Tools for building the perfect hardware store

The independent DIY shop has long been a reliable neighborhood stronghold. Going forward, the most successful ones will be those that can bridge physical and online sales.
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Over the past few years, as more people have taken on DIY projects, hardware stores have seen a change in customer. While the majority used to be tradespeople and skilled laborers, now it's more likely that someone with limited knowledge of tools or plumbing will pop in. And, because they need more help than a typical tradesperson, they'll likely be looking for a higher level of customer service.

Or, increasingly, these new customers might head online. While the typical hardware store customer tends to be hands-on, the rise of DIY clientele has meant new online-only hardware stores – and online hardware sales in general – are on the up. Take the brands Plank and Swarf, both based in the UK. Or Ace Hardware, in the US, which reported a 580% increase in online sales this past year – in comparison to just a 26% increase in its retail store sales. 

Megan Cassidy and Jane Son, the co-founders of CASSON, an online-only hardware store headquartered in Toronto, say having a virtual showroom means that the business is able to sell to customers beyond North America. ‘We don't see any need at this point to have a physical store,’ they add.

Going online

After teaching technology and design for eight years, Dan Gallally opened Frome Hardware in Somerset, in south-west England. Dan sources and selects each item stocked, including garden tools, kitchen utensils and stationery. Frome Hardware also has its own workshop space, where 

Dan takes on commissions, including signage for businesses and laser engraving. 

Not only did he move to a bigger retail space at the onset of the pandemic, but Dan also had to grapple with a completely new way of attracting customers: online sales. ‘Certain products seem to take off at certain times online. Lots of small businesses were recently after customized rubber stamps,’ he says.

Dan recognizes that running an online business is just as much work as a store. While he'd like to build an online presence, his ambitions for the future still largely center around the retail space and keeping it fully equipped for taking on more commissions.

This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2021. To become a subscriber or purchase our newest guide, head to our webshop.

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