Golden advice from retail winners

Retail award winners share best practices in Las Vegas
Smith, Price, Cowart and HCN’s Ken Clark talk shop during the Golden Hammer Awards ceremony.

Las Vegas — The retail panel discussion started with customer service and advanced to strategic planning. From there, it detoured at automatic doors — apparently still a novelty in rural Texas — and finished with a somewhat optimistic economic forecast. 

Not bad for the first-ever Golden Hammer Retail Winner Panel, held in Las Vegas during the National Hardware Show. The breakfast event panel discussion, which followed the Hall of Fame induction of Lowe’s president Larry Stone, showcased the collective wisdom of Lenexa, Kan.-based Westlake Ace Hardware, Price Hardware True Value of Atlanta, Texas; and Leeds, Ala.-based Marvin’s Home Centers.

Some of the highlights from the panel are below:

On customer service

George Smith, CEO of Westlake Ace Hardware, the 2011 Retailer of the Year, explained his company’s new G.R.E.A.T. service model — starting with G for “greet the customer proactively,” and finishing with T for “thank them for their business.”

Smith added: “It’s fairly simple and basic, and that’s what you want — keep it easy, and keep it simple.”

Craig Cowart, executive VP and chief merchandising officer for Marvin’s, said “aggressive customer service” at Marvin’s isn’t based on staffing level, it’s based on attitude. “We don’t have numbered aisle signs,” Cowart said. “We want the associate to walk the customer to the aisle and sell as a solution, not just sell a product.”

On store design

John Price, co-owner of Price Hardware True Value — the 2011 Golden Hammer “Tools of the Trade” winner — said the company’s move to a Destination True Value format has had a big impact on how the customer shops. The 28,000-sq.-ft. store has new flooring, a new layout, new signage and a new feel, he said.

“We no longer have somebody come in and get a half-inch PVC elbow and go to the checkout and walk out,” Price said. “I’ve noticed people get shopping carts and they shop, and we’ve never had that before. So that hard work was well worth it.” 

At Marvin’s, Cowart described the company’s new format store as a combination of big home center with home town hardware store. “What we did was design the store around our mission statement, which is ‘making our customers’ lives easier,’” he said. 

“But it’s not just store design,” Cowart added. “What makes that work is our store associates.”

On female-friendliness

Price explained the origins of his Price Hardware’s “Kitchenette” store within a store. The brainchild of his wife, Carol, it reflects a move beyond basic housewares to a high-end gourmet kitchen center. Classes and events in the kitchenette draw people from as far away as 90 miles, he said. “More importantly, she has brought a strong female focus into our store,” Price noted. “Our paint department, which is right across from the Kitchenette, is up 23% since we did this. So, it works.”

On automatic doors

A surprising result of Price Hardware True Value’s renovation: excitement over the entry system. “Atlanta, Texas, is a town of 6,000 people,” Price said. “One thing we noticed was that a lot of the people seemed to be fascinated with the automatic doors.” 

On strategic planning

Said Smith: “When we redefined our mission statement, we did it in three ways. We looked at things we were good at and should hold onto. We looked at things we should jettison. And we looked at things we should add to our business model from a values and commitment perspective.”

On the economy

Price said the bigger-ticket items have seen a small increase. “People seem to be getting a little more comfortable about buying larger-ticket items,” he said.

The 28-store Marvin’s, which last month opened a new store in Monroeville, Ala., remains optimistic that eventually business conditions will turn around, but right now it is maintaining a very conservative approach to spending. “We’re still trying to do more with less,” Cowart said. “We’re very critical of the decisions we make, because every move counts.” 

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