Downtown Hardware Knows It Can Rely on House-Hasson
Sometimes luck and good fortune can be combined with hard work and determination, and can lead to astonishing moments of success. That was the recent experience of Roger Clary and Ann Clary Bratton, a brother-sister team who own Downtown Hardware in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
When the second-generation owners of the 57-year-old business learned this past spring that a new Ace Hardware store was opening up less than three miles away, they were a little nervous. They already faced a Home Depot store three miles the other direction and they were still waiting for business to rebound from the sluggish economy.
Their luck was about to change. They learned that their store was going to be the subject of Oak Ridge’s first cash mob in March. They had already been talking to House-Hasson about doing a store reset, but this bit of good fortune created a more immediate need.
“We had been planning to do a truckload sale and Allen Winn made arrangements for us to get the truck in early. Kim Gibbs helped us with fliers and a banner sign,” says Roger. “They really worked with us to make sure we had plenty of merchandise, and everyone at House-Hasson bent over backwards to help us.”
Four generations of family members were on hand to help customers on the day of the cash mob, which received TV coverage from all three networks. They handed out free soda, water and cookies to a crowd that was standing room only for two hours. “It was the biggest sales day in our store’s history,” says Ann, with triple the usual traffic and sales quadrupled. “The news went out Thursday night, so we were mobbed some on Friday and some more on Monday.”
“We had the big House-Hasson truck parked out front for a couple of weeks, which created a sense of excitement with our customers,” says Roger. “The cash mob happened a month before the new Ace store opened, so we were able to gain some important publicity.”
Although the store has a lot of long-time customers, the cash mob—which was sponsored by the Young Professionals of Oak Ridge—helped introduce the business to some younger customers. “We’ve seen some of those customers return and heard a lot of comments like ‘We didn’t know you were here.’ We want to support other small businesses, so we help promote the other cash mobs they hold here,” Ann says.
The cash mob was a nice burst of excitement, but Roger and Ann knew they needed to do something to create a more lasting boost to the business. They continued talking with David Helfenberger and their House-Hasson sales rep, Ed Grady, to plan a store reset that would position their business for success in the face of the new competition.
“They knew how Ace merchandises their stores, so they were able to tailor our merchandise accordingly,” says Ann. “Rick Parker came and shopped our store and gave us a four-page checklist of improvements to make. Roger prioritized the list and we started doing those improvements.”
They took Rick’s suggestion and agreed to have store merchandisers spend two weeks fine-tuning their assortments and cleaning up their merchandise displays. No part of the store was untouched, and the improvements have been dramatic.
A Tradition of Loyalty
Ann and Roger’s father, Tom Clary, along with Ed Wayman, opened Downtown Hardware in 1955 in what was a new shopping center in Oak Ridge. The store stayed in that original location for 37 years. One of the employees from that first year, Parlee Mitchell, just recently retired at the age of 93 after working nearly 57 years for the store.
Although they had been buying a little from House-Hasson, they mainly bought from Belknap Hardware until that wholesaler went out of business in 1986. They followed their salesman over to House-Hasson and have developed a deep sense of mutual trust since then.
Downtown Hardware’s current location used to be the lawn and garden section of an old Kmart. “House-Hasson helped us so that we closed the old location one day and opened here the next day. We didn’t lose any sales. They helped us move and made it affordable for us,” says Roger. “We couldn’t have done it without their help.”
“When House-Hasson did the first store set, we had looked around and considered who might be able to help us. This time we didn’t consider anyone else,” says Ann. “We know we can depend on them for whatever we need. You build that trust and you find it throughout the company. They hold the same values we do. We don’t want to be a number and they know their customers.”
Roger gives an example of a simple thing House-Hasson did that made a dramatic difference in their business. “Rick Parker came to the store and saw that we hadn’t changed the outdoor lawn and garden area much. He suggested we go up and put in pallet racking. We looked into that and it was expensive, but Don Phillips (vice president-operations) had access to some pallet racking at a fair price. We were able to triple the amount of merchandise we had on display and we’ve greatly boosted our sales per square foot in lawn and garden,” he says.
The store reset better positions Downtown Hardware to have what customers want, when they want it. “As a retailer we have to take advantage of what we do good. You have to work at it every day, but we know we’ve got House-Hasson on our side,” says Ann. “In the age of computers it’s nice to have a salesman here regularly. Ed will get answers for us or find products we need from other customers.”
Roger looks forward to attending the markets. “It’s an opportunity to see other dealers, get ideas and learn hands-on about the new items.” More importantly, he likes that there are no mandatory programs to participate in or add-ons to cut into his profits. “Being Trustworthy and Priced Right Everyday!® lets us retain our independence while still providing a brand identity. We like the freedom of choosing what will work in Oak Ridge,” he adds.