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The art of the upsell helps as Hartville Hardware GROWS

Customers value useful info

From left, Jun PenaflorFrom left, Jun Penaflor, Steve McMillan and Howard Miller, the braintrust of the Hartville Hardware outdoor living department.
A man walks into Hartville Hardware. Like most customers, he's a regular and knows where to go for the grill supplies he needs. He bought his grill there, and now he wants a new cover for his Weber gas grill.
     Steve McMillan, the manager of Hartville's outdoor living department, greets the man and leads him to the corner of the room filled with Weber grills and accessories. It may not be the case, but the two racks of accessories appear to hold about every single accoutrement Weber has ever made. Soon, McMillan and the man get to talking.
     "That kind of thing happens all the time," McMillan said later. "Customers walk in here for something specific for their grill and end up leaving with more than that."
     McMillan and the man discuss grills as they inspect a row of shiny silver Weber models with price points climbing into the thousands.
     "Right now, we're seeing a trend toward grills that are $800 and up," McMillan said. "We sell Weber exclusively, and the smallest Weber we have is $399. We still sell a good number of the $1,400 to $1,600 grills. People are not shying away from those."
     Eventually, McMillan finds himself pushing a cart practically spilling over with accessories and hickory charcoal the customer has tossed into the basket. As they head toward the checkout aisle, they're still talking. McMillan not only sold the man more than he originally intended to buy, he also had given him ideas about upgrading his grill and patio. He vowed to be back with his wife.
GROWS      Nearby, in a tight space devoted to outdoor furniture, Jun Penaflor is doing the same thing with a couple looking at dining sets. Hartville carries NorthCape International (formerly known as Chicago Wicker), as well as Telescope Casual, Alfresco Home and Kettler, a relatively new line for the store. By design, the price points are all over the place.
     "We try not to get in the habit of saying the farther you go It works. The couple's intent to spend several hundred dollars on a set changes when Peneflor shows them why a Telescope set costs more. He emphasizes durability.
"Our customers want useful and no hassle from their furniture," said McMillan. "We don't have a lot of cushioned sets for that reason."
      The couple purchases the Telescope set.
     These two examples illustrate why, despite being a small fraction of Hartville Hardware's overall business, president Howard Miller said outdoor living is crucial. Overall, the retailer's sales were down last year thanks largely to northern Ohio's sluggish economy and equally comatose construction business. Sales of outdoor living products, however, increased by about 4%. Miller is hoping for even bigger things from the outdoor living niche as Hartville prepares for what may be its most ambitious endeavor in its 38-year history.

The Big Move
     At around 9 a.m., Ohio Highway 619 begins to clog with cars heading east from I-77 toward Hartville. The town, sandwiched between Canton and Akron, is a destination for bargain hunters. Every weekend, they flock to Hartville Marketplace, a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility with more than 110 shops and a 20-acre flea market behind it. When they're done shopping, they either walk or drive to Hartville Kitchen, a massive home-style restaurant located in front of the marketplace.

The store sellsThe store sells Weber grills at a full range of price points. Last summer, grills in the $800 to $900 price range were the strongest performers.

     Everything is owned and run by the Miller family. Miller's father, Howard Sr., grew the family business from his own father's livestock auction started in 1939 into a major operation that now includes Hartville Collectibles, Hartville Kitchen Salad Dressing, Top Advantage Surfaces and Hartville Tool. The Millers are synonymous with Hartville, and people drive from all over for the Hartville experience.
     Shortly after Howard Sr., died in 2000, his son noticed something about the hardware store. Even though it's less than a mile down the road, the store didn't attract many of the people who came for the Marketplace and restaurant.
     "Right now, about 70 percent of the traffic in the Marketplace doesn't come to the hardware store," he said. So this summer, the Miller family broke ground on a new store that will be directly across the street from Hartville Kitchen.
"If anything, our biggest concern is having too much traffic," Miller said. "Everything will be in one 40-acre area."
     The new store is set to open in 2011.
     "This is our 38th year, and I feel if we want to be in business for another 30 years it's time to prepare for the future," Miller said. "Construction prices are as low as they're going to be. We feel this is the optimal time to do this."
McMillan crossMcMillan cross merchandises products with accessories and mixes price points to allow his staff a chance to upsell customers who may be targeting a specific range of furniture.
     Surprisingly, the outdoor living department won't get a much larger footprint than the 5,700 square feet it has now. But McMillan will be given more exclusivity. Lawn care chemicals, which currently populate the back of the outdoor living space, will be located elsewhere. An adjacent greenhouse area will be converted into retail space when needed.
      "[Outdoor living] is one of our key areas we want to make a statement in at the new store," Miller said. "It sets us apart from the chain retailers and brings in the female shopper."
     As always, Miller will rely on McMillan to make that statement. Miller allows department managers to run their own sections. McMillan, for instance, makes all the purchasing and merchandising decisions in outdoor living. He and Penaflor make the annual trek to the Casual Market in September, and McMillan said the autonomy allows him to try new things and make quick, on-the-spot decisions.
     "I think that's one of our keys to success," Miller said. "I think it also helps that the buyers are on the floor with the product instead of off in a corporate office somewhere."
     The balance sheets don't lie. But the signs of success are even more apparent on the floor, where McMillan and Penaflor work the room and sell their customers on products that may be more expensive than initially expected, but also improve their outdoor living experiences. Overloaded shopping carts don't lie, either.

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