Denver (September 13th, 2019) – A willingness to change with the times and a deep commitment to their customers are two qualities retailers must have if they are going to succeed. They are also just a couple of the reasons Denver-based PRO Group Inc. is honoring three home improvement businesses this year with its annual awards.
PRO Group awarded its 2019 Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award, named after PRO Hardware founder Paul L. Cosgrave, to Middleburgh PRO Hardware. Additionally, Kentucky Mine Supply PRO Hardware received recognition as a 2019 Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award Finalist. Each retailer was chosen based on their business accomplishments and upholding the principles and ideals of effective hardware retailing.
Both companies, along with Grandview Lumber & PRO Hardware were named 2018 PRO Hardware Retailers of the Year.
“These three companies represent the best of PRO retailers,” says Shari Kalbach, vice president at PRO Group. “To select the winners, we consider sales, operations, management, merchandising, support of PRO programs and more. In all cases, these retailers truly stand out as top performers. We are pleased to honor them this year.”
Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award Winner
Middleburgh PRO Hardware
Middleburgh, New York
In 2018, Middleburgh PRO Hardware received its town’s Business of the Year award, an honor giving tribute to a business that has an extraordinary history of giving back to their community. Owners Rich and Heather Vilegi have never faltered in giving back to Middleburgh, New York, even after a flood inundated the town and their store eight years ago. At the same time, they’ve continued to make improvements to their business, creating more value for their customers and investing in the future of the local economy.
This year, they received another award. PRO Group named Middleburgh PRO Hardware its 2019 National Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award Winner, an award presented annually to a PRO Hardware retailer based on their commitment to the principles and ideals of effective retailing. Middleburgh is also the 2018 PRO Hardware Retailer of the Year for The Bostwick-Braun Co. based in Toledo, Ohio.
“Rich and Heather fully understand the importance of keeping their store relevant to their community,” says Jerry Clasey, president of the hardware business unit at The Bostwick-Braun Co. “Beyond the constant marketing of their store, they are continually looking for more ways to serve the needs of their community. New ideas, new products, new services and more keep Middleburgh Hardware growing!”
A second-generation retailer, Rich purchased the hardware store from his parents in 2003. Having grown up in the business meant he was well-acquainted with the demands of running a retail operation, but a big test of his mettle came in August 2011. Hurricane Irene sent heavy rainfall inland, flooding many small towns, including Middleburgh. The surge of floodwater reached 3-feet, damaging businesses on the town’s main street, including the hardware store.
As the Vilegis and their employees worked to clean up the mess in their store, they kept the business open. Area residents desperately needed generators, water heaters and other supplies in the wake of the disaster. During those first few days after the flood when the power was out, Rich sold a lot of merchandise on credit, trusting people would pay him later. He arranged for extra orders from Bostwick-Braun. He even used a trailer as a temporary salesfloor while his own was being restored. The store never closed during and after the flood.
The ordeal brought the town closer together, and it’s a spirit the Vilegis continue to foster. They always participate in community events, and have raised thousands of dollars during raffles and other fundraisers that go to benefit local nonprofit organizations, including the local fire department and a youth organization. The store is always a hub of activity. In many ways, it’s the community gathering place.
Vintage Meets Modern
As they were recovering from the flood, the Vilegis did more than just return to the status quo. In the years since, they took gradual steps towards expanding and improving the business.
One of the unique features of the store is its old-fashioned charm. The wooden floors (which managed to survive the flood waters) have been there since the store opened in 1888. Scattered throughout the store are antiques, either hanging from the ceiling or serving as merchandisers, such as jars of locally produced honey atop a vintage stove. Upstairs, there’s a 1950s-era Chevy truck with the store’s name emblazoned on the door.
But while they love antiques, the Vilegis are also always looking for ways to bring modern ideas to the store. One indication is how they’ve been gradually resetting the salesfloor to make it easier to shop. Long narrow buildings like that of Middleburgh’s are notoriously difficult to merchandise. Working with their distributor, they created a plan to begin resetting departments to increase product visibility and add endcaps.
“Resetting the store allowed us to bring in new products and let people see more of what we have,” says Heather. “We also increased our shelf space. Whenever we reset an area, that department’s sales will pick up 20 percent or more.”
Earlier this spring, they expanded their lawn and garden department and are planning on adding a convenience selection of lumber.
“We don’t like people having to leave town for their hardware needs,” says Rich. “If we don’t stock something and I hear a customer ask for it a time or two, then it’s automatically stocked and on our shelves.”
That is evident throughout the store, says Kirk Komendat, Bostwick-Braun’s Eastern Regional Sales Manager. “Rich has always been open to new ideas and willing to try new lines he may not have previously stocked,” he says. “He always looks to the future of the store and what he can do next.”
Another recent addition is signage from PRO’s merchandising team.
“The PRO signage definitely makes the aisles more clearly marked,” says Heather. “PRO has helped make our store more shoppable.” Most recently, they’ve started creating a website for the store and are undertaking a digital marketing campaign using tools available to them from the PRO Group, including PRO’s mobile coupons. Rich hopes that will help them connect with a younger generation of shoppers and diversify his customer base.
Middleburgh PRO Hardware will be formally honored at The Bostwick-Braun Company’s 2019 Fall Dealer Market, September 19-21, in Toledo, Ohio.
Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award Finalist
Kentucky Mine Supply PRO Hardware
Change and diversification are key to long-term growth for any company, and that’s true even for a company that for the past 100 years has been focused on one segment of the market.
Since 1917, Kentucky Mine Supply Co. has been selling mining supplies to coalfield operations around Harlan, Kentucky. While the coal business still accounts for the majority of the company’s sales, lately, president and general manager Mark Bushnell has been courting a new customer base. In 2015, he overhauled the salesfloor to be more consumer friendly and has refocused his marketing strategy.
“This has been a process of gradually reinventing ourselves,” Bushnell says. “We are still very active in selling to the mining business, but I knew, with the decline of the coal industry, if we didn’t diversify and reinvent our business, we wouldn’t make it.”
The hard work has been paying off. The company is the recipient of Wallace Hardware’s 2018 PRO Retailer of the Year award, and it is a 2019 Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award Finalist.
“The first year after their remodel showed a 15 percent increase in business and the store has maintained a five percent growth each year, in spite of a continually declining coal industry,” says Richard Snowden, sr. vice president of Wallace Hardware, based in Morristown, Tennessee. “They attribute their success to the six elements of the PRO program and hard work by their team.”
The six PRO Business Principles include identification, store modernization, inventory management, group purchasing power, advertising and value-added services.
Even with the complete turnaround happening inside his store, Bushnell also knew that a comprehensive marketing strategy would be critical to start getting a new set of customers through the door. That’s where he leaned heavily on the PRO Group’s resources. Bushnell has been using their circular advertising program to tell the community around him that he is now DIY friendly. He also runs ads on two area radio stations. Inside the store, he’s used the department and aisle signage from PRO to simplify the shopping experience.
Appealing to a new customer base, particularly the younger generation, he says, has also meant getting the store online. He has been working to create a website and a Facebook page and will start promoting PRO’s mobile coupons.
“PRO has helped me put together a marketing program that includes circulars and statement stuffers, along with posters I can use in the store to promote sale items,” he says. “We pride ourselves on customer service, but know pricing is also important. PRO’s pricing, especially on the circular items, keeps us competitive.”
Kentucky Mine Supply PRO Hardware will be formally honored at the Wallace Hardware 2019 Fall Dealer Market, October 9-11, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
PRO Hardware Retailer of the Year
Grandview Lumber and PRO Hardware
Three years ago, Cliff and Michelle Lewis, owners of Grandview Lumber and PRO Hardware in Grandview, Washington, took a big step forward when they built a new building and multiplied the size of space they have to use. Now, they are expanding their product offering again, this time with a virtual salesfloor. They recently launched a brand-new website for the business, complete with online ordering, giving customers fast access to the thousands of items in their distributor’s warehouse.
Because of Grandview Lumber and PRO Hardware’s ongoing commitment to sales growth and retailing best practices, Horizon Distribution Inc. named the company its 2018 PRO Hardware Retailer of the Year. It is the third time the company has received the award.
“Cliff and his team have showed a willingness to embrace new ideas so they can stay current and relevant to the market,” says Mike Dawson, sales manager at Horizon Distribution, based in Yakima, Washington. “They are very committed to taking care of their current customers while looking for ways to attract new ones.”
Ever since Cliff and Michelle purchased Grandview Lumber in 1991, sales have been strong. As Cliff expanded inventory, the old building became more and more cramped for space. The next logical step was to move the business to a place where there would be room to grow. They found a location to build across town, and in April 2016, Cliff and Michelle welcomed customers to their new building.
“The building has opened up a lot of opportunities for us,” says Cliff. “We are near the highway so customers can get in and out quickly. We’ve expanded many of our product lines and we have plenty of room to expand in the future.”
Cliff also wanted to keep the momentum going. He knew traditional shopping habits were changing. “People like the convenience of being able to place an order on their phone. They want the convenience of shopping wherever they are and having a practically unlimited selection,” he says. He wanted to offer that service to his customers. Fortunately, his distributor had an easy solution.
“Horizon helped us tremendously with our website,” he says. “They helped us build the site and then attached the inventory of their entire warehouse to our page. Customers can browse through many more products than we can carry on our shelves. They can order and have it shipped to our store for pickup.”
Horizon has also helped him monitor his web presence, including enhancing SEO to make sure his website rises to the top when someone in the area searches for hardware and building materials. To further promote his business, Cliff has also started television advertising and has launched a Facebook page for the store.
Since he purchases through Horizon Distribution, Cliff also can tap into the benefits offered by PRO Group, including greater buying power and an additional arsenal of marketing and merchandising tools.
“We find tremendous value in being associated with PRO,” says Cliff. “They give us so many tools to use that if we need help, whether it’s with our merchandising or our margins or anything else, they are willing to help us figure out what will work for us. The relationship I have with both PRO and Horizon is very valuable to our business.”
Grandview Lumber and PRO Hardware will be formally honored at the Horizon Distribution 2019 Fall Dealer Market, September 6-8, in Yakima, Washington.
Vice President, PRO Group, Inc.
PRO Group, Inc. (pro-group.com) is a multidivisional international merchandising and marketing organization with corporate headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Its operating units include PRO Hardware, GardenMaster, FARM MART and GOLDEN-LINK. With 73 distributors operating more than 140 distribution centers serving all 50 states, the Group’s combined sales volume exceeds $6 billion through its member distributors and an alliance with the VAL-TEST Group.