Lessons from Las Vegas

Las Vegas — What happened in Vegas will not stay in Vegas — especially not the products purchased, the leads generated, nor the business best practices that were shared by retailers during the National Hardware Show.

Some 30,000 industry professionals spent three days in the desert for the show, the highlights of which depend completely on the taste of the attendees.

But certainly one highlight was when four successful hardware and home center operators spent an hour on the Village Stage sharing their challenges, strategies and future plans. Ranging in size from three to 36 locations, the dealers varied in scope and location but shared common approaches to customer service, the vendor community and pricing.

One of the largest dealers in the group, Rocco Falcone of Rocky’s Ace Hardware, operates 33 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Florida. The family-owned operation has been in business for 85 years. “We service the hell out of our customers,” Falcone said. “The big boxes say they’re going to give good service, but they really don’t.”

Doug Gregory from Morrison Terrebonne Lumber in Louisiana spoke of the special handling his pro customers receive. “Our contractors are very dependent on our guys to help them run their business,” said Gregory, who recently partnered with CNRG. When asked about common misconceptions about his business, Gregory mentioned the perception that smaller independents charge higher prices.

Others agreed. “Our staff also believes that, so I get them out to price shop other stores,” said Ron Cicuttini, who represented three Home Hardware stores in Ontario.

Scott Parker, owner of 18 home centers primarily in Texas, pointed out that his outdoor lumberyards aren’t air conditioned, which lowers his cost of doing business. “We can be very competitive [on price],” he said. But Parker pointed out the necessity of variable pricing and the many factors that go into it.

“What we want to sell a product for is determined by the market, not what we want to sell it for,” Parker said.

All the retailers gave a shout-out to their vendors, co-ops and distributors. “If you’re really loyal to your suppliers, they’ll reciprocate,” Cicuttini said. “That’s paid dividends for us.”

During a keynote presentation at the North American Retail Hardware Association’s Village Stage, former Walmart executive Michael Bergdahl described the importance of risk-taking in the early days of Walmart and for the modern hardware store. “In the early days of Walmart, Sam Walton took risks and nine out of ten times, he failed,” said Bergdahl, who was director of people for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant.

Companies that encourage employees to take risks, and accept the good along with the bad, are the ones that are most likely to win, he said. “You will take risks as a merchant. Some time, you will hit a home run.”

Buyers and retailers come for many reasons, one of which was articulated by Dan Fesler, CEO of St. Paul, Minn.-based Lamperts: “You have to take a look at what’s out there every once in a while.”