Steve McCants has been in the construction industry for a number of years, doing grading and site work. His most recent site work is his most ambitious project yet.
McCants, his wife Gail and her sister Pam Ward entered the retail arena by opening Fort Mitchell Trading Post and Hardware in Fort Mitchell, Ala. The store, which opened December 15, meets a big need in a community that lacked a hardware store.
“We purchased the building and didn’t know what to do with it. We considered the needs of the community and decided to go with a hardware store,” says Gail. “Since Steve has a construction company, the hardware business was a natural for him.”
The store has been an immediate hit with a community that is filled with many military families stationed there for Fort Benning. There is a small feed and seed store in town, but no major competition.
“They definitely needed a hardware store in the area, so people don’t have to drive a long distance to buy hardware products,” explains Greg Colburn, their House-Hasson sales rep. “The military is big around here, but it’s also very rural.”
“We’re trying to build a hometown hardware business that meets all the needs of the community,” says Steve. “I’d say we’re off to a good start, with lots of great feedback from customers.”
The business is doing so well that they already have plans to double the size beginning in June. By knocking out one wall and expanding out, they will end up with an 11,000-square-foot sales floor plus outside storage and selling space. They are also building a pole barn to store treated lumber.
Steve credits their initial success to all the assistance they have received from House-Hasson. “It’s been great working with House-Hasson. They are very responsive to all our needs. It’s obvious they care about us and about our success,” he says.
Getting a new store up and running is time-consuming and stressful, but Steve says House-Hasson did a masterful job of knowing what to do at the right time during the seven to eight months it took to open the store. “They did a great job keeping us on budget and sharing demographics of the area so we could make informed decisions,” he points out.
They had been selling a few hardware products in a convenience store they also operate, according to Gail, and that is how they started buying from Long-Lewis. When Long-Lewis was acquired by House-Hasson last year they made the switch, too.
“Everyone at House-Hasson has been very helpful. It really helps us with our learning curve, since we’re new to retail,” says Steve. “The key thing is to listen to the pros, because the folks at House-Hasson obviously have all the expertise.”
Explains Colburn, “Since Steve was new to retail, we’ve helped show him the ropes as a retailer. We checked all their prices, so we knew they were on the money with their retails,” he says, adding that Business Development Manager Jamey Merritt was very instrumental in helping the store get up and running.
“We love everything about doing business with House-Hasson. Our rep, Greg, has been great to work with, and everyone we’ve worked with from Dave Helfenberger and Rick Parker to Jamey Merritt. John Sullivan came in and did the floor plan,” says Gail. “The store set crew came in and set up all the shelves. Jamey helped us with pricing. They’ve taken care of all our needs. It was a joint effort.”
They did some initial flyers through House-Hasson and a grand opening flyer. “We had great success with a direct mail campaign,” says Ward, who adds they are also using word of mouth and the store’s Facebook page to connect with customers. “On our Facebook page we’ll post specials, announce when plants come in and new items that have arrived,” she adds.
They have tried to carry unique items and spotlight regional or local products, according to Gail. Niches include pool chemicals, feed, lumber, bulk propane and U-Haul truck and trailer rental, which is handy for all the military families in the area.
“So many customers come in and just browse and are surprised by all that we carry,” says Ward.
Steve and Gail attended their first market this past October, and they say that was an eye-opening experience. “We learned a lot at the market such as how to buy and where the deals are. House-Hasson has people there to walk us through everything and take us to the right booths,” says Steve.
A grand opening was held April 16 and was a big success. “The turnout and vendor support was real good,” says Colburn. “We had vendors such as Valspar, Imperial Blades and Rust-Oleum there and gave away lots of door prizes.”
Chris Collins set up their website and Facebook page for them, and Gail says those elements will help them keep growing. “E-commerce has not been our focus yet, but we think that will pay off for us down the road,” she says. “We’re excited about what we can do with this store.”