All American Home Center was known throughout the industry for its size (175,000 sq. ft.), its longevity (more than 50 years) and, most of all, its locale — across the parking lot from a Home Depot in Southern California. So when the owners decided to shut down the home improvement warehouse late last year, it came as a shock to All American’s executive team, whose tenure ranged from 25 to 35 years. The store, they claimed, was still turning a profit.
And Downey, Calif., still needed an independent hardware dealer.
Six months later, Hometown Hardware & Garden opened its doors in a former Von’s supermarket in Downey. The three top executives are Greg Fuller, CEO; Rob Morck, chief operating officer; and Ray Brown, CFO. The three men held the same positions at All American, where they worked 35 years, 25 years and 30 years, respectively. What’s more, their first 14 hires were former All American employees.
Fuller, who accepted the 2009 “Tools of the Trade” award from Home Channel News, said that Hometown Hardware is not exactly a reincarnation of All American. Although there will be some carryovers — free coffee for customers all day, a 10% discount for seniors on Wednesdays — the inventory will change. There will be no building materials or flooring, but the store will go deep into the categories popular with homeowners and apartment managers: hardware, plumbing, electrical, lawn and garden, and seasonal items such as patio and holiday decor.
With 18-ft.-high ceilings, Hometown Hardware was able to fit 7-ft. gondolas to hold all that merchandise. But the new owners wanted an easy-to-navigate store, so they worked with a Do it Best store designer to create a wide center aisle (14 ft.) they’re calling “Main Street.”
“You can shop the whole store from our main aisle,” Fuller said.
The company will also offer bath products and fixtures, with installation available.
Hometown Hardware blanketed its market with more than 80,000 direct-mail pieces over a two-week period as part of its grand opening on June 30.
It also wanted to broadcast the company’s tagline: “Great products…great people…great price.” But word of mouth had already spread the news, judging from the large turnout when the company unlocked its doors for a soft opening on June 23.
“Neighborhood people just started rolling in,” Fuller recalled. “So many people stopped to ask [about the project] while we were rehabbing the building.”
Although it is less than 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, Downey is a small community of its own, and many of its residents are working-class folks who can fix things around the house. Services like glass, screen and pipe cutting are needed, and Hometown Hardware can even make custom screens in house.
Fuller and his partners didn’t want to lose those customers after All American closed on Dec. 29. So they lined up financing from a local bank, obtained SBA funding and invested their own money. The assistance Hometown Hardware received from the City of Downey was “tremendous,” according to Fuller.
“They were helpful in securing a site and took us through the process quickly,” Fuller said.
Fuller made the rounds at the National Hardware Show, telling key vendors “We’re back in business.” And his partnership with Do it Best looks like it may extend beyond Downey.
“Our goal is to open several stores in this market and fly the Do it Best flag,” Fuller said. He’s already working on store number two, with a target date of early next year.