“There’s a serious ‘wow’ factor now with customers.”

Joey Hawkins has been in the retail automotive industry his whole life and that is what is familiar and comfortable. The owner of Hawkins Home & Auto in Calhoun City, Miss., is quickly discovering the positives that come from being a hardware retailer, too.

The Hawkins family has been in business in Calhoun City, Miss., since the 1920s. Hawkins grew up in the auto parts business along with his father, who had his own auto parts store that he later sold to O’Reilly Auto Parts. Hawkins worked with his dad in that business for two years and when the opportunity came up to buy a Western Auto store in his hometown in 2005, he jumped at it.

“We had very limited hardware selection at first as we were focused initially on improving the auto parts side,” recalls Hawkins. “We’ve been slowly growing more into hardware.”

They were buying those few hardware items through Moore-Handley when the wholesaler was acquired by House-Hasson in 2009. “We continued buying from House-Hasson, but at the time all we had were a few garden tools, water heaters and dryer range cords,” Hawkins recalls.

After kicking around the idea for several years and hearing the advice offered by House-Hasson, Hawkins decided to undergo a complete remodel of his store while expanding much more into hardware. “Growing the business more into hardware is a good fit for our town,” he says. “We thought we could increase traffic and the average ticket by remodeling.”

The remodeling work started in mid-December and the House-Hasson reset crew arrived in mid-January for a complete redesign project that took three to four weeks to complete. “David Helfenberger got the project started for us and our territory manager, Shane Taylor, helped us a lot too. He does a great job for us,” Hawkins says.

The store’s sales floor is about 11,000 square feet and at least 3,000 square feet of hardware products were added. Hawkins Home & Auto now sells categories such as outdoor power equipment, lawn and garden, plumbing, electrical, tools and dog food in addition to appliances and automotive.

New gondolas were added and the store went from carrying a few pipe fittings to being able to offer a whole plumbing section. “House-Hasson is really good with the core assortments it has planned out. You can see what you need and how much it’s going to cost,” says Hawkins.

He adds that they are selling a lot of the newly added products and they have received a lot of compliments on the store’s new look. “There’s a serious ‘wow’ factor now with customers.”

Hawkins Home & Auto used to be set up strictly with counter sales as is tradition with auto parts stores. “Now we’re getting more people to bring items up to the counter to pay for them,” says Hawkins. “Also since the remodel we have sold a bunch of special order stuff. We sold a sandblaster and I didn’t even realize we could get something like that.”

Hawkins has posted pictures of the remodeled store on their Facebook page, which is already up to 1,531 likes. The plan is to have a grand reopening celebration later on.

He tries to attend two House-Hasson shows a year, which he finds valuable. “The resources available through House-Hasson make them a good choice for our business. Their fineline merchandising system is a good system once you learn it,” says Hawkins, who adds that he appreciated the fact that House-Hasson was very patient with them during the remodel.

He is also a fan of the Etoolbox program, which he views as a real asset. “It has a lot of good tools that help us out, especially when we’re trying to find something for a customer,” says Hawkins. “A lady was just in here looking for a tow-behind sprayer for the mower she purchased. It will be on our next truck delivery.”

Home Depot is 50 minutes away and Lowe’s is an hour, so the store is not totally immune from big-box competition. Being able to sell more hardware products gives people more reasons to shop local, according to Hawkins. “We hear from our customers that they like buying from a small guy. We hear all the time: ‘I didn’t know you had that,’” he says.

Hawkins takes advantage of House-Hasson’s pricing but likes the fact that he can set his own retails as needed. “House-Hasson has good coverage of inventory and a lot of unique items available out of the warehouse,” he says.

They sell a lot of riding mowers, primarily because they service what they sell. On the automotive side they sell tires and repair and service just about every type of auto.

“I wish I had more room to add even more hardware items, because there is still potential. We’re starting to get more female customers, but we could do even more to attract them,” Hawkins says.

Hawkins may know every aspect of the auto parts and service industry, but learning the hardware business is still an ongoing process. “Selling a toilet is a new thing for us and you’ve got to be knowledgeable about all the products. House-Hasson is giving us a good education on the hardware side,” he says.