House-Hasson Helps Miller Family Open Second Store

Contrary to what some people might think, Skip Miller thinks it’s an excellent time to start a business. In his case, starting a business actually means opening a second store in a nearby town and relying on his wholesale supplier to fill in the gaps of his expertise.

Miller owns Miller Lumber Company in Augusta, Ky., which was purchased by his father, Jack, in 1956. The business’ roots can be traced back to 1864 when it opened as a sawmill to take advantage of proximity to the Ohio River. “We’ve never seen that much of a boom or that much of a bust,” he explains.

A sluggish economy creates hardship for some people but opens up opportunity for others. Miller couldn’t help but notice that the nearby town of Brooksville, the county seat, had been without a hardware store since the last one closed three or four years ago. He decided to take the plunge and fill the community’s need for a hardware store.

“You always have some reservations about big decisions like this—it’s not always cut and dried—but this fit what we wanted to do,” he says, adding that financing was not a terrible hurdle to overcome.

Miller has two sons who have been involved in the business since they were 14. Craig serves as the general manager of the lumberyard, while Scott manages the day-to-day operations of the new Miller’s Home Center, which opened April 30. Their sister, Carin McFarland, also works in the business

“It’s not been too stressful having a second store, particularly since I’ve got capable sons to oversee each location. I’m a hands-off owner for the most part,” Skip Miller says. “You have to make sure you’ve got someone you can trust when opening another store or you’ll run yourself ragged going back and forth.”

The building used to be a grocery store and it was a very established and visible location. The Millers gutted everything and put in new lighting and flooring. House-Hasson played a pivotal role every step of the way.

“They showed us a proposed layout for the salesfloor and were a big help with planning the assortment,” Scott says. “We were able to make some projections that showed it could be a viable store here and they helped us make some key decisions about how to proceed. David Helfenberger (vice president-marketing) has stopped by six times and been very helpful,” he adds.

House-Hasson helped them find some used equipment to keep costs down and they were impressed with the professionalism of the store set crew. “They were outstanding,” Scott exclaims.

The Millers decided to open a hybrid store that mainly sold hardware but also some LBM products. “About 60 to 70 percent of our sales come from walk-in customers, so we’ve got more basic hardware than at our lumberyard,” Scott says. “We had never dealt much with homeowners, so this is a different market for us. Now we’re selling grills, patio equipment and lawnmowers.”

They were pleasantly surprised when House-Hasson was receptive to them carrying a different brand of paint. “It’s reassuring to know that they don’t want to dictate everything to us,” Scott says. “It will take us a year or two to get some niches established, but we think sporting goods has a lot of potential particularly with hunting products.”

A grand opening was held in June that attracted a nice turnout from the community. House-Hasson coordinated the giveaways, signage and advertising for the event. They have started promoting the new store through Facebook and Twitter, and its location on a heavily traveled road ensures high awareness.

“We’ve had good support so far from the community,” adds Skip. “People like the fact that they don’t have to drive to Augusta or Maysville to buy their hardware products. We’re still seeing new customers every day.”

The Millers started buying from House-Hasson when Belknap went out of business in 1985 and they place a lot of faith in their salesman, Arville Stonecipher. “He takes care of all our needs. Everyone at House-Hasson has been great to work with,” Scott says.

They find the markets are a chance to see the latest new products and talk with the people from House-Hasson. “We always enjoy attending the markets. We like the discounts on all the new items we find and it’s good to get away from the business for a few days,” Scott says.

Taking advantage of hot deals at the markets helps the Millers stay price competitive while still earning a nice margin. “We set price points based on House-Hasson’s advice and we see the value of being a Priced Right Everyday store,” Scott says.

House-Hasson draws on its learning experience from all other stores, which ends up benefitting the Millers. “It’s nice to deal with another family-owned company. The staff they’ve got are all genuinely concerned with helping you succeed,” Skip says.

Miller Lumber Company was an early adopter of computer automation, so they are pleased to see how House-Hasson is on the leading edge with technology.

“The new eToolbox  is nice. I’m an avid computer user, so we jumped right on it and use it pretty regularly. They’re getting the bugs out and in the long run it will be good,” says Scott. “It’s nice that I can pull up the eToolbox on my cell phone or show a customer a product picture on the screen without having to put in a disk,” he adds.