Hardware Retailing

APR 2018

Hardware Retailing magazine is the pre-eminent how-to management magazine for small business owners and managers in the home improvement retailing industry.

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HARDWARE RETAILING | April 2018 78 Thinking Bigger When deciding on selection for their rental departments, both Cottin and Kuball considered their immediate neighborhoods and the needs of their customers to determine the best mix of rental products. For Cottin's Hardware & Rental, the strong market in lawn and garden products combined with a seasonal customer base of college students makes items like lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and edgers go-to items a renter might need just a few times. Outside of lawn care items, small contractors consistently look to the rental department for access to tools like tile saws, gas saws, demo hammers and jackhammers. Kuball went all-in for his DIY customers, renting items like pressure washers and dehumidifiers all the way up to Kasson Hardware Hank's largest purchase to date: A motorized, four-wheeled compact utility loader that can accommodate a variety of attachments, such as an auger, a front- load bucket or cargo forks. He says the loader is the largest piece of equipment he is comfortable renting to customers, but it has provided a much-needed level of convenience for local contractors. "This utility loader was a large investment, and we're hoping it pays for itself in three years," Kuball says, adding that the nearest comparable rental loader is in Rochester, Minnesota, about 16 miles away. Don't be afraid to branch out beyond hardware comforts when customers ask for them. Both retailers moved into party supplies when their markets showed interest, from basic items like tables, chairs and tablecloths to popcorn machines, cotton candy makers and bounce houses. Cottin's Hardware & Rental added its largest rental item, scaffolding, when contractors asked if it was available. Similarly, when a local school that utilized its party materials asked if the business could provide a commercial flat-top griddle for rent, the store responded. "The school works with us a lot for their events, and they said they would rent this griddle every year if they could get one," Cottin says. "It's about listening to what people want and deciding if you can get a return on it." Service With a Smile A large variety of products for rent won't guarantee a strong rental following if they're not in optimum working condition. Enough return trips to the store and customers will quickly consider a business as not worth the trouble. To prevent problems and unhappy customers, both Cottin's Hardware & Rental and Kasson Hardware Hank put great emphasis on servicing rental equipment as well as evaluating product wear and tear. However, they do go about their servicing needs in different ways. Kasson Hardware Hank established a strong relationship with Earl's Small Engine Repair, a business that has a dedicated repair service department. Kuball has employees who are handy and able to fix most small issues, he says, but if needed, he can work with Earl's to quickly get an item back into rental shape. In exchange, Earl's will often display a small engine product near the entrance of Kasson Hardware Hank, offering advertising as well as another location where a sale can be made. Kuball opted against a more dedicated service department at his store for several reasons, including overall store appearance and the difficulty in retaining trained mechanics. Cottin's Hardware & Rental, however, was able to find such a mechanic, and thus has opened up an ancillary service for its customers: small engine repair. On top of servicing its own rental products after each use, Cottin's Hardware & Rental invites customers to bring their own mowers and trimmers in for yearly tuneups and repairs. "It's all about trust, and we got lucky to find someone who understands profits, time versus expense, and whether repairs are worth exploring," Cottin says. "If a repair isn't worth the money, that could transfer to a sale, but only if people trust your employees. If you do a good job, that builds a positive experience." Rental offers opportunities for add-on sales. Some projects require more than just a power tool, and a retailer prepared for all needs can find success.

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