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kitchen utensils in a housewares display

Category All-Stars: Housewares

Success for hardware retailers can come in many different forms, from increased sales to more customers in the door. Hardware Retailing spoke to four retailers who have found success in core categories in different ways and shares ways you can create your own category success.

Read on to learn how Lehman’s made its housewares category shine by catering to its local audience—the Amish—and boosted overall store sales in the process. For more best practices, check out the other all-star categories: impulse; outdoor power equipment; and hand and power tools.

Simple Yet Vast

When Galen Lehman’s father founded Lehman’s in Ohio in 1955, he found a key customer base that no other business was focused on: Amish residents in his community. While other retailers were highlighting the benefits of electric kitchen gadgets and modernizing the home,

Jay Lehman recognized the needs of the members in his community who were dedicated to a simpler lifestyle.

“Dad had to find his own way to stand out from the competition,” Galen says. “He focused on getting them what they needed, and within a few years, we were the premier local supplier for the Amish community.”

Housewares has always been a key category, and today it represents about 20 percent of the operation’s overall sales. The department started when Amish customers came in looking for canning supplies at the last minute. Lehman’s was able to meet their needs, and after that point, it just kept growing as customers started requesting other cookware and kitchenware items. Galen says the customer base has expanded beyond Amish customers in recent years as people are seeking out a simpler life.

“The idea that we’re helping people pursue a simpler life came naturally to us,” he says. “We were blessed by the fact that in the last five to 10 years, the whole market has moved that way. We caught the wave at a good time.”

As the department and customer base have grown, so has Lehman’s approach to product mix. While they don’t stock many electric kitchen tools or appliances, they stock the whole range of baking, cooking and food prep tools and gadgets.

“We want to cover the waterfront in this category because it’s something we’re known for,” Galen says. “From American-made cookie sheets to inexpensive imports across all price ranges, we want to present a good, better and best option for our customers.”

In addition to stocking existing tools and products, Lehman’s has even started manufacturing when the products aren’t available. A few years ago, Galen says butter churns weren’t available anywhere, which is something his customers ask for. So, they designed their own, did some testing and started building them in their repair shop. Today, Lehman’s is the only place to stock a practical American-made butter churn.

Stocking hard-to-find or quirky housewares items has added to the charm of the store, and Galen says they have customers drive in from states away to browse the aisles. It’s not uncommon for the same people to still be in the store when he leaves for lunch who were there when he came in at the start of the day.

“We have been able to develop our store into a destination,” he says. “People know there’s a reason to come here.”

3 Tips for Selling Housewares

  1. Identify an underserved customer
    Amish customers are a core part of Lehman’s base, and it’s because they know the store has everything they need, and if they don’t, the staff will do what they can to find it. From the very start, Lehman’s committed to serving people who wanted to live simply, and it is a key part of the company’s mission today.
  2. Stock unique Products
    In hardware, there are bits and bobbles that people probably ask you for all the time. The same is true for housewares, which can make the category a destination opportunity for your store. Talk to your wholesaler or kitchenware vendor about boosting the one-of-a-kind product mix in your department.
  3. Maximize your selection
    The footprint of Lehman’s store is a quarter-mile from end to end, which gives them plenty of space to spread out their departments. Even with a smaller salesfloor, you can be sure you’re following the good, better, best principle to give your customers a broad selection of items to choose from.

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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