Bell Building Supply Combines Multiple Businesses in One

Bell Building Supply is looking to corner the market for hardware and home improvement products in Starkville, Miss., by offering the ultimate one-stop shop for consumers and pros. In additional to operating a full-service hardware and building supply store, the Bell family recently opened a builder showroom featuring doors, windows, baths, vanities and other builder products; a standalone specialty kitchen shop called Thyme; and an interior design shop called Simply Home.

Harry Bell started working at the store when it was called Fleming Building Supply in the 1970s. He became manager in 1984 and was a driving force behind growing the contractor business, gradually taking over full ownership of the company in a process that was completed in 1995. He and his wife, Anne, had been scaling back their involvement in the business when some big projects came up.

Formerly customers of Moore-Handley, the Bells saw the opportunity to take the business to another level when they started buying from House-Hasson. Their former sales rep with Moore-Handley, Rick Walker, had joined House-Hasson and he convinced them the time was right for a reset.

“We’ve known Rick for 30 years and we work well with him. So far we’ve been very pleased with House-Hasson,” Anne says. At Walker’s urging, they talked to House-Hasson’s design team and David Helfenberger put together a plan to do a complete reset of their salesfloor.

“House-Hasson helped us redepartmentalize the various categories. This hadn’t been done in 20 years,” Anne says. “It was a great opportunity for us to become more organized.”

The Bells’ daughter, Foley Bell Holditch, had returned to the family business about one and a half years ago, and she had an idea to make productive use of a next-door building where paint was stored. “We called it ‘The Hole,’ but I thought it had some possibilities,” she says.

With Mississippi State located in Starkville, Foley knew the 25-to-40 age demographic was well-represented, and she thought they would be receptive to a specialty kitchen and tabletop shop that offered cooking classes and demonstrations. Her mother thought the idea was so promising that she came out of retirement to help get the business up and running. Thyme opened March 10 with a grand opening held April 8-9.

Anne had reinvented the kitchen and housewares section of the hardware store, and the kitchen shop was moved next door as part of the reset. “We wanted to carve out room for seasonal items and outdoor living products such as grills, outdoor kitchens and side burners,” she says.

Thyme features a demonstration kitchen where they will host regional chefs, authors and vendor reps. The female-friendly shop features an eclectic mix of tabletop accessories, kitchen items and garden gifts, making it the perfect place to shop for a wedding or graduation gift.

Foley is working to develop an email distribution list and plans to do target marketing with a consistent message. “It’s about the lifestyle experience we can provide. We’re focusing on building the home environment and quality of space issues,” she says.

On the hardware side, the reset was done with the female customer in mind. “We’ve tried to build endcaps that appeal to females. Impulse sales come by having products such as watering cans visible to customers when they walk in, and we’ve promoted our wedding registry with a display of tools,” Foley says.

Since they compete with Lowe’s and a local building supply store, they know they need to find unique ways to stand out and relate to customers. “We provide a lot of hands-on service and we pay close attention to our pricing, but it’s so important to sell products you can’t find at the big boxes,” Foley says.

That’s where their third business, Simply Home, comes in. Manager Cheri Fulgham is a certified designer, and she and her staff can help customers select custom flooring, lighting, bedding, furniture, rugs and custom window treatments including woven shades, blinds and shutters. Every facet of design and installation for residential and commercial clients, including fabric selection, can be handled in one convenient location.

Separate Facebook pages have been set up to promote Bell Building Supply, Thyme and Simply Home, and Foley is excited about the possibilities there. “We can highlight new items such as grills or firelights or give ideas for bridal showers. Facebook is a big part of our marketing strategy going forward,” she says, adding that they have developed a bridal registry that incorporates all three businesses.

            This past November the builder showroom was completed, providing a place where home builders and their customers can see what different building products look like finished. Wes Shelton spearheads that part of the business, and he now has a location to meet with builders to learn their needs and help them select the right products. “The economy is starting to come around, so we’re hopeful this can be a good selling point for us,” Foley points out.