Reset Helps Lute Supply Boost Consumer Business

Lute Supply, based in Portsmouth, Ohio, is not the typical House-Hasson customer. The company, which was founded in 1952 and is still family owned by the Lute family, has its roots as a wholesale distributor of HVAC and plumbing products. It operates 14 locations in four states: Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky.

The Portsmouth location operates as a distribution hub for the other branches, with a 60,000-square-foot warehouse. Three years ago, with House-Hasson’s help, Lute Supply entered the retail arena with a 15,000-square-foot showroom.

In March they embarked on an ambitious project to reset the entire store. “We’ve been very fortunate to continue growing our business, with House-Hasson’s help. Our idea was to take 15 product categories to complement our existing wholesale business with HVAC and plumbing contractors,” explains J.R. Bellamy, product manager.

Although they continued to grow they were missing categories, so they added paint with the reset. “We’ve teamed up with Gray Seal. Other paint brands would have put us directly in competition with the big boxes,” says Bellamy. “Adding paint showed customers that we were serious about meeting their hardware needs.”

They debated where to put paint, but eventually decided to put it up front so customers could see it when they came in. “Having a paint counter there does help attract more female customers,” Bellamy says.

Lute Supply added products in all 15 categories during the reset. “We added new items like dog food and bird seed that we never would have considered before plus pool chemicals and mulch. We’ve become a real hardware store,” says Ken Hornsby, branch manager.

The reset started in March and the goal was to be done in eight weeks. “We completed it in five and a half weeks. Not one assortment or gondola didn’t move,” Bellamy points out.

They moved eight fireplaces and the Buck Stoves display to the other side of the store to create a new hearth room. In their place a lot of lawn and garden products were brought in.

“We’ve built six new vignettes this year and rebuilt our hearth center. We’ve really given our showroom a fresh look,” Hornsby says.

During the reset they switched vendors on fasteners and went with Midwest Fasteners. “Now our fasteners display captures the attention of customers when they come in. Contractors go to the right to the contractor desk, so we’ve now got a POP display for fasteners that will catch their attention,” explains Bellamy.

Gondolas were pushed back so the power tools aisle got more visibility. “We added Milwaukee Tool, which has become a huge category for us after previously not selling hardly any power tools,” Bellamy says.

According to Bellamy, House-Hasson’s reset crew made some good suggestions on items to add for the electrical category and they have seen strong increases since then. “It’s helped make us more full-service residential.”

A lot of people from House-Hasson and Lute Supply’s own staff were involved in the reset, according to Bellamy. “We went three years since we first added the retail showroom. We like to keep things fresh and create the perception that we’re growing,” he says. “If the results were as good as we’ve had this time I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.”

 

Bellamy and Hornsby are full of praise for their House-Hasson sales rep, A.J. Hughes. “A.J. is a very big asset to us. He’s truly changed how we do business and he has helped us grow our business exponentially,” says Bellamy. “He’s a hard worker who’s willing to do anything to help us be successful and he always follows through. He’s even done training with our staff.”

Adds Hornsby, “A.J. has been very instrumental to our success. He picks up the phone no matter when you call him.”

Their satisfaction with their sales rep extends to every part of their relationship with House-Hasson. “House-Hasson continues to give us the same attention they did when they were first trying to get our business. You can call anyone from Don Hasson and Mike Woolf to the buyers,” says Bellamy. “They’re prompt and they always follow up. They’ve got that family atmosphere and you feel like you’re part of the family,” he adds.

Bellamy and Purchasing Manager Dan McManus have participated on House-Hasson’s dealer advisory board for the past two years and have found it to be a beneficial experience. “They have taken a lot of our recommendations on what products to add. When you have the president of the company sitting beside you and listening to what you have to say, even writing down everything, that’s being responsive to your customer base,” Bellamy says. “We can learn from listening to the other dealers, whether it’s about receiving issues or products being discontinued. There’s nothing that’s off the table for discussion.”

Lute Supply’s buying team finds great value in attending House-Hasson’s dealer markets, with at least three people from the company attending every show. “We’re looking to add new products and learn about new lines. We use the Bonus Buy breakfasts for open stock items for our circulars and buy the merchandisers when we’re resetting a category,” says Bellamy.

They will continue looking for products that can complement their HVAC assortment. “We’ve added Milwaukee Tools to all 14 locations, and products like extension cords,” says Bellamy, who adds that they are debating whether to convert additional locations to the dual-path strategy of pro and consumer sales. The company is currently getting 80 percent of its sales from the pro side.

“We’re set up differently, since we’ve primarily been a wholesale company for so long,” says Bellamy. “House-Hasson had a big challenge to get our business, but they took the bull by the horns and never backed down from the challenge.”

He adds, “All our orders go EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), which House-Hasson had only been doing with its vendors. They’re not used to doing that on the customer side but they did it for us. We’re very pleased with the service we get from them.”