The price is right 

John Price said a fairly typical customer in his Price Hardware True Value store used to stop in for a PVC elbow or similar pipe fitting and be gone in about 10 minutes. Today, that customer is apt to grab a shopping cart, stroll through the aisles and purchase several items.

Indeed, much has changed at Atlanta, Texas-based Price True Value, the 2011 Tools of the Trade Award winner. True to its roots, Price will always be the hardware store where loyal customers can shop for a PVC elbow, power tools or leaf blowers. However, the store has evolved to include more female shoppers and, if you’re lucky, you just might catch a whiff of the gourmet coffee beans being grinded or take in the aroma of spicy shrimp Creole pasta.

Price expanded its store in late 2010 through Destination True Value, a format that allows independent retailers to adapt their layout and custom-select merchandise assortments that are relevant to their local market. “We worked on our floor plan for six to eight months,” John said, noting that the store did not close for a single day. “It was tough to get through it but was well worth it in the end,” he said.

The new layout features wider aisles, a cleaner merchandise look, fluorescent and accent lighting, new colors and flooring. “The lighting makes a huge difference,” John said. “[True Value] wanted us to improve the lighting, but how we did it was really up to us.”

A Woman’s Touch

Price was skeptical when his wife Carol suggested they expand their repertoire to include housewares, cooking utensils and bridal gifts. John thought the categories would yield little gross margin benefit.

So Carol took John shopping. She had seen a store with a cooking area and a bridal registry and suggested that could work at Price True Value. Six years ago this month, Price True Value created a 900-sq.-ft. space for cooking classes and bridal registry. “I never regretted it,” she said. She named her little nook “the Kitchenette.” 

In Atlanta, Texas, and surrounding areas, folks love to cook, so Carol brought in chefs — “maybe not on the scale that you would see with Rachael Ray or Paula Deen on the Food Network — but good chefs,” she said. “I do a lot of research on them. I want to make sure they are good teachers.” The store hosts one cooking class a month, and it usually fills within two days.

“It has been very successful, and we have drawn in the women,” she said.

So much so that John Price moved the paint department next to Kitchenette. Soon women were attending the cooking classes, buying the hard-to-find utensils they carry, and also purchased paint and supplies while they were there.

The sales figures for both the cooking department and paint are up considerably, John said. “They complement each other,” he said. 

The bridal registry is another big hit. The store has hosted wedding showers for brides, “Couples Showers” and even “Honey Do” showers for the grooms. Carol offers free gift-wrapping and uses a specialty wrapping paper that customers love.

Between 20% and 30% of the store’s business is in the Kitchenette bridal registry departments. In the fourth quarter of 2010, Kitchenette was the No. 2 category at Price True Value.

Those attending the cooking class, which generally runs two to two-and-a-half hours, get store discounts on Kitchenette items sold at the store. Often they buy the cooking utensils used in the class.

“She has items in her department that you won’t find anywhere,” John said. “It takes a real passion to do what Carol does, and my wife has that.”

Carol Price said the cooking classes are not just good for business — they are good for the community. “The chef this week was from Atlanta, Ga. He said, ‘Y’all are doing a service for the community by having these classes.’”

The store’s balancing act is its secret.

“My kitchen store wouldn’t make it on its own,” Carol said. “Without the hardware store it wouldn’t be nearly as successful. The hardware enhances my department.”