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Unique Partner Businesses Bring New Opportunity

Glenn Ubertino owns Zoller Hardware in North Carolina and has seen both sides of the retail coin. As a child, he grew up in the independent hardware store his parents owned, and as he began his own professional career, he worked alongside the founders of Home Depot to build one of the world’s leading big-box home improvement chains.

Now, he’s combining those experiences to carve out his own retail empire in the mountains of Cashiers, North Carolina. Slowly but steadily, he and his wife Kim have acquired three complementary businesses that both enhance their flagship Zoller Hardware location and diversify its product offerings to reach new customers throughout the region. At the heart of each store’s mission statement is a drive to offer shoppers unique products and expert advice.

“I want each store to have its own personality,” Ubertino says. “We want to offer great service in every business no matter what it’s called.”

See how investing in unique partner businesses can bring about unexpected synergies and reach new customer segments. Learn more about how and why Ubertino acquired each business and how he balances the management of four separate but thriving operations.

The Flagship

Zoller Hardware

Ubertino says his main priority as an independent operator is to help people, and that’s exactly what his flagship, Zoller Hardware, does for the Cashiers region of North Carolina.

In 2016, as Zoller Hardware’s original owners were eyeing retirement, the Ubertinos were ready for a major life change of their own. They had originally planned on retiring in the region, but moved the schedule up a few years to purchase Zoller Hardware.

The store now features more than 7,000 square feet of salesfloor. Ubertino says it’s important to offer the core categories, but he also looks to his customer base for more specific guidance on product assortments.

“We live in a vacation property community,” he says. “A lot of properties in the area are second homes where people from Florida, Alabama and Georgia come to escape the hot summers.”

Knowing his busy season was May through October, Ubertino strengthened his inventory with lawn and garden essentials, capturing sales from the temporary residents as they outfitted their summer homes. The business sees steady sales of high-end grills, outdoor furniture and local housewares to distinguish itself from competitors.

It was at Zoller Hardware where Ubertino first experimented with spinning off his business. He purchased an adjacent building to the hardware store and began merchandising paint and power equipment inside it. The move allowed him to stock more products in both the main hardware store and the adjacent building and to deepen his product selection in multiple categories simultaneously.

High-End Selection

Cashiers Kitchen Co.

In 2017, the Ubertinos opened Cashiers Kitchen Co., a high-end kitchen store catering to homeowners searching for unique items.

He says the impetus behind opening this second store was customer demand.

“Zoller Hardware shoppers would ask for things we simply didn’t carry,” Ubertino says. “These customers wanted higher-end appliances and cookware to match their homes.”

The Ubertinos decided to fashion the business after Williams Sonoma, a high-end, national kitchenware and consumables retailer.

They’ve followed that precedent, stocking Cashiers Kitchen Co. with upscale kitchen items like cutlery, name-brand cookware, on-trend appliances and unique toasters and blenders to catch customers’ eyes and offer something different to the community.

Ubertino says that while working with Home Depot, one of his passions was merchandising, and Cashiers Kitchen Co. gives him a broad canvas to practice his skills. Plates, silverware and decorations are often bundled together to commemorate major holidays. He also regularly sources locally made products, including consumables, and proudly displays them to customers for quick impulse sales.

As the second home market continues to strengthen, Ubertino says he will keep expanding the store’s product offerings, listening to what his customers need to personalize their homes.

The Pro Source

Cashiers Electrical Co.

With revenue from his previous businesses Zoller Hardware and Cashiers Kitchen Co., Ubertino decided the time was right to invest in a third business and offer another unique offering to customers in the region, this time focused squarely on pro needs.

Cashiers Electrical Co. is located 1 mile from Zoller Hardware, in a prime location directly across from the town’s only grocery store. Ubertino had long envied the location, and when he learned the business’s previous owner was considering retirement, he invited the man out to breakfast for a fruitful discussion.

After coordinating the final details, the Ubertinos purchased the electrical business in November 2020, enabling them to expanded to a third location, this time focusing intensely on driving sales from pro customers.

“It was such a great location, every time I drove by, I saw the parking lot filled with vans and pickup trucks,” Ubertino says.

He says the decision to purchase the business was also motivated by future prospects. Its prime location raises the possibility another business owner could approach Ubertino in the coming years to purchase it from him.

The store meets the pro mandate seamlessly; less focused on merchandising than the other locations, the business is geared to serving local electricians promptly and completely.

The Newbie

The Bird Barn and Garden

On Memorial Day weekend, Ubertino welcomed shoppers to the grand opening of The Bird Barn and Garden, the Ubertinos’ fourth business. Opening this fourth location was a chance to capture sales from the renewed interest in gardening and outdoor living that began during the pandemic.

The Bird Barn and Garden is conveniently located in the same shopping complex as Zoller Hardware, meaning customers can visit the two businesses in a single trip.

One of the reasons Ubertino wanted to open The Bird Barn and Garden was to bring back a beloved Cashiers’ business. The store closed two years ago, but previously supplied a custom mix of birdseed that became a local favorite.

The previous owner, Leroy Parr, suggested Ubertino continue carrying the seed mix even after The Bird Barn originally closed, and Ubertino saw the single product bring in robust sales from a new customer demographic. Parr will now join the new Bird Barn, offering specialized knowledge to bird enthusiasts and hobbyists in the region.

Ubertino says his entire professional experience, from seeing his parents manage an independent hardware store to working alongside big-box giants, has given him the skills he needs to manage four separate businesses successfully.

“I was lucky enough to learn lessons from some of the best people in retail,” he says. “I bring a lot of that to the current businesses: how to negotiate, manage people, price and market products effectively. When I made the leap to owning my own businesses, it gave me the confidence that I could do it.”

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