A retail experiment is unfolding in Alabama that offers a promising future. With significant help from House-Hasson, Discount Dan’s recently opened a 28,000-square-foot home center in Sheffield, Ala., featuring a unique store design that offers something for everyone.

“We’re trying to develop a niche focused on variety, value and service—you don’t get all three at the big boxes,” explains John Glenn, general manager. “We’re striving to build a brand that everybody talks about.”

A large assortment in the core categories is supplemented by strong niches in hunting, fishing, sporting goods, apparel, home decor, flooring, millwork, roofing, pet supplies, grills, toys, Case knives, Lodge cast-iron cookware and more. “We’re Big Lots, Home Depot and Walmart all in one but better,” Glenn says.

“We actually have more categories than Lowe’s or Depot,” he adds. “We want to create an environment that is inviting to the entire family to come in and buy something.”

They designed dump bins that look like a horse trough and there are 27 endcaps throughout the store to spur impulse sales. All of the core categories are lined around the perimeter of the store, with bargains and closeouts merchandised down the center. “We change our endcaps frequently so customers will always see a new store every time they visit,” Glenn says.

The store’s slogan is “Deals down every aisle” and loss leaders are used  to boost the price image. “Everybody wants a deal. We try to have a minimum of 15 bargains of the month, either hardware or closeout related, plus one manager’s special of the month at up to 50 percent off the suggested price,” Glenn says.

Since the area is steeped in music history they decided to create a “Shoals wall of music” in the front of the store that displays memorabilia from some of the famous musicians who have recorded there including Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie Milsap, Cher and George Jones.

“The music memorabilia wall has helped county residents buy into us as their store,” says Glenn, who invites local schools to come in and do a history tour.

The location, which includes a four-acre drive-through lumberyard, was formerly a Marvin’s Home Center that had been vacant for seven years. It took over a year to negotiate with the city of Sheffield to secure the location and the construction phase took 11 months.

They did a complete renovation of the building, gutting everything. “We used products we sell in the remodeling process, trying to be green friendly,” Glenn says. “We used laminate flooring we sell as wall paneling and used Rust-Oleum base-floor epoxy to show customers how it looks.”

House-Hasson, the retailer’s primary supplier since 2000, was heavily involved in all aspects of the store design and layout, signage and assortments, helping determine everything from customer flow to where to place the checkout counters. The wholesaler’s reset crew did the store set-up with a soft opening on November 15.

Glenn had a distinct look he wanted for the signage, colors that were gender neutral so they would attract female shoppers without scaring away male customers. He settled on a light brown and green combination.

“When customers come in the door they love the variety we offer and love being welcomed by a greeter,” says Glenn, who adds that they don’t greet customer with “What do you want?” but instead say “What project are you working on?”

Female customers need assistance  but don’t want to be hassled, he explains, noting the store’s 27 employees undergo regular training. “We offer project assistance; we’re not car salesmen.”

Glenn adds, “When you can get customers to browse you’ll sell more to them. We had one customer come in every day for three weeks. Every day he’d wake up and look for a reason to come into the store.”

Discount Dan’s is a family-owned business that is owned by Danny Williams, who also owns a hardware store in Killen, Ala., Builders Choice Lumber outlets in Killen and Florence, Atlas Builders & Roofing and a construction and septic company.

“This is a brand new concept for our company and it’s our largest location—the next biggest is 15,000 square feet,” explains Glenn, who adds that they plan to implement some of these concepts in their other stores.

The store’s grand opening, held April 5-6, attracted more than 2,500 people. Local musicians performed throughout the weekend and were on hand to sign autographs and nearly 20 vendors helped sponsor the successful event.

Sales have met expectations so far, according to Glenn, who plans to hire an outside salesman to go after commercial/industrial sales. “We anticipate we can get a lot of market share with variety and price,” he says.

Discount Dan’s competes against two Lowe’s stores that are within 12 miles, plus a Home Depot that is 15 miles away.  “We’re driving a speedboat and they’re driving a yacht—it’s a lot easier for us to change direction and avoid the iceberg,” says Glenn.

“Technology exposes your prices, so we have a price-match guarantee. If an item is within $5 employees are empowered to match a competitor’s price on the spot,” he explains. “House-Hasson put us on their most competitive pricing plan. We go even lower on some items and try to buy pallet or truckload quantities.”

Glenn likes attending the dealer markets for added savings and to get educated about new products. “You make your money buying, not selling,” he says. “We introduce several new items each quarter. If you don’t stay on top of the trends your customers will know about new products before you do.”

He likes the fact that House-Hasson is very service-oriented. “They are to distribution what I want us to be with our customers—they make you feel like a partner and you’re not just a number. You can talk to the owner or top execs anytime. They’ve got a long-term, quality staff and when they get feedback from dealers they act on it,” he says.

More importantly, House-Hasson had confidence in their business plan and location and stepped up to help. “They provide just about anything you need. Ron Yatteau has been very instrumental in providing us with data,” Glenn says.

The store offers electric scooter carts and Glenn says those are used every day and greatly appreciated by older customers. “We designed wide aisles so that two carts can get down the aisle at the same time. Female shoppers don’t like to feel restricted,” he says.

The next project is to install a special order kiosk on the salesfloor so a customer can get anything they need. They also own 2-1/2 acres next door for future expansion with a discount grocery and restaurant.

“This store is a model that will work for us once we have established the brand. Our plan is to have five of these locations in the next 10 years, all within a 150-mile radius,” Glenn says. “The economy can be depressed or booming and we’ll be successful because we’re focused on providing value.”