Hooten’s successful leap

When Orgill first heard of Hooten’s Hardware’s expansion plan, it was a simple sketch drawn on a letter-size sheet of paper. Two weeks later, when the Memphis distributor called to check in with the Texas dealer, it discovered that owner Lance Hooten had already begun bulldozing a site on his 25-acre parcel an hour’s drive east of Dallas.

It wasn’t the best time to start building a new store, but Jim Walraven knew he wasn’t dealing with conventional wisdom.

Walraven is a coordinator for Orgill’s Market Driven Research (MDR) program, a recommended precursor to any major store expansion. In the case of Hooten’s Hardware, Walraven and his team conducted demographic studies and typical household spends of the surrounding market, as well as price shopping the competition within a 30-mile range.

Walraven’s MDR report gave Hooten’s suggestions for variable pricing and advice on what to stock in his new 40,000-square-foot store. Ground was broken in October, and the store was completed in nine months. Almost every category was expanded, and several new departments—including housewares and appliances—were added.

“Hooten’s typical customer was a big guy with grease all over him who had just torn something apart,” explained Walraven. “There was no real draw for the female customer.”

Women now accompany their husbands into the store, browsing through the candles and picture frames while their spouses hunt down bolts for tractors, according to Hooten’s general manager Kirk Reams. The residents of Emory, Texas, population 1,004, no longer have to drive 30 miles to the nearest big box to buy a washing machine or refrigerator. Hooten’s added 1,000 feet of lawn and garden, new lines of outdoor power equipment and an expanded rental section. All of its major departments were enlarged.

“Orgill worked with what we had in our old store and built up from there,” Reams explained. “They had specific people to layout the store and other people to help with the [merchandising] and fixtures. It would have taken us a lot longer to do it ourselves.” C. J. Warner, the store’s Orgill sales rep, spent hours in front of the computer, setting up planograms and keying in inventory. He also persuaded vendors to do demonstrations and give away door prizes at the store’s June 14 grand opening. Hooten’s served 1,100 free lunches that day, which means the store fed the entire town of Emory plus 96 extra friends and relatives.

Many of those visitors have returned as shoppers, judging from recent foot traffic. The customer count started rising steadily the week after the grand opening, according to Reams. Now, the daily average is 75 to 100 people higher than last year’s average.

Hooten’s was able to defy conventional wisdom simply by ignoring it. Texas hasn’t escaped the housing slump or the slowdown in remodeling, but Hooten’s has so much going on under its roof that it may have changed the rules for itself. Factor in the spiking gas prices, and Hooten’s has given its customers (old and new) a reason to stay close to home.

In addition to the full electrical, plumbing and hardware assortment—the store carries every single sku Midwest Fastener makes—Hooten’s offers pipe, steel and sheet metal for commercial construction and lumber, wood panels, roofing, windows and doors for home builders. The company also makes and distributes hay rings, cattle feeders and other ranching supplies to a four-state area.

“They are considered a one-stop shop,” said Tim Cannon, Orgill’s area manager for north and northeast Texas. Cannon recalled a recent encounter with a Hooten’s customer who had driven all the way from Dallas, 70 miles away. “He needed something welded, and Hooten’s has a reputation for good service,” Cannon said.

Cannon, who brought Hooten’s to Orgill from another wholesaler, has seen the company through many expansions. The store started as a small welding shop and still operates eight welding bays, repairing farm implements and other equipment. Over the years the company added hardware products, annexing 5,000 square feet, then another 10,000 square feet, but the end result was a hodgepodge of retail space.

Reams remembers the moment when his boss decided to tear the store down and start with a blank piece of paper.

“Lance and I were at the [Las] Vegas market show last fall. It was Lance’s first Orgill market,” he recalled. “We walked onto the market floor and then into the pallet buy section. [After] approximately 15 minutes Lance got this ‘look’ on his face. I asked him what he was thinking about, and he began to explain to me that the store we originally had could not hold all the things we needed. He wanted items to be bought at pallet pricing and sold at a cheaper retail [price]. That’s when he said, ‘We just need a bigger store.’”

Another thunderbolt arrived at Orgill’s Orlando market, when the two men decided to expand the store’s assortment of Case pocket knives. “They didn’t think we were serious,” recalled Reams. The stand-alone Case display occupies its own 12 by 20 foot booth in the new store, earning Hooten’s the designation of a Case “Master Dealer ” and enabling it to sell the products online.

“If somebody comes into the store and asks for something, and they don’t have it, they get it,” observed Jeff Gain, a business development manager for Orgill who helped plan the new store. By “get it,” Gain doesn’t mean special order; Hooten’s makes sure that item becomes part of the store’s assortment.

“They don’t worry that a sku doesn’t turn,” Gain said. “And if they can’t order it for you, they’ll try to make it.”

If that sounds a little old-fashioned, picture store manager Kirk Reams at a computer terminal with a telephone receiver cradled up against his ear. He’s talking to customer, and they’re both searching Orgill’s online catalog for a particular item. Once they find it, “I order it on my Orgill truck and then UPS it to them. Or they come in and pick it up,” Reams explained.

Selling through Orgill.com is one of several programs that Hooten’s has joined since Orgill became its primary supplier in 2006. The store also uses Orgill’s seasonal circulars for advertising and its Market Travel Club to defray airfare and hotel expenses for market trips. But Hooten’s doesn’t sign on for everything, and Reams likes Orgill’s a la carte approach. “They present it to you, and if you want to participate, fine,” Reams said. “If not, no hard feelings.”