Small Steps Lead Fessenden Hardware to Record Sales 

The economy in northern Ohio has not been healthy over the past few years, but that hasn’t stopped Fessenden Hardware in Swanton from producing record sales. It just goes to prove that slow and steady is a smart strategy for running a successful business.

Eric Fessenden is the second generation of his family to run the business, which was purchased by his father, Lon, in 1976. His brother, Alex, also works in the store. The family has been pleasantly surprised that the store has been doing so well despite the sour economy.

“Last year was the best year in company history and we’re on pace to do even better this year,” says Eric. He attributes that success to the strong customer service they provide plus different niches they have established such as Rickle’s pickles, barbecue sauce and chairs.

Fessenden Hardware squares off against six big boxes within 15 miles including a Menards store eight miles away, two Lowe’s and three Home Depot stores in the greater Toledo area. “Our customer service is a competitive advantage and we keep our prices in line with the big boxes,” adds Eric.

The big boxes have been around for at least six years, yet their arrival has not had a great impact on Fessenden’s sales and profits. “We carry the hard-to-find items that they don’t,” Eric points out. “It makes a big difference carrying all the extra little stuff and our customers know we’ll have what they need.”

When the economy is sluggish people start tackling more d-i-y projects themselves, and they want to buy their products at a store with knowledgeable employees who can tell them exactly how to complete their project. “Our customers gain confidence after we explain everything to them. After they find they are able to tackle the project on their own, they come back in and thank us for helping them,” Eric says.

Swanton has a population of about 3,500, so the Fessendens know they need to find ways to keep residents shopping local for their business to thrive. “The economy has rebounded a little. If gas prices are up, then people stay in town to do their shopping,” Eric says. “Contractors come in and buy consistently even though we don’t cater to them, because they don’t want to drive 30 miles round-trip to the boxes.”

House-Hasson has played a big role in helping the business stay competitive over the past decade. The Fessendens had been buying from Kruse Hardware, and when Kruse got bought out in 2001 they followed their salesman, Geordie DePasquale, to House-Hasson.

“There’s a lot to like with House-Hasson—selection, pricing, circulars,” Eric says. “We liked the fact that we didn’t have to change away from being a Trustworthy store when we went with House-Hasson. And you get an answer right away when you have a question.”

The store held a very successful customer appreciation event October 4-7, with DePasquale lending a helping hand. “Geordie helped with the food for our cookout and helped us line up door prizes from vendors. He takes care of everything for us,” Eric says.

The customer appreciation event was promoted on the store’s Facebook page, which kept customers updated on the hourly door prizes. “House-Hasson helped us design and set up a website and they helped us get started on Facebook last year. People are starting to notice us there,” Eric points out. Although they haven’t used the custom circular program yet, they like the response they get from the standard circulars they’ve been running.

They try to post something every week on Facebook, whether it’s pictures from the customer appreciation cookout or of the customer who brought in the dead mole to show how well the mole trap worked. So far the store has attracted 168 “Likes” from customers.

Here’s one recent Facebook post: “Rickle’s Pickles are hot! We have just stared selling these and they are great. They have spears, chips, peppers and their Black Market Mustard. Come on in for a sample.”

Eric likes the size and product selection of the House-Hasson markets and the fact that he can visit with other store owners and vendor reps. “It’s beneficial to check out the new items and see if there’s something that will work in our market,” he says. “I really like the Bonus Buy Breakfasts with open stock items and merchandisers, plus all the dating you get.”

Since they operate a store that prides itself on customer service, the Fessendens can appreciate that attribute when they find it in a supplier. “Everyone at House-Hasson is helpful and friendly. Our truck driver, Jeff, is excellent. He’ll call us if he’s running a little late, “Eric says. “If you call customer service they will take care of any issue or answer any question we have. You can talk to Don Hasson at any time—he makes himself available in his office and at the markets.”

When Lon Fessenden took over the business 36 years ago the salesfloor was just 3,000 square feet. They moved to their current location in 1989, with a 1,500-square-foot expansion eight years ago bringing their salesfloor up to 7,500 square feet. The store front was remodeled last summer, with a new canopy and signs providing an updated look.

Lon still comes into the store to lend a hand and help with price changes. “He doesn’t like to be scheduled, but he’s listed on the regular work schedule,” Eric points out with a laugh. His brother, Alex, left the business for a few years and was working at a hardware store in another town when he was convinced to come back and work in the family business.

The brothers were invited to participate in House-Hasson’s Dealer Advisory Board last year but weren’t able to attend. Eric was planning to attend this year’s meeting, which was taking place in advance of the Fall Dealer Market in Sevierville. “We appreciate being able to offer our feedback to the company,” he says.