WHERE IT STARTED
Dennis and Sherry Bishop purchased Petersburg Hardware in 1995, and the Bishop’s run the store alongside son-in-law and daughter Eric and Robin Smith. Many patrons of Petersburg Hardware may also know Store Manager Kenny Hurst and Jenna White, who have been employed by the store for over 25+ years, and Wendell Wilson, employed for 15+ years.
GROWING WITH THE FAMILY
For nearly 25 years, Dennis and Sherry Bishop built their reputation as successful small business owners in Petersburg, Indiana, a town of just under 2,400 residents. Their attractive neighborhood hardware store was housed in a turn of the century two-story brick building right on Main Street. Sure, its tight 6,000 square feet covering two floors presented a few merchandising challenges and forced them to be very selective about what they stocked. And the lack of off-street parking occasionally frustrated customers, leading to a get-in-and-get-out shopping mentality. But the Bishops were solid, respected retailers who understood their market and prospered while raising a family on the steady income the store provided. Like many, their children also spent time in the store, doing odd jobs before growing up and heading off to start their own careers. But then, a critical decision about the future of the business would alter the trajectory of Petersburg Do it Best Hardware. And it would mean saying goodbye to a store that had served them well by stepping into an entirely new direction for home improvement retailing in their marketplace.
That year, one of the Bishops’ daughters, Robin Smith, who had been running a successful cell phone business with her husband Eric, approached her parents to say they wanted to be a bigger part of the long-term plan for Petersburg Hardware. Dennis and Sherry were thrilled, of course, but they knew something would need to change for the business to support everyone now involved. That’s when they reached out to their co-op to explore opportunities for a new location, one that would allow for more products to be offered with even more room for growth.
Over the next two years, they collaborated on extensive market and site analysis, customer surveys and financial projections, combined with a healthy dose of brainstorming and lots of good ole fashioned elbow grease, to launch the all-new Petersburg Do it Best Hardware. Set up in a shuttered ShopKo Hometown store, the new location offered the added benefit of being much closer to a major highway.
When they held their grand opening on April 2, 2016, more than 2,000 people lined up outside for their chance to glimpse the selection of products now available in their 28,000 square foot home center. Petersburg Hardware was suddenly 4 times larger than its old location and looking modern and welcoming, nothing like the business that was formerly housed there. And from that very first day, it’s never been the same. New sales records are regularly set and surpassed. New products are introduced. New events are held.
How did they achieve this level of success? Certainly, the expansion of SKUs brought about more sales opportunities and market share, but it’s how the Bishops and Smiths have chosen to use their new space to expand their customer reach that’s made all the difference.
FOCUSING ON THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
With nearly 30,000 square feet available to work with, Petersburg Hardware could now focus on becoming an exceptional shopping destination. Upon entering, customers find a well-stocked supply of shopping carts, as you might expect. But the Bishops wanted to offer an experience for the whole family, so there are kid-sized carts, too. This ensures that their customers’ children feel welcome - and it creates add-on sales opportunities as there are plenty of products for the little ones to buy as well, including a custom mix of popular Melissa & Doug interactive toys.
Stepping further into the store, shoppers notice the deeper selection in core departments (plumbing & electrical, heating, paint, tools) as well as a number of impressive products Petersburg couldn’t offer before, like Scag heavy-duty riding mowers. One of the early insights the Bishops gained from their customer surveys was the desire for expanded lawn & garden and lumber & building materials. So customers immediately discovered an increased offering in these categories. The Bishop family opened the store with 28’ of Echo equipment, which immediately fired up their outdoor power sales. And those Scag mowers? They sold 39 the first year and increased the category by 138% the following year. Farm & ranch and lawn & garden both had room to expand in the new location, leading to a 16% growth in the category last year and something they never could have achieved on Main Street.
The LBM category was also completely new for them, but they’ve since dedicated 8,000 square feet to convenience lumber and building materials - perfect for DIYers and small home remodelers. Sales in the category have grown 10% since its introduction.
Offering something for everyone has paid off in other areas, too. Each spring, young and old flock to the store for Chick Days, an event that taps into more homeowners’ desire to raise their own food. And female shoppers have benefitted from Petersburg’s broader selection of clothing. Not only do they have a robust offering of Dickies work clothes for men, there are racks of attire tailored just for women.
But it’s not just the mix of products that customers note. It’s how they’re displayed that really catches peoples’ attention. When Petersburg started carrying large bags of animal feed, Eric couldn’t find the type of adjustable signage he wanted, so he made it himself. Using materials available for sale in the store, he created a rustic double-sided sign system from galvanized pipe, wood and chalkboard paint to draw added attention to their new offerings.
Not to be outdone, wife Robin repurposed an outdated paint color selector to display a new line of peel and stick backsplash and tile products. She took pride in doing it all herself, in no small part so she could confidently tell other aspiring female DIYers that they could take on a project like this, too.
Sherry and the rest of the team have further added to the shopping experience by looking for opportunities to demonstrate the value of their products with finished displays. They regularly draw attention to their specialty paints by featuring completed furniture refinishing projects in their power aisle. So not only do customers get to learn about the latest trends in faux finishes, they get to see the completed project - and talk directly with the person who did it to learn helpful tips and hints.
Paint, in general, has become a much bigger business in their new location, especially since they installed The Color Bar, a store-within-a-store concept provided by their co-op. While the co-op provided the program, it’s the Bishop family who have really driven the category’s growth. Sherry and Robin have found a whole new market of paint buyers using the tools available with The Color Bar, including helpful signage, comparison displays and marketing materials. They regularly hold court in their paint department as they answer questions and offer solutions from interested DIYers.
SCRATCHING A NICHE
With an invigorated attitude toward exceptional retailing in their newfound space, the Petersburg team looks for every opportunity to capture sales with niche categories. In addition to the Scag mowers, Dickies workwear, women’s clothing and Melissa & Doug toys, they regularly introduce new niche products. They’ve already found great success in their home décor area with specialty signs (“Home is where the heart is” and the like), old fashioned sodas, Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning products, exclusive Channellock-branded products available through their co-op, major appliances (a hit with both homeowners and MROs) and a complete bargain aisle with even more toys. And Sherry’s approach to Christmas décor and trim-a-tree… well, you just have to see it to believe it!
But niche success also comes with a mindset for change - especially when a category isn’t performing. For example, when the Bishops realized their rental department was not producing like it should and their equipment was getting older, they chose to discontinue it in favor of another opportunity. Their outdoor power equipment sales, spurred by their Echo introduction, continued to grow. So last winter, instead of investing in all-new rental equipment, they reworked that floor space as a service department for outdoor power. This spring, they’re now ready to offer a range of tune-up, sharpening, repair and maintenance services for their customers.
GETTING THE WORD OUT - AND HAVING FUN
With a new store filled with lots of new products, the Bishops knew they had to up their marketing if they were going to be successful. That meant reaching a wider audience and drawing from an expanded market area. Certainly, they’d increase their count of quality circulars and catalogs to reach potential new customers. But how would they tell the Petersburg Hardware story, cost-effectively, to a much bigger audience? The solution came in their quick mastery of social media. Their Facebook page doesn’t just highlight products, but rather, focuses on introducing followers to the Bishops, the Smiths and the helpful employees in the store, some of whom have been with the business for more than 20 years.
With creative input from everyone in the family, Petersburg Hardware has routinely gone viral with their over-the-top videos posted to Facebook. Edited by Eric and often starring Sherry, they regularly release video content promoting upcoming events and sales that receive more than 20,000 views, often in the first 24 hours. Sherry has played a naughty elf at Christmas and even dressed as a giant hotdog to promote their anniversary sale. While they monitor the video views, every once in a while, even they’re surprised by their social media reach. Not long ago, Sherry had taken her father to the hospital in Evansville, 47 miles away, when someone approached her and said, “I know you! You’re the giant hotdog from Petersburg Hardware!”
Successfully getting the word out is one thing. But living up to the pledge it promises is another. So the Petersburg team works extra hard to deliver on executing exceptional events. They regularly challenge themselves to build on tried-and-true events by taking them to the next level. For their first Ladies’ Night (something they could never host in their old, cramped location), several hundred women showed up to play games and win prizes. But these weren’t just any games. All of them had been created using products found in the store. The Plinko game, for example, was built using a sheet of plywood, bolts, paint can lids, and buckets to award prizes that night. Of course, the family takes photos and video of everything and shares it on Facebook to extend every event’s visibility.
They’ve used their social media to great effect in other ways, too. Buying a Scag mower is no small purchase, to be sure. It’s a big expense and a special occasion. Every time Petersburg sells one, they make it even more special by taking a photo of the proud new owner and share it on Facebook. Often, other customers reply with congratulations or invitations to come mow their yard.
Not surprisingly, the Bishops are ardent supporters of the Buy Local movement. One clever example of their conviction to encourage shopping local included a recent post promoting another business’ painting and powder coating services. They were quick to point out that he buys all his materials at Petersburg.
IT’S ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY
The Bishop family knows the success they’ve attained with their new store is directly tied to the support shown from their community. And there’s no shortage of ways they have demonstrated their appreciation for that support. In addition to sponsoring numerous fundraisers and civic groups through the donation of goods and financial support, the Bishops also lead by example by giving their time and talent to projects and organizations.
DRIVEN TO NEW HEIGHTS
Success in a new store can be measured in many ways. But the most indisputable validation of success is sales growth. Looking back to their grand opening, when 2,000 people lined up to be the first ones through the door, their aggressive sales target for that day proved to be way off. In fact, they almost doubled the sales they were projecting. And each Saturday to follow has proven to hold similar results. In their first year in the new store, overall sales more than doubled, up 132%. The average ticket rose 30% and average transactions jumped 82%. Tim Boes, their co-op territory manager, sums it all up this way. “When the Bishop family commits to something, they put their heart and soul into trying to make everything a WOW moment,” he says. “And with the new Petersburg Do it Best Hardware, they have been extremely successful doing just that.”
2019 Beacon Award winner for Best New Store over 20,000 square feet.