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Ask Steve Henley

Steve Henley is the leader in EAL’s executive management where he holds 30+ years of experience in the retail hardware industry. We sat down with Steve to discuss burning questions facing retail marketing in the hardware industry and where it’s going.

“Telling the customer what they need is probably the biggest downfall in the last 50 years.”

Do you believe in the “retail apocalypse”?
“No, I think rename it as the retail transformation.” If you look back, many people thought Home Depot was going to run all other hardware stores out of business. Fast-forward to today and we see many local hardware stores that are successful because they focus on their customers and community. Retail will be different and the key to transforming is listening to the customers’ needs. It’s up to retailers and store owners to see the changes and meet those needs of the customer. “Telling the customer what they need is probably the biggest downfall in the last 50 years.”

Where do you see in-store retail going?
“It will become less general and more niche marketed.” Department stores are trying to be everything to everyone. If your hardware store is located near a beach, then carry some beach items. If many houses in the area were built with a certain door knob model, keep that model in-stock and available. It may seem detailed, but that is the point, it’s targeted to the customer. Because hardware stores are independent, they have more flexibility with the products they want to stock so it’s important to stock products that make sense. 

Besides keeping targeted items in stock, make sure to invest in these aspects of your business: 

  • Knowledgeable employees
  • In-stock
  • Well lit & well maintained

Keep these aspects in mind otherwise you’ll never win.

How do companies grow both instore and online?
Understand what the customers want. There are some products that do well in store than online and vice versa. Make those items available and have a pricing strategy. Don’t let either segment destroy your margin due to poor pricing because you did not plan for in-store and online commerce.

What marketing advice is underrated in today’s culture?
Understanding consumer behavior. Understanding the shopper is not broadly used enough in the hardware market. “CPG companies understand consumer behavior in specific channels of trade such as grocery, but those same analytics in consumer insights are not broadly understood in the hardware channel.” Therefore, we are heavily investing in that platform at EAL.

Who is someone you look up to when it comes to business success, and why?
In my career, I had a couple of mentors that helped format the way I think about business. These people put the customers’ needs in front of anything else in the business. The successful mentors I looked up to put consumer behavior and product innovation before financial results in their business and that stuck with me. “If you don’t listen, nothing else matters.”

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