Consumers shopping for the right look

Paint is one of the top-selling departments at most hardware/home improvement stores

But that doesn’t mean retailers can take the sales for granted. Becoming a destination store for paint and decor products involves presenting a visual look that entices customers, backed up by employees who know how to sell the customers everything they need for the project.

A strong paint department has enabled Grassy Creek Hardware in Spruce Pine, N.C., to attract male and female customers, both professionals and do-it-yourselfers, according to co-owner Dean Pittman. Female customers are especially attracted to hands-on displays such as the standalone merchandiser they have featuring paint color samples. “Women really like to take those home and test them out before they decide what color they want,” he says.

Carrying a broad selection of quality products is important when it comes to selling paint and decor products, Pittman says, but service is still the main ingredient for success. “Quality service–that’s our strongest niche,” he says. “You have to instill people with confidence that their project will turn out right.”

Having knowledgeable female employees goes a long way toward connecting with female paint shoppers, according to Bruce Reid, who owns Portland Builders Supply in Portland, Tenn. “You need friendly, well-trained female counter people for female shoppers to feel comfortable,” he says. “When women come into shop–say for a paint color–they want to be able to ask for another woman’s opinion.”

With about two-thirds of the customers using house charge accounts at Cox Hardware & Lumber in Houston, Owner Virgil Cox knows he has to meet the needs of a customer base that is skewed toward commercial/industrial business. “My competition is not the big boxes as much as it’s the industrial supply houses,” he says. “The C/I customer is actually easier to sell as long as your counter people are knowledgeable, because these customers know what they want.”

Cox does a brisk business in industrial coatings and solvents, with an entire wall devoted to in-stock inventory. “When a C/I customer needs 36 gallons of paint, 12 gallons won’t do–you lose the job. We have to be vigilant about carrying a large inventory of these products,” he says.

Cox Hardware carries products such as heat-resistant paint, traffic and cement marking paint, industrial paint in OSHA-approved colors, industrial primers, abrasive sheets, discs and belts, in addition to the typical paint and paint sundry items. With an online store featuring 35,000 SKUs and a massive print catalog to cater to commercial and professional customers, Cox has all the bases covered. He has even shipped as far away as South America and Uzbeckistan.

Signage is bilingual throughout the store

Since Cox Hardware is located in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood, and many of the store’s employees are bilingual as well. “That’s just a basic way to ensure our Hispanic customers feel comfortable when they’re interacting with us,” Cox says.

Linda Day, a 56-year-old single homeowner in an urban market, had an independent retailer mix her a single gallon of paint, but she left it there for three weeks. When she showed up to get it, several employees searched the paint area and found it for her, making her very pleased and apologetic. “I always try to go to the neighborhood, family-owned businesses and not the chains. I’m working on a painting project, and I come here because of the service. Quality is most important when deciding to make a purchase,” she says.

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