From Wal-Mart to Chas Mar: Chas Mar Home & Garden made itself at home in a vacant Wal-Mart store in Georgia

In 2005, Wal-Mart decided to close a store it had established in Eastman, Ga., in the 1980s and open a Wal-Mart Supercenter just over a mile away. For Charles Warren, opportunity had come knocking.

Warren, whose Chas Mar Home & Garden has been a fixture in this rural community for nearly 30 years, grabbed the chance to move from a 16,000-square-foot building downtown into the 40,000-square-foot vacated space and expand his business.

This was the fourth move for Warren, who—in January 1978 at the age of 18—had opened Farm & Garden Center, a small agricultural supply business that sold feed, seed, fertilizer and a smattering of hardware to the local farming community.

Warren slowly expanded the store over the years, adding lawn and garden in the early 1980s, and full nursery and hardware departments a few years later. He renamed the store Chas Mar Home & Garden in 1989, and added a second location—in McRae, Ga.—in 1990.

When he took over the Wal-Mart building in October 2005, Warren was able to shore up all departments—including plumbing, electrical, hardware, sporting goods, pet supplies and lawn and garden/outdoor living. In addition, Warren was able to expand his outdoor nursery from 2,500 square feet to 8,000 square feet.

With actual retail selling space doubled and inventory expanded a little more than that, Chas Mar’s sales have increased more than 82.4 percent since the new store opened. “We’ve been in four different locations in almost 30 years, and most people know us,” Warren said. “It’s still an agricultural community with about 20,000 people. Our business now caters to the middle and upper-middle income customer.”

Wal-Mart is the only large home improvement retailer to put down stakes in this community—the nearest Home Depot and Lowe’s stores are 40 to 50 miles away. However, Warren says local residents will trek to Savannah, Macon, Columbus and other big cities (none closer than 50 miles) to shop the big boxes. So he is trying to make sure he can cater to almost every home improvement need and plans to expand further into appliances, rental and LBM in the next 12 months.

Plus, Chas Mar is continually trying to improve on service, which Warren says is the big boxes’ Achilles heel. “We have ample parking, are open when people need us to be and provide personal service, especially in hardware, which is difficult to find at chain stores,” he said.

Chas Mar does about 60 percent of its buying from Orgill, the Memphis-based distributor. Warren started his association with Orgill in the early 1990s and says it has allowed him to be price competitive. Plus, he said, Orgill’s offerings well suits his needs, especially since the distributor boosted its farm and ranch assortment this year.

“We like the independence of being able to pick and choose programs,” Warren said. “We do use a lot of their programs, but we have the flexibility to fine tune them to our needs. Plus, we’re not looking to promote a brand name. We’re looking to promote Chas Mar.”