Tools to shoes, Hacketts has it covered

At a time when small department stores are losing ground to mass competition, the Hacketts chain of 40,000-plus-square-foot stores in northern New York is in full expansion mode. With departments including clothing, sporting goods, bed and bath, giftware and gourmet foods, the Ogdensburg, N.Y.-based company just opened its seventh store and is in the midst of preparing for three more grand openings in the near future.

But then Hacketts has a bit of an edge—or difference—in the marketplace. Several of the stores have full-line True Value Hardware departments with traditional hardware, tools, plumbing, paint and electrical categories.

“A lot of small, independent hardware stores are pretty much run by a handful of people, and it’s really difficult to be open seven days a week like we are—and nights,” said fifth generation owner and vp-merchandising Julie Hackett Cliff. “Because of the size of our staff, we are able to keep up with the big-box stores, which I think is a competitive advantage.”

The hardware connection goes back almost to the roots of Hackett’s. The business opened in 1830 as a ship chandlery in Ogdensburg, which was then a busy shipping port along the St. Lawrence River. Over time, Hacketts became a foundry, then a tinsmithing service, always carrying a certain portion of hardware-related goods. In the late 1950s, when a seaway development channeled out the St. Lawrence, Hacketts went full-fledged into hardware. The following decade, the company relocated to a new 16,000-square-foot store, which was doubled in size in 1982 and now has 40,000 square feet of retail space.

Hacketts joined the True Value co-op in 1969 in order to be more competitive in areas like housewares, lawn and garden and other seasonal items. “At the time, True Value had a division called VNS, which had health and beauty aids, crafts, fabrics and some clothing, and it was that association with True Value that got us to expand into clothing and gifts,” said Hackett Cliff.

As Hacketts continued to evolve into a department store in the 1990s, the company hired former Sears exec Norman Garrelts to help gain an edge on the burgeoning Walmart franchise. “When Walmart came to town, we lost $1 million in sales,” said Garrelts, who came on board as CEO in 1995. “So we began to offer more upscale brands, and not only did we get our million bucks back, we probably gained a million in sales.”

In 2000, Hacketts decided to expand to some outlying towns, opening 5,000-square-foot stores in Canton and Massena. In 2003, the company opened a 41,000-square-foot store in Potsdam, and two years later another full-line store in Watertown. Shortly there after, Hacketts merged with WiseBuys, a New York discount chain that was struggling in the retail business, and has since remodeled old WiseBuys stores in Sackets Harbor and Gouverneur.

The hardware departments in the full-line stores range from 10,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet and carry both True Value brands and national brands. Categories include housewares, lawn and garden, paint, plumbing, electrical, large and small appliances, patio shops, Christmas shops and Carhartt clothing.

Garrelts admits there are some downsides to having a hardware business within a department store, saying, “A lot of times, the small contractor or even a DIYer may like the purity of a traditional hardware setting, and they may not want to deal with getting in the same checkout line as a gal who’s buying a pair of shoes or a new dress.”

But there are definite advantages as well. During the Christmas shopping season, a person may come in to buy a tree and ornaments and also pick up batteries, extension cords and a power tool for dad. “All of a sudden, their basket is full, and they’re checking out,” Garrelts said. “If you were just a hardware store, you wouldn’t be able to do that. And conversely, if you were a clothing store, you would not get all the additional items they bought in the hardware department.”

In addition to the converted WiseBuys stores (three more are being reworked in Pulaski, Hamilton and Tupper Lake), Garrelts says his company is looking at other opportunities to expand, adding, “I don’t know how far we’ll go, but as long as there’s a desire and the availability of funds to grow, the intent is we want to see the company get bigger.”