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Hardware’s Softer Side


If there was any one mantra among the True Value executives and consultants involved in a mission to reposition the 4,000-plus unit chain of independent hardware-store operators, it was, “This is not your father’s hardware store.”

To depart from Dad without compromising its rich hardware heritage, Chicago-based True Value focused its efforts on research, flexible ingenuity, and a message, assortment and design directed toward a newly emerged female customer base.

“Research suggests that the female shopper is becoming more and more a decision-maker in home-improvement projects. Exclusive of the contractor customer, nearly half of True Value’s shoppers are women,” said Mark Flowers, VP of retail growth for True Value, one of the world’s largest retailer-owned wholesale hardware cooperatives, with annual sales of more than $2 billion.

Additional research showed that, while the female customer may do just 50% of the shopping, she is involved in 80% of the purchase decisions.

It was this research that propelled True Value toward putting a female-friendlier face on the chain, one the company has coined “Destination True Value.”

True Value retained Big Red Rooster, of Columbus, Ohio, to help the chain rethink its in-store layouts, materials and merchandise categories, as well as reposition its private-label brand architecture, marketing collaterals and in-store communications.

Merchandise more aligned with women: According to Beth Dorsey, VP, retail, for Big Red Rooster, the process for repositioning True Value started by asking, and answering, “How do you rethink a department? We looked at the three core departments—hardware, outdoor living and paint—and realized the assortments and the delivery would have to change,” Dorsey said.

In plumbing, faucets and fixtures that typically attract women were played up; in electrical, light fixtures were highlighted. Outdoor living was expanded substantially to include more than grills and patio furniture; the Destination True Value assortment includes fountains and other water features, exterior wall hangings, and outdoor decor items.

Female-friendly displays and signing: Because women were found to be more discriminating shoppers than men, the True Value-Big Red Rooster team set out to dial up the aesthetics for each department, while not alienating the still-important male shoppers. Vignettes, upgraded and flexible fixturing, and tactical informational and wayfinding signage formed the foundation for the in-store messaging.

“It was important that couples be able to shop comfortably together,” said Dorsey. The team used strategic adjacencies—placing female-friendly areas such as decorative hardware next to manly products such as nuts and bolts. Sophisticated container and merchandising systems speak to men, while adjacent, stylish departments featuring upgraded flooring and vignettes attract women. Particularly unique is a fixture backdrop system that provides maximum appeal with total flexibility.

“We created what we call ‘skins,’” Dorsey explained, “which are paper finishes applied to existing fixtures.”

The skins are applied over the plain white pegboard typical to True Value, creating “a textural backdrop to the fixture that the product is displayed on,” Dorsey said.

Vignettes, new flooring and skins played a major part in marketing the Outdoor Living department to the female shopper.

In this seasonal area, which is about extending a home’s living space to the outdoors, the firm changed the flooring, set up furniture vignettes that included all of the support products, and added skins and special fixtures to create a micro environment within a department.

In outdoor living, as well as the other highlighted departments, strategic signing was all-important. According to Aaron Spiess, president of Big Red Rooster, the signing is as much informational as it is promotional.

“The shopper needs to digest the appropriate information at the right level,” Spiess explained. “There are a lot of retailers that have visual communications clutter—an overload of language—and our strategy was to edit the clutter for True Value.”

Big Red Rooster helped True Value refine its communications for each category level “to facilitate the purchasing process for the consumer,” Spiess added (see related story).

Getting the word out: Carol Wentworth, VP of marketing for True Value, is leading the charge to alert True Value’s current and future customers that a new experience awaits them.

“We have developed a complete multimedia grand-opening marketing campaign, two weeks in length, that will be implemented as each remodeled or new store is ready to host a grand opening in its marketplace,” she said. “The campaign features our slogan of ‘True Value: Start right. Start here,’ because a major goal is to get customers to shop True Value first, but the campaign also incorporates this new approach: ‘Come experience a whole new hardware store.’”

The new campaign is slated to debut in April, and will feature an oversized, four-page advertising vehicle with various traffic-driving offers, as well as radio commercials, banners, events, a significant loyalty-card push and more.

“Each market is different,” Wentworth explained, “and the campaign is designed to flex and bend with each.”

True Value operators were introduced to Destination True Value last October, when a 13,000-sq.-ft. prototype store was transported by tractor-trailer to Atlanta for the chain’s fall market. The fully stocked store, without registers, gave attending operators the opportunity to see firsthand the redesigned paint department, broader selection of kitchen and bath decorative hardware, directional signage package, upgraded fixturing, and eye-catching vignettes merchandising seasonal and expanded selections. Augmented by pre-tour and post-tour videos to explain the motivation for repositioning and provide full adoption details, the unveiling of the store was enthusiastically received by True Value’s membership of independent operators.

“We collected surveys from most of the 1,200 members who toured the new store, and over 60% indicated a desire to implement Destination True Value in some form or fashion,” True Value VP Flowers said. Adoption may include incorporating Destination True Value through a modular expansion to an existing store, completing a full remodel or building out an entirely new store.

“The plan is to open about 30 new stores in 2008, each including Destination True Value both from an environment and product-assortment standpoint,” Flowers said, “and we plan to expand another 20 stores and implement partial or full remodels of 150 existing stores—all in 2008.”

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