The 1780s was a historic time for America, as it created a government system, and elected its first president, George Washington.
On a smaller scale, the long-running Elwood Adams Hardware Store also opened its door in 1782 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Its bestsellers were clock bells and pinions and in the two centuries that followed, Elwood Adams survived several wars, a depression and recession.
In October 2017, it closed its doors for good – in part due to competition from bigger retailers.
“I think Amazon or the larger big-box stores have probably just been too much to compete against,” manager Ed Augustus told CBS.
A long history wasn’t enough to save Elwood Adams from folding under the might of Amazon, e-commerce, and big-box retailers – but that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost for independent hardware stores.
It’s not all doom and gloom for hardware retailers
According to CNBC, financial services group UBS found that out of a $4.2 trillion retail industry, 13 percent (a cool $475 billion) of sales are taking place online. In a sea of smartphones, tablets, and laptops, it can be difficult for brick-and-mortar hardware retailers to lure consumers away from their screens and into a physical store.
However, UBS’ findings highlight one very important thing: the customers are there; it’s a matter of finding ways to draw them into your store.
So, what do you need to do to tempt these customers into your hardware store?
1. Give your customers a reason to come back
Finding new customers is important but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your old faithfuls. In fact, gaining a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer – so your current customer base could be your most important asset.
Make sure you keep your social media accounts updated with information about what’s going on in your store. Are you running an event or workshop that’s relevant to your customers? Do you have a new product in-stock? Spread the word both online and off: put up posters or hand out flyers of any events you’re running.
Create a mailing list and use it to reach out to your customers on a personal level. Use an engaging subject line (promotional content always goes down a treat) and ensure that every piece of marketing material exists to prompt a next step.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to local press with an interesting idea or pitch. They may not follow through, but they might if the angle is right – and you could find yourself in the local paper. No one is going to generate your PR for you!
Same goes for events or workshops, or sponsorship opportunities. For example, if your hardware store has a garden section, you can host indoor gardening workshops, or you can showcase your DIY stock with an interactive workshop for local DIY enthusiasts. To encourage them to buy something, you can even offer a discount or coupon for customers who come to your events.
2. Create a web presence
Sure, customers are still purchasing products in-store – but they’re often researching them online first. While starting an e-commerce version of your shop might be out of the question (shipping and investing in a platform can be expensive), that doesn’t mean you should ignore having an online presence.
If an e-commerce arm is out of the question, consider social media advertising or getting your stone online with a live inventory or product listing.
3. Create enticing window displays to lure passing shoppers into your store
While no one is expecting their local hardware store to be overly fancy, your window display still presents a solid opportunity to catch a potential costumer’s eye. Don’t be afraid to be bold or creative.
Designer brand Kate Spade teamed up with eBay to create a vivid yellow storefront and window that was impossible to miss.
Likewise, Cole Hardware in San Francisco utilized bright colors to make its window pop. Ultimately, an attractive window display will invite people in, instill curiosity and encourage impulse sales.
4. Make sure your staff are experts (and also that they’re happy)
The one big advantage a great independent retailer has over a big-box retailer is its knowledge. You know your industry inside out and your staff should too. As much as it’s key that your staff are well-trained in all things hardware retail, it’s also important for them to be happy.
Happy employees = happy customers.
The benefits are twofold: happy employees want to come to work; they’re willing to work harder and are more productive. Your dollar goes further. Happy employees also make for a better experience for your customers.
We’ve all been in a store where the staff serving us seemed to hate everyone and everything. Maybe they were having a bad day – but their rudeness will mean that you’re unlikely to make a return visit to the store. A bad experience can leave a sour taste in your mouth and completely change a customer’s opinion of your business.
5. Get to know your customers
One major advantage that brick-and-mortar hardware stores have over online retailers is their ability to build personal relationships with their customers. Little touches like remembering people’s names and giving helpful recommendations on purchases will make your customers feel valued and encourage repeat visits.
6. Offer extra services
Consider adding services like key cutting and repairs for your customers. By providing high quality services you’ll boost the overall reputation of your store and encourage people to visit more often for other hardware needs.
7. Get found on Google
Consumers have two major driving points for shopping online: convenience and price. Big-box retailers and e-commerce giants like Amazon can purchase large numbers of products from wholesalers and sell them at a cut below you.
They’re also accessible anytime, anywhere. To make a purchase, all a customer needs is the cell phone in their pocket.
It should be simple: they search for something you have in your store. Your store should come up in the search results. However, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.
For most hardware stores, even if someone 50 yards away is searching for a product they have in stock, the search results look like this:
Which, understandably, is a problem for your store. So, what should you do about it? You have several options to get your business found online:
- Invest in an online store/e-commerce platform and start selling online. Web design agency, OuterBox, cites that an e-commerce website project can range from $10,000 to $500,000 – pricey!
- Pay to sell through Amazon’s Marketplace. The initial monthly fee is $39.99, but it quickly grows if you need to factor in packing, shipping, customer service, and general order fulfilment. Not ideal.
- Invest in paid advertising. You have several options here, from Google to Facebook. There are no hard and fast rules, though Facebook has a daily limit of $1 – which might be fine if you have a reasonably small inventory, but for most hardware stores, the cost will quickly escalate. As for Google, keywords like “hardware store near me” will cost upwards of $4, while an ad targeting an adjustable wrench could cost upwards of $12 – and that’s for a single bid. Now consider that for your entire inventory. Yikes!
- Use a device like Pointy to get your entire in-store product inventory online. The device connects to your POS and creates a Pointy page where all your products will appear. This means that, for local searches, the results will look more like this:
This ensures that people who are searching for your products nearby can find them, and drives them directly to your store from these searches. In short: they make a search and you have the potential to make a sale.
If you’re a Clover, Lightspeed, Vend, or Square user it’s free as all you need to do is download the app here:
If you’ve got another POS, you’ll need a Pointy box which connects with your POS and barcode scanner. You can find out more here.
Weigh up the costs and the Pointy box could be your secret weapon for going toe-to-toe with Amazon and retailers like it. If you think it could help your hardware store, why not book a demo for a time that suits you to find out how Pointy could help your store?