sunset outside the store’s front door, George lands and waits for Skinner to feed him fish. Skinner has also gained some local Facebook fame for his Rickle’s Pickles commercials.
Every day at Ship & Shore, customers walk in wearing flip-flops and bikinis or just swim trunks and sunglasses. And that’s perfectly okay with Bhogal and Graham.
“We want the store to be for everyone on the island; we think of ourselves as the mall of the island,” says Bhogal, who met his wife while attending another wedding on the island and decided to stay. “Our goal is to keep customers on the island and have a large enough of an assortment so they don’t have to leave.”
Residents and vacationers rely on the store. Open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., the store is composed of three main sections: hardware, beer and alcohol, and groceries. If a customer cannot find an item in the store, they will have to drive about 40 minutes one way to the next closest large store.
The hardware selection is tailored to the customer base, too. Along with plumbing and fasteners, the store has an extensive line of RV, marine and boat supplies. A section of the store is devoted to beach supplies, including towels, beach toys and games.
Bhogal and Graham continually look to add new niches. Pool supplies is a recent category that has done well. Eventually they plan on using some warehouse space to create a small indoor lumberyard.
And while the merchandising, assortment or retailing methods may change, Bhogal and Graham want to maintain the same, laidback island feel. “We’re the same building, same name,” Bhogal says. “It’s just a whole new approach to the retailing, thanks to House-Hasson.”