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5 Solutions to Streamline Operations

Plenty of data and anecdotal evidence exists on the benefits of technology for your operation, but retailers may still hesitate because of the investment of time and money tech requires. Fortunately, when it comes to innovation, cutting-edge isn’t the only option; straightforward and simple solutions exist.

To help you take those steps toward streamlining your operation and improving efficiency, Hardware Retailing explores five solutions from fellow retailers who found even the most ordinary processes can produce extraordinary results. These processes, systems and programs have improved how customers shop, allowed employees to spend more meaningful time with customers, revamped human resources processes and provided a higher level of customer engagement.

Efficiency Follows Function: Even without an IT staff, learn the functional changes you can make to improve efficiency at hardwareretailing.com/functional-innovation.

1. Walker Lumber & Supply
Drive-Through Product Pickup

E-commerce and online shopping continue to gain ground, but they aren’t the only way consumers want to shop. The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2023 Retail Sales Forecast shared that brick-and-mortar remains the primary mode of shopping for consumers, accounting for nearly 70% of total retail sales in 2022. Consumers desire the conveniences of online shopping but still want the benefits of a physical store—meaning omnichannel strategies will become more important.

A willingness to be curious and embrace innovation and omnichannel strategies have been key factors in Walker Lumber & Supply’s success in its 74-year history. Owners Ray Hayles and Scott McMillan are constantly looking for ways technology can improve efficiency in their operation, located in Nashville, Tennessee.

easy product access
The drive-through system at Walker Lumber & Supply streamlines processes.

“We have a phrase at Walker Lumber: You always have to evolve or you’re gonna dissolve,” Hayles says. “We can never settle. We have to keep moving forward and embrace change and not be fearful of it. Part of the spirit at Walker Lumber is that we are always thinking about how we can be better.”

One of those evolutions was the operation’s drive-through pickup system. When the store had to close to walk-in customers during the COVID-19 lockdown, Hayles and McMillan moved the company’s point-of-sale (POS) system to iPads and fulfilled orders from the parking lot.

When the store opened up to customers, Hayles says they heard how much customers appreciated the convenience of placing orders over the phone and picking them up at the store.

“Our contractor customers especially appreciated having that time to return emails, make calls and catch up on their business while they waited,” Hayles says. “So we started thinking about how we could evolve and make the pick-up process better.”

With the new-and-improved system, customers can call ahead with their orders and pick them up in the drive-through area, or they can come into the store, place their order and wait for employees to put their order together. Walker Lumber & Supply has taken selling hardware and lumber and added an extra layer of efficiency and friendly service, Hayles says. Now, 20% to 25% of their customers exclusively use the drive-through services.

“That’s our winning recipe: We try to be unique,” Hayles says. “Our mission statement is to serve others with excellence, so we strive to create efficiencies across the board. That’s been our secret sauce—always turning the screw and trying to be more efficient.”

56% of adults prefer to shop both online and in-store.

88% say it’s important for a business to have in-store and online purchase options.
Source: 2022 Consumer Purchase Habits & Hybrid Shopping Reinvent Retail, Momentive

Budgeting for Tech: NHPA’s Foundations of Financial Management teaches key financial management skills, including how to budget for technology. Learn more at YourNHPA.org/foundations.

2. Wilco Stores
Proofreading Software

Ongoing labor issues continue to challenge retailers across all industries, and independent home improvement retailers are feeling the pressure to do more with less, looking for solutions to increase staff productivity.

One way employees at Wilco Stores have freed up time is through the use of proofreading software. Vice president of marketing and e-commerce Jake Wilson says the company has used both Adobe Workfront and Ziflow to proofread any written materials the company puts out, including newsletters, web pages, emails, flyers, brochures and more. Wilco often has several people involved in the proofing process, so the programs have cut down on mistakes and have saved time in the design and approval processes, Wilson says.

wilco stores
At Wilco Stores, the marketing, communications and e-commerce departments utilize Ziflow and other programs to collaboratively develop and proofread written promotional materials.

Wilson says Google Docs or SharePoint in Microsoft 365 are other inexpensive solutions that allow multiple people to review and make changes and comments in one place.

“Use of proofreading programs for us is mostly driven by marketing, communications and e-commerce tasks, and have improved efficiency in those areas,” Wilson says. “But these types of programs could save time in any department putting out materials.”

In May, the U.S. had 10.1 million open job positions but only 6.1 million unemployed people.
Source: The Employment Situation April 2023, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Lee’s Home Center
SMS Messaging

Take a quick look around wherever you are—chances are a majority of people you see have a smartphone in their hands. SlickText, which offers short messaging service (SMS), found an astounding 98% of text messages are opened regardless of where they come from, making SMS a prime opportunity to reach customers.

As Lee’s Home Center found out, SMS is also key to saving employees time and effort during their work days.

IT manager Dan Vogel says the business, located in Millstadt, Illinois, utilizes the Epicor POS system and has been experimenting with its texting capabilities.

pickup process
Lee’s Home Center, uses SMS through its POS to contact customers.

When a customer places an order, the employee asks them if they would like to receive a text when the order is ready. If the customer opts in, once the order is available for pickup, the employee can quickly send a text through the POS system instead of an employee calling a customer, saving time and effort.

“Rather than calling and leaving voicemails that customers never seem to listen or respond to, our employees can spend time taking care of other tasks,” Vogel says.

28% of U.S. brick-and-mortar shoppers used smartphones to enhance their in-store shopping experiences in 2022.
Source: 2022 Global Digital Shopping Playbook: U.S. Edition, PYMNTS and Cybersource

Vogel says setting up the texting feature through Epicor was a simple process; he just had to enable that option through the POS system. The customer’s cell phone number can be manually entered into the system or pulled from their account contacts, which is entered into the POS system by the store employees.

Vogel says they also use SMS for accounts receivable, sending messages to customers to remind them of overdue balances.

“This relatively simple feature that was already a part of our POS system has saved our employees time and effort,” Vogel says. “It has also allowed us to become more efficient as an operation and streamline our processes.”

4. Weiders Paint & Hardware
Human Resources Platform

From hiring to onboarding, training to scheduling, managing each employee in your operation takes time and effort. For small operations without dedicated human resources staff, keeping those tasks in line can be a daunting challenge.

83% of HR leaders cited lacking the right HR technology as a challenge heading into 2024.
Source: The Changing Face of HR in 2024, Sage

In an eff ort to streamline processes and improve the human resource (HR) experience for both employer and employee, Ned Green, owner of Weiders Paint & Hardware, phased out some of the programs he was using for employee management and switched to Paycor for payroll, scheduling and employee timekeeping.

“We realized we had so many pieces—from logins to apps—to onboard a new employee,” Green says. “The HR platform we switched to simplifies the process, so we’re not overwhelming ourselves on the administrative side, especially with the turnover we’re seeing. It’s removed a couple of steps for every person and saved us so much time and energy.”

The company, which has locations in Brighton, Honeoye Falls and Fairport, New York, has given up some bells and whistles the other programs offered, but the trade-off has been one simpler system that works better for management and employees.

“Starting over with a completely new system has also allowed us to start fresh and fix some issues we didn’t have the time or ability to deal with,” Green says. “Making the switch gave us the opportunity to take the system apart and reconstruct it from the ground up.”

5. Hassett Hardware
Spreadsheet Tracking

Employees in a retail setting, especially sales associates, often find themselves spending too much time on repetitive or administrative tasks that could easily be handled by automation.

hassett hardware
Hassett Hardware employees can easily access frequently used Google Docs and Forms on their Zebra devices.

Owner and president of Hassett Hardware Eric Hassett understands employees’ frustrations with repetitive job tasks. When he considers what technology he wants to implement, he starts by looking at any processes currently being completed by pen and paper. This method led him to utilize Google Workspace, specifically Google Sheets and Docs, to track a number of operational tasks across Hassett Hardware’s five locations all located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Almost every employee at each of the locations has a Zebra Technologies handheld device, and Hassett has added quick links on the device for easy access to important Google Forms and Docs. Hassett uses the Google Forms and Google Sheets to create checklists for store opening and closing tasks, sales observations, cashier observations, vehicle inspections and delivery.

The operation’s cashier observation form is another frequently used document. Leadership encourages all staff members to take part in regular cashier observation exercises and use Google Forms to record their observations, Hassett says.

“The process is really simple—they just tap on buttons as they watch cashiers checking out customers,” Hassett says. “They are watching for tasks the cashier is supposed to be doing each time, such as seeing if they were pleasant and kind, if they asked for the rewards membership and if they counted back change properly.”

Because it’s managed in a large spreadsheet, Hassett says leadership can use the data employees track in the cashier observation form in one-on-one meetings with employees. They share with each employee the areas where they are doing well and the areas where they have room for improvement.

“It allows us to have coaching moments, which leads to better customer service outcomes over time,” Hassett says.

60% of employees’ time is spent on “work about work,” including tasks like waiting on feedback or input, searching for files or documents and duplicating efforts.
Source: Anatomy of Work Index, Asana

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

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