The old saying goes: Necessity is the mother of invention. For K3 Lumber in Green Pond, Ala., necessity is the reason the store opened.
Owner Kendall Burt’s family operates sawmills throughout Alabama, and like any large, commercial business, the mills constantly require hardware and other supplies to keep running. So to fill that need, Burt opened K3 Lumber in the spring of 2010.
“About 80 percent of my business is commercial-industrial,” says Burt, who had worked in retail hardware about a dozen years before opening his store. “I saw that need and went with House-Hasson for the hardware.”
Before opening the store, Burt researched hardware distributors. And for him, the House-Hasson inventory financing program was a deciding factor. House-Hasson financed the new store inventory, and recently assisted with a reset.
In January 2015, House-Hasson’s reset team visited the store, reorganizing aisles, retagging products, installing displays and hanging new signage.
“They made it where customers can more easily come in and just shop,” Burt says. “Because of how well the aisles are labeled, it’s easy to guide a customer to where a product is.”
Now, the hardware section of the store is about 2,500 square feet, and the store also has a large selection of lumber on its grounds, which is located off I-20 about midway between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
“They are a tremendous business, a very smooth operation,” says David Eaton, House-Hasson territory manager for the store. “They’re easy to work with.”
K3 Lumber has also taken advantage of the House-Hasson pricing program to make them competitive with nearby 84 Lumber and Lowe’s stores.
“Our competitive pricing program makes them strong in the marketplace,” Eaton says. “They’re very strong in plumbing and fittings with our Genova program for pipe fittings.”
In addition, K3 Lumber has done well with power tool accessories and Milwaukee tools. And located in the heart of lumber country, one of the store’s natural strengths became its commercial-industrial customer base.
Making the C/I Connection
K3’s commercial success can be duplicated by other stores. “It can be hard to break into the commercial-industrial business,” Burt says. “We had our sister business that’s a sawmill, so it was a bit more natural for us.”
Burt shares the following tips for stores seeking to boost their commercial-industrial sales:
* Readjust thinking and jump in. There’s no need for a major assortment overhaul to gain commercial-industrial customers. “While there are certain industrial products that are unique to different industries, who doesn’t use brooms, shovels, and nuts and bolts?” Burt says. “Big industry might use big machines, but they use the same variety of hardware items most stores stock.”
*Increase assortment and inventory. Don’t be afraid to expand the number of SKUs and to stock more inventory. “I judge my assortment by what customers ask for,” Burt says. “If a customer comes in and asks for two of some product that we don’t have, I’ll buy four just to have more in stock.”
*Allow employees to specialize and improvise. With eight employees, K3 has developed a reputation of being able to quickly bring in products, even specialty products sometimes needed by commercial-industrial customers.
*Value quality over price. Durability and quality is often valued over price for many commercial-industrial customers. For example, K3 sells more high-quality, higher-priced brooms than less inexpensive and less durable brooms. “A lot of times other hardware stores will have cheap, less durable stuff,” Burt says. “I sell a larger number of the $30, high-end, two-foot push-brooms than the $10 models.”
*Offer on-site services. Commercial-industrial customers also look for smooth, easy replenishment and other services. That means going to their facility. For example, K3 Lumber sends an employee to customers to restock bolt bins.
*Look for expansion. Take customer needs and suggestions as a way to grow your business. For example, currently, K3 Lumber does a modest amount of propane sales. But based on local demand, Burt believes there is an opportunity to expand and offer more propane and propane supplies.
*Spread the word. Currently, the store doesn’t advertise and relies on word of mouth among local residents and businesses. “I feel like I do need to start advertising, and that may happen in the near future,” Burt says.