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United Hardware Unveils New Website, New Vendors, Enhanced Categories at Buying Market

United Hardware welcomed a record number of retailers and more than 45 new vendors to Rochester, Minnesota, for its September Buying Market where the focus was on new products, big deals and helping attendees get their stores ready for the spring selling season.

The event took place September 27-29 at the Mayo Civic Center and there were a number of firsts for the retailers and vendors on hand.

One of the biggest debuts at the market was a new preview event held on the eve of the opening of the full market floor. During the kickoff event, retailers got to preview new products, mingle with vendors and get first-hand updates from United’s leadership and merchandising teams on what to expect throughout the event.

“This preview event was a first for us and it was received very well by the retailers in attendance,” says Lisa Makowski, United’s vice president of marketing and customer experience. “We wanted to highlight some of the big opportunities that they would be able to take advantage of throughout the market and make sure they didn’t miss out on any of the specials our team had put together.”

Diane and Dave Andersen were among the winners of the Hanko game at the market.

Along with the market preview, a lucky handful of retailers at the preview also got to test their luck on the “Hanko” board. “Hanko is just like the old game show version of Plinko, only better,” Makowski told the crowd.

Top prize for Hanko was a $1000 gift card, while other prizes ranged from free Hardware Hank swag to gift cards in smaller denominations.

“With this being the first time we brought everyone together for this kind of preview, we just wanted to add some fun to the evening,” Makowski says. “A big thank you to our vendor partners for sponsoring our events and offering many gift card giveaways to our retailers. We appreciate their support, and I know our retailers do too.”

Before the prizes were handed out, United shined a spotlight on several highly anticipated category expansions being unveiled at the market. Most noticeable were enhancements made to the distributor’s lawn and garden offering where they rolled out 19 new planograms; its automotive assortment where there were 18 new planograms; and the unveiling of an entirely new seasonal endcap program.

“We asked our merchandising team to step up to deliver new vendors and new deals at this market, and they really came through, so we wanted them to be able to tell our attendees about all the things they had been working on,” says Chad Ruth, United’s president and CEO.

The distributor also shared information about its newly launched rental program that was being offered in conjunction with Great Northern Equipment. The program offers scalable packages depending on how big a retailer wants to go with their assortment, according to Josh Hanson, United’s director of merchandising. 

The category expansions and new rental program was good news to Dave and Diane Andersen, owners of Hazen Hardware Hank in Hazen, North Dakota, who are tackling a remodel at their store.

“We have recently taken on an expansion project that will give us more space for several departments, including the rental department,” says Diane. “We’ll use the expanded partnership with Great Northern as we fill in some gaps for our community.”

In addition to picking up new vendors and new products, Diane says they took advantage of all the market had to offer, including the preview session and educational opportunities, and they were excited to hear updates on United’s programs and services. 

“We appreciate Chad Ruth’s leadership and the entire United Hardware team,” she says. “We’re looking for good things going forward.”

As a first-time attendee at the market, Tammy Mollet says she appreciated the face-to-face time she could spend with vendors and other retailers, and the many product offerings available. She and her husband, along with her two sisters and their husbands, are co-owners of the recently opened BC Hardware in Buffalo Center, Iowa. 

“A lot of our focus at the market was on the traffic drivers, impulse items and new products we can use to get people into our store, especially those new items that aren’t available at the big boxes,” she says. “We also want to advertise more pet and ranch items and we are excited about the opportunities we found at the market.” 

“We were very impressed with United Hardware’s team and how enthusiastic they all were,” Tammy says. “We left with the feeling that they really want us to succeed. The market was also very well planned, laid out and organized.”

Beyond Products

While products were in the spotlight throughout the event, the distributor also made two other announcements.

The first involved the rollout of the company’s new website. After months of extensive testing, the dealer-facing website is designed to help retailers better interact with United and also help them improve their own service to customers.

The new website, which is finishing up beta testing with United dealers right now, will improve search functionality, allow for promotional and planogram ordering and make retail price management easier and more intuitive, says Nick Worrell, United’s senior marketing analytics manager. 

“We have spent time recently getting feedback from the retailers who are testing the site,” Worrell says. “We have had around 250 stores trying it out and helping us identify pain points and gather their suggestions. This is the final phase before we go live with the site for everyone.”

The Andersens were part of the beta test for the website and are excited about the immediate effects it can have on their customer service. 

“All of our employees have the United Hardware app on their phones and can use it as they’re working with customers to search for products and get an immediate response. It will also help us as we promote online sales,” says Diane.

Mollet says the new website will also play an important role in their new business. 

“We absolutely plan to start utilizing the tools United has with the new website, especially the way it will benefit our own social media, which will be a huge help in getting people into the store,“ she says.

Another big announcement at the market involved United’s dealer trip. United offers its dealers the opportunity to participate in a major trip every three years to network, interact with United’s leadership team and just enjoy their time together.

Past trips have included locations such as Hawaii and most recently, Ireland. 

The next trip is scheduled for 2025 and will be to Hilton Head Island where retailers will be able to mingle with vendor sponsors and the United Hardware team while taking in low-country excursions and the world-famous beaches and golf courses.

“We always want to make these trips memorable for all of the guests, and I think if you asked retailers who have been on the trips in the past, you’d definitely hear that they took away a lot of memories,” says Rick Mattson, who is in charge of organizing the trips for the distributor. 

While not previewing the new website or learning about excursions to come, market attendees also got the opportunity to learn about ways to improve their operations. 

Prior to the kickoff event, attendees were able to participate in a variety of educational seminars ranging from sessions on social media best practices to how to use your company’s financials to develop a gameplan for growth. 

Chris Cagle provided entertainment for the market attendees.

Finally, after a full day on the market floor Thursday, guests were treated to a private concert with country music star Chris Cagle.

“Inviting Chris to come and perform for the crowd was just our way of saying thank you for your business and taking the opportunity when we are all together to blow off some steam and get everyone charged up for the rest of the show,” Makowski says. 

The United Hardware team looks forward to hosting another event in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in February 2024.

United Hardware Distributing Co., home of the Hardware Hank brand, is a full-line wholesale hardware distributor providing distinctive brands, services and capabilities to help its independent dealers build successful businesses and vibrant communities. Headquartered in Maple Grove, Minnesota, United Hardware services dealers from its distribution center in Milbank, South Dakota, and delivers an extensive product line to over 700 stores in the Midwest.

About Jesse Carleton

Jesse Carleton has visited independent hardware retailers, conducted original research on the industry and written extensively about the business of hardware retailing. Jesse has written for more than a dozen of NHPA’s contract publishing titles, all related to the hardware retailing industry. He also was instrumental in developing the Basic Training in Hardware Retailing courses now used by thousands of retailers across the country.

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