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True Value Reunion Focuses on Changes, Establishing Consumer Connections

At last week’s True Value Fall Reunion, the message from the co-op’s leadership was clear: Change is here.

The company’s new CEO, John Hartmann, and chairman of the board, Brent Burger, were formally introduced during the Reunion’s general session Sept. 20.

Since beginning his job four months ago, Hartmann has traveled the country, meeting with True Value retailers. “I’ve had the opportunity to listen to what our members are saying, hear about the critical issues they face each day and find out what we can do to better support them,” he said during the general session.

Creating Passion with Consumers

One of the first areas the co-op is planning to focus that support is through a new branding initiative it launched at the last market. The main objective of the initiative is to help its retailers create even stronger connections with their customers.

“We want to help our members create an emotional, passionate experience for their customers in their stores,” says Blake Fohl, vice president, marketing and chief customer officer.

One way True Value increases brand awareness is through ads spots on Hulu and finding other ways to advertise in nontraditional forms as it works to gain more Generation Y and Millennial customers.

The co-op stressed to its members the importance of making an emotional connection with a customer and enhancing the customer experience. “Independent stores need to stay relevant in the eye of the customer,” Burger says. “The customer experience is so much more than customer service. Everything we do as retailers has to start with the customer in mind.”

As a symbol of the culture change, the co-op renamed its Market to Reunion, alluding to the family environment the co-op is cultivating.

“It’s still a buying market,” Fohl says. “But it’s more than buying and education—we want to make it fun and entertaining. It’s evolving. It’s more than functional and practical—we’re bringing extra energy and making it fun.”

Continuing to Grow

Another focus of the Reunion was growth including the growth of our existing members, attracting new entrepreneurs to the industry and conversions from other co-ops, says Hartmann.

“We’re focusing first on the customer and then on member profitability,” said Hartmann. “If we do that, everyone in the value chain gets taken care of. It ensures each product and service is what the customer wants, and it assists retailers in a more specific way.”

In fact, Hartmann said there are 30 True Value stores under development right now.

He added the fact that the Destination True Value format will continue to be an integral part of True Value’s equation.

In terms of product category growth, the co-op is focusing on industry research to help find areas of opportunities for its retailers. One of these categories includes the pet category, which the co-op continues to aggressively support through promotions, advertising and product selection.

The changes seem to be exciting current members who were in attendance.

“Business is up,” says Jeff Johnson of Del’s Building Supply, who’s been coming to the Market for 10 years. “We’re looking for deals, new products and training seminars. The networking with fellow members is also an important part of the show for us.”

Manufacturers, too, noticed the new culture. “They’ve done a really great job with the show,” said Bill Hudson of Hudson Manufacturing. “It’s definitely a fresher feel and attendance seems busy.”

‘The New Normal’

Hartmann is keeping a close eye on the changing consumer.

“Retailers are facing an uneven economy all over the country,” he says. “To build loyalty with our customers, we understand we must provide even more value. It’s the new normal. Are retailers have adjusted, and continue to adjust, in order to remain profitable. The good news for independents is that the big boxes have built about as many stores as they’re going to. Still all forms of competition remain tough. Between the state of the economy and changing demographics, our retailers have to change, too.”

He’s looking forward to what’s to come: “We’re just getting warmed up.”

The Reunion ran through Sept. 22 at McCormick Place in Chicago and attracted more than 11,500 attendees and prospects, a record number for the co-op.

About Amanda Bell

Amanda Bell was an assistant editor of Hardware Retailing and NRHA. Amanda regularly visited with home improvement retailers across the country and attended industry events and seminars. She earned a degree in magazine journalism from Ball State University and has received honors for her work for Hardware Retailing from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

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