H.A. Pippen Turns to House-Hasson for Help

Hardware and lumber sales were on the upswing at H.A. Pippen in Courtland, Ala., until the economic downturn hit hard in 2008. That was the first blow for a business that was founded in the 1940s as a grocery store.

The second blow came when International Paper, the largest employer in Lawrence County, closed its Courtland paper mill in March 2014, leaving 1,100 workers without a job.

“When International Paper closed its doors we knew that would hurt us,” says Diane Letson, who has owned the business with her husband, Scott, since 1999. “There were 15 small companies that had to close because they relied so much on International Paper, and they all traded with us, too.”

Making matters worse, their small hardware store was located in a downtown area that was off the beaten track, putting their business’ survival in serious doubt. They had been talking about moving the business for a year, but no better options were available.

Then one day Diane was driving down the road when she saw a store closing sign on the Family Dollar store in Town Creek, five miles away. The location was perfect—a bigger building on a heavily traveled highway.

As the Letsons explored the financial implications of the move with their wholesaler at the time, they weren’t comfortable with what they were hearing. There was a price for everything and little enthusiasm for their future prospects.

The next fortuitous event was when House-Hasson Regional Manager Rick Walker stopped in to see them. As Diane recalls, “Rick said there’s a hardware store across the river that buys from us. You should go talk to them. We went there and the owner pulled out David Helfenberger’s business card and said, ‘You need to call him. He’ll help you.’”

Before they had gotten around to calling Helfenberger, in he walked with Rick Walker to meet with the Letsons. “David and Rick knew we needed them. They understood where we were and wanted to help,” says Diane. “The moving process was so overwhelming, but there were so many things House-Hasson had to offer us to help us move.”

They signed up with House-Hasson in August and started planning for a three-week move to the new location, with House-Hasson designing the layout and assortments. They completed the move in two weeks, moving a department at a time, and opened around September 1.

“After our initial meeting David started labeling where things would go and the reset crew was exceptional,” comments Diane. “Dave Tanner has an eye for merchandising. He is good at taking what you have and making it work.”

H.A. Pippen now features 40 percent more inventory with a 7,200-square-foot sales floor. “In the old store we used to have one and maybe two choices, but now we’re able to broaden our offering to customers,” says Diane, who loves the ease of using the Etoolbox. “We added a lot in fasteners. Electrical and plumbing are strong and with House-Hasson’s help we have beefed up other areas.”

House-Hasson also helped them adjust their pricing to be more in line with the big boxes 20 miles away. They’ve seen a noticeable increase in walk-on traffic, including many customers who were not aware of their previous location.

“We’re very pleased with the response from the community. In the process of remodeling the building people asked how they could help,” says Diane. “The local farmers are huge for us plus small businesses. When we all work together it’s amazing what we can accomplish, and it’s so gratifying when people walk in the door and choose to support our business,” she adds.

Scott Leston became a full-time minister in July, so Diane struck a deal with Greg “Bo” Gresham, who had been working there seven years, to become a minor partner and serve as manager. He is slowly buying into the business, which now has strong prospects for the future.

“I am so thankful for George Alexander, our House-Hasson territory manager,” says Gresham. “He has gone far and above the extra mile to help us through the store move and set-up, and we are looking forward to working with him in the years ahead.”

He adds, “It’s been good so far working with House-Hasson. We needed help and they came in and made things happen. We were looking for someone to invest in our future, so it benefits both parties.”

Diane is so thankful that they sought out House-Hasson and that David and Rick helped them out. “They opened doors to the future for us. We haven’t been dissatisfied about anything with them yet,” she says.