Are Independent Hardware Stores Ready For A Reboot?

salesman on phone in hardware store

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Do you remember being at a bowling alley or supermarket and seeing the old claw game? The one where you navigate the joystick in hopes of manipulating the claw to grab an item you want?

There are a lot of retailers that do the same thing on their sales floor.

While that may have gotten them by in the past, it won’t build the big sales necessary to thrive.

While I think it applies to many retailers, from the garden center all the up to the luxury jewelry stores, an important example is the independent hardware store...

A customer comes in, and an employee asks, “Can I help you?” The customer says, “I need to find this part.” The employee says, “No problem,” and heads off in front of the customer to the appropriate area without speaking to the customer; “Keep up and follow me” are implied. They arrive at the item, confirm the price, customer says “Thanks,” and proceeds to the checkout line.

But just fulfilling customers’ requests doesn't bond them to you. You need to establish an emotional connection to your brand. Some call that customer service, but others think the claw approach is customer service.

The reasons the claw approach to retail is so deadly is that it is one step away from the Internet, one step from point and click.

If that's the experience in your store, you are more likely to be at risk to the Amazon price checking apps or low average tickets. Why? Because if the customer doesn’t ask for it, it isn’t sold.

That’s why so many family hardware stores are in danger of going out of business.

Old Joe

Sure, they have old Joe, who can find the washer for the faucet built in 1924, but the new faucet sits. Or the water heater. Or expensive paint. All lines the hardware retailer brought in with hopes of meeting more needs of their customers.

Customers go to the big boxes for the more profitable items either because they don’t know the independent has the item or the hardware store doesn’t leverage their goodwill with their customers in a compelling way.

Book Trained, Not Necessarily People Trained

That can come about because the employees are hired for their ability to play a grand game of Clue. Their knowledge is paramount about the minutest detail. So only the employees whose sense of well-being is stoked by being able to find that one item are valued.

But the missing element is the desire to complete the sale with other items the customer didn’t ask for but could certainly use or want. Training is probably given on adding on, but it fundamentally isn’t their operations model.

Instead of touting “cash mobs,” Pinterest or Facebook "likes" as effective, the hard work an independent retailer has to focus on is a massive rebooting and refocusing their efforts that values more than product knowledge; it values customers as human beings first, product details second.

Three ways hardware retailers can reboot:

  • Focus on how the initial interaction between customer and employee should happen. Analytical personality styles are the ones most comfortable problem solving but the most challenged in interpersonal relationships. Give them the tools and scripts they need to be able to feel safe talking to customers.
  • Focus on how to dialogue with a customer, not just problem-solve. Instead of looking at the employee as the hero, make the goal be that the employee is a partner and solve the problem together.
  • Focus on how to move more merch, not add more products. Hardware stores in particular, have aisles and aisles of interesting stuff to browse. The trouble is, without a clear merchandising plan with a customer focus, the customer feels that “looking around” at all the options will take too long.

Are independent hardware stores ready for a reboot? Yes.

Are they willing to make the changes necessary? I hope so...

Not a hardware retailer?

I'll bet several of these points pertain to you as well...

With the proper retail sales training, smart retailers will be able to raise average ticket, and sell more profitable wants along with the smallest necessities. And not have to claw their way to profitability.

About Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor

Companies from some of the very largest to some of the smallest, from luxury brands to startups, from franchises to regional chains, contact me as a retail consultant because they are looking for results. An owner may have read one of my books, seen my videos, seen me on TV, heard me speak, or read this blog to get a taste of my people-focused philosophy and my methods.

While every client and project is different, the ability to enlist me as a retail consultant who has a fresh set of eyes to look at the challenges you are facing results in a focused, effective, and creative path to profitable sales.

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