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Retailers wield the Golden Hammer in Las Vegas

The Golden Hammer retailer panel (from left): Smith, Price, Cowart and HCN's Ken Clark.

Westlake Ace Hardware and Price Hardware True Value were recognized for excellence during the 2011 Golden Hammer Awards ceremony held at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas.

George Smith, CEO of Lenexa, Kan.-based Westlake Ace Hardware accepted the Retailer of the Year award. John Price accepted the Tools of the Trade award for Price Hardware True Value of Atlanta, Texas.

The two diverse retailers -- Westlake operates 88 stores, while Price is a single unit -- participated in a panel with Craig Cowart, executive VP and chief merchandising officer of Marvin's Building Materials and Home Centers, the 2010 Home Channel News Retailer of the Year. 

All three companies stress customer service as a competitive advantage in their markets, while Westlake recently launched a company-wide training around the concept of GREAT service

“We created a video that shows good service, bad service and [mediocre] service, and showed it to everyone," Smith said. "It was an ‘aha’ moment.”

Store design factors heavily into the service equation at the 27-store Leeds, Ala.-base Marvin's, according to Cowart, including a centralized service island. “We tried to work around our mission statement of making customers’ lives easier. The result was a meld of a big box with a hometown feel.”

“Every new store we go through we rationalize SKU by SKU," Cowart said. "Everything is on the table to look at. It’s tough on the merchants, but we’ve gotten a lot more efficient doing more with less.”

In Atlanta, Texas, Price Hardware is benefitting from a recent conversion to the Destination True Value format and also the creation of a store-within-a-store Kitchenette, a high-end kitchen and housewares department run by John's wife Carol Price.

"Before the housewares remodel, kitchen utensils and toasters were my idea of what a housewares department was," Price said. "But I finally saw what this could be; it was gourmet and it has brought a strong female focus to our store."

Regarding the macroeconomic conditions, Cowart said: “People who have weathered this storm are the ones to contend with.”

Price said he has seen a slight increase in large-ticket items. “I think the economy will get better," he added.