Successful entrepreneurs are those that discover an unmet need in the marketplace and then go out and meet that need. Neil Burkholder fits the mold, because that’s exactly what he did when he opened NeilCo Building Supplies in Ashland, Ohio, earlier this year.
Burkholder, who has been a contractor for seven years, took note of the fact that there were no hardware stores or lumberyards in the northern part of the county. Since the area needed a hardware store and a lumberyard, he decided to open a business that offered both.
“It took six months to get zoning approved for the store and then six months to get the permits and get it built,” explains Burkholder. “I knew a couple of local stores that bought from House-Hasson, so I talked to them about what it’s like to do business with the company.”
Neil sat down with the folks at House-Hasson and together they came up with a plan for a new store and then executed it. They started setting up the store in December and it officially opened January 6, 2014.
“The big advantage was that House-Hasson could come in and get us set up in our timeframe. That was very important,” says Burkholder, who found good deals attending the January show in Nashville.
“Our sales rep, Bernie Sinclair, comes in once or twice a week and has been very helpful,” he adds. “He does a good job of letting us know what else we should be carrying and he’s helped us a lot with direct buys. I always go to Bernie when there’s a question or a problem and he’s always able to help us.”
Although Burkholder has been surprised by how easy it has been to operate a store so far, he says it helps to have someone with lots of experience who can help him run the store. Manager Jim Woods has been in the retail lumber business for more than 30 years and the store has five employees, which frees up Burkholder to continue his contractor business. He estimates he spends 60 percent of his time in the store.
The store targets pros and d-i-yers with a 6,000-square-foot salesfloor, Woods points out. “We’re directed toward the pros with our tool lines and lumber. Tools are the best category so far with power tools and pneumatics, while DIYers are buying a lot of hardware and plumbing,” he adds.
House-Hasson helped them come up with the assortment, which they continue to tweak. The wholesaler also helped them somewhat with pricing. “We had to adjust pricing on our own to be competitive with our local market,” says Burkholder, who points out that the nearest big box is 15 miles away.
“We check Home Depot and Lowe’s prices on a regular basis. Most people expect you to be high-priced and they are surprised when you’re not. It’s our goal to be very competitive on price,” Burkholder notes.
Lumber and building materials represent a big percentage of sales and they are buying some of their LBM products through House-Hasson. “Our business is really a lumberyard with a hardware store attached,” Burkholder says. Metal roofing and pole barns are the two biggest niche categories at the moment, along metal accessories for pole barns, metal shingles and ag buildings.
NeilCo operates with a 48-foot boom truck for rooftop shingle deliveries and a 32-foot rolloff trailer for lumber and metal, with a wide delivery area. “The local economy is still slow, so it’s mainly been remodeling work,” Woods says.
Burkholder and Woods have high praise for House-Hasson, saying everyone they have encountered from the company has been very helpful. “The set-up crew was very professional and efficient. There were quite a few people from House-Hasson who came through here to help out,” Woods says.
They are running 70,000 circulars from House-Hasson with an extra 10,000 inserted in the local newspaper. “We’re also advertising on six local billboards,” says Burkholder.
The official grand opening was held April 25-26 with special flyers used to promote the event. A contractor breakfast and luncheon were held on Friday, April 25, and a breakfast for homeowners took place on April 26, plus special sales all week. “What a grand opening we had there on Friday, as you couldn’t even get in the parking lot it was so full,” commented Dave Baumberger, regional manager.
“We’ve gotten a very good response from the community, because we filled a need. Now locals don’t have to drive into Ashland and back every time they need something,” Woods says.
“The store may be a work in progress, but we’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made to date,” Burkholder says.