All-Star assignment

Here’s an actual email from Home Channel News freelance editor Ken Ryan, after he completed research and writing duties for our “Second Annual Hardware All-Stars: Fifty Stores in Fifty States” project:

“Thanks for the assignment. It was fun to do.”

Fun? That guy has a great attitude, because we didn’t make it easy on him — or any of the other editors working on the project.

Essentially, the assignment went like this: Get a long list of retailers on the phone for an interview. Ask them to talk about what makes them special. Capture the essence of the business. Find out what makes them tick. Describe their inner workings and their competitive advantages beyond the basics of convenience and customer service.

And oh, by the way, do it in 50 to 75 words.

Our “Hardware Store All-Star” report begins on page 20. Relying on a combination of store visits, news searches and nominations from trusted industry sources, our editorial selection committee has assembled an All-Star lineup of retailers, one from each of our 50 states. They’re listed alphabetically from Alabama’s Hopper Building Supply to Wyoming’s Ace Hardware Buffalo.

These aren’t necessarily the state’s biggest stores, or even the most profitable. But they all show All-Star qualities.

By necessity, we left a lot on the cutting room floor.

We included the two-story, hardware-housewares strategy of Fuller’s Home & Hardware in Hinsdale, Ill. But we left out any mention of Dips & Dogs, the retailer’s standalone, on-premises hot dog and ice cream stand that dominates the town’s kid-focused social calendar.

We included Home Hardware & Supply’s big business in Weber grills. But we left out some amazing statistics. When the Waldwick, N.J., store began selling grills in 1987, you could count unit sales on two hands. That figure peaked at 1,000 during the housing surge, and has since leveled off to about 600 per year. And they do it with two Home Depots within a 10-minute drive.

We included the rebuilding of Wagner Hardware in Glenwood, Minn., which recovered from a snowstorm-induced roof collapse and opened a bigger, better store. But we left out the early struggles with the insurance company and the intense effort to stay in front of the public during the downtime that followed the destruction.

And we had to cut one of my favorite exchanges with a hardware store operator:

Home Channel News: “We think your store belongs on our list of All-Stars. Are we right?”

Pam Brown, Kohl’s Hardware & Lumber: “(Long pause.) Oh, yeah.”

There’s an old saying in newsrooms: If you leave good material on the cutting room floor, then you really got something.

And we’re already looking ahead to our 2013 list. If you have a nomination, tell us about it. And join the fun.

kclark@homechannelnews.com