Innovating locally in a global economy


shoppingcart.jpgI spent the day yesterday with management executives and store owners of DoItBest, one of the largest US hardware retailers. It’s a fascinating organization, because in the midst of the current economic challenges in the US, it’s managed to grow its profit at the same time that it saw a dramatic revenue decline.

As with all the keynotes that I do, I undertook an extensive amount of research into the company and industry before I took to the stage; this is combined with the fact that I have keynoted dozens of retail oriented conferences through the years.

What I found was a really cool, and extremely innovative organization. Their online Web site has seen a sales increase of 60%; they’ve included an option where shoppers can have orders sent to their local DoItBest store (of which there are 4,000+). The site is price competitive with Target and Amazon. They are doing a lot in terms of supply-chain, online store portals and rebates. They’ve rolled out three different store designs, and are discovering new micro-markets. All this, while they’ve seen sales fall to $2.81 billion from $3 billion from the year before — and yet, they also achieved record profitability.

In my mind, there are a number of innovative strategies that the organization has pursued that any organization can learn from:

  • rapidly transition challenged product lines: lumber saw price declines of 25%, and panel prices dropped 60% according to an article in Home Channel News. Do It Best stores responded by focusing on all kinds of other lines in hardware and new market opportunities such as home-decord
  • be relentless on customer service: a search of news articles shows any number of articles in which customers rave about the knowledge that a staff member in a Do It Best store has when it comes to hardware, tools, home renovation and just about everything else. They’ve maintained a relentless focus on customer service, even as the big-box chains have lost site of its importance. If you need a power tool: these folks know power tools.
  • recognize that micro-branding works: the new store format design has three components: one for those fully within the DoItBest brand, one that is sort of halfway, and one for those stores that want to maintain a distinct, local, “general store” type of image. The fact is, in this era of homogenized big-box brands, some folks like the feeling they get from a small, local hardware store brand. “Do It Best owners understand the micro-economy” — that’s what Jeff Prupis, of Pomona Paint & Hardware, a Do It Best store in Pomona, NY, stated in another Home Channel News article.
  • when markets commoditize, specialize: at their trade show yesterday, they were featuring a “Christmas in January” theme; with various vendors showing the unique Christmas offerings they might be thinking about. Everywhere you look, you can see some of their stores learning about and experimenting with new premium markets and service opportunities.
  • make life easy for customers: We’re time compressed. We’re in a hurry. We need solutions. We want “fast.” That’s why the comment from Joe Talor, CEO, Taylor’s Do It Center, Virginia Beach, is so appropriate. “We’re like the 7-11 of the hardware industry. You can get in, get out, and get back home to enjoy your weekend.”

I was there to help take them to the next level, with a keynote theme, “Creating the Future: Leadership in An Era of Innovation and Change.” In the talk, I looked at additional ideas that they might pursue to stay on the leading edge.

All in all, a tremendous amount of fun, and a wonderful organization to spend some time with!


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