Apr 28 2011

Consumer Lifestyle Changes Prompt Growth Strategy Shift for Westlake

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Hardware Leader Wins National Retailer of the Year Award

 

When the U.S. economy began to slide into recession in 2008, Westlake Ace Hardware, like all retailers, faced challenges.  Westlake’s fortunes, like those of its larger home center competition, have traditionally been linked to the housing industry, so this economic downturn was especially daunting.  At the time it was not understood how long or deep the recession would be, but Westlake management did understand this recession was going to do more than impact consumer spending in the short term.  Westlake detected subtle yet important shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviors.  Their customers spoke about spending more time with family, staying closer to home and reconnecting with friends, neighbors and the local community.

Based on these changes Westlake saw an opportunity to thrive, not just survive, in the marketplace and decided it was time to rethink their positioning and growth strategy.  With consumers yearning for a simpler life and embracing more traditional values, Westlake felt its 100 + year heritage, midwest roots and tradition of community involvement was never more relevant.  Westlake believed they could leverage these strengths as they worked to expand and redefine their neighborhood hardware store concept.

Are these strategies working?  Westlake Ace Hardware has just been named Retailer of the Year by Home Channel News, the leading hardware and home improvement industry trade publication.  This recognition is based on Westlake’s recent sales success, the company’s strategic work to position itself for long term growth, and leadership within the home improvement industry.   Westlake has recorded positive same store sales growth over the past few years in spite of intense competition and the difficult economy.  While big box stores have struggled due to their reliance on housing growth and major home improvement projects, Westlake has come through the recession by focusing on home repair and maintenance and providing a high level of service and assistance to homeowners.  Last year they introduced a new motto to reflect their differentiated positioning: “Small Projects. Big Know-How.  Ask Away.”

“In 2009, during an abysmal time for the economy, we had to ask ourselves, are we positioned correctly in the marketplace to take advantage of our nimbleness as a smaller neighborhood store and are we staying competitive?” stated George Smith, CEO of Westlake.  “We decided to establish a set of guiding principles, a code of conduct and began reshaping our corporate culture to meet the challenge.”

The first step was Westlake’s engagement of a consulting firm to conduct research both internally with their associates, as well as externally with customers and prospects.  Results showed that Westlake would benefit by taking a more holistic approach towards customer’s needs. This meant expansion of specific product offerings and, importantly, a major focus on delivering service and advice.  Management empowered associates to provide solutions to meet customers’ needs.  This involved delegating responsibility and authority to take care of the customer throughout the organization, and meant a major commitment to training.

Westlake initiated intensive Customer Service Training for all 1800 of its associates, including those in its corporate office.  Product knowledge training in key growth categories such as Paint and Lawn & Garden has also taken place.  In addition to training, recognition and rewards programs were established, and stores’ General Managers were encouraged to build their staffs within their local communities to better position Westlake as a real neighborhood partner. 

“Westlake has made a commitment to be a true learning organization, using data to drive change and innovation,” Smith continued.  “Our mission is to help homeowners keep their homes running smoothly.  People want to keep their major investment in good shape and we help them to do that.  We keep customers coming back by providing friendly, knowledgeable help and offering more high quality products.  For example, we’ve recently introduced Craftsman tools and Benjamin Moore paint.  We are also known for the quality and freshness of plants we bring to our Garden Centers each spring.” 

To help make sure they are delivering the level of service that will create loyal customers, Westlake has begun a consumer monitoring program to gain on-going feedback from shoppers of all of its stores.  They also recently re-launched their website, with a strong focus on how-to content. The new and improved westlakehardware.com has over 200 videos and hundreds of answers to frequently asked questions, covering subjects from how to put in a new faucet to how to rid the yard of moles.  If a customer has a small project they think is worthy, they can enter Westlake’s Customer Project of the Month Contest for a chance to win a $300 Westlake gift card and have their project featured on the website.

Westlake’s motto “Small Projects. Big Know-How. Ask Away.” is not just a fluff tagline.   The company’s mission is being carried out in every facet of their business strategy.  Because of their commitment to being the best neighborhood hardware store and an invaluable resource in the communities they serve, Westlake is being rewarded with growing sales and honored with industry kudos.

About Westlake Ace Hardware
Westlake Ace Hardware was founded in 1905 and today operates 88 neighborhood hardware stores in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. Westlake is the largest member of the Ace Hardware Cooperative, giving the company access to over 70,000 items. Westlake product categories include traditional hardware categories such as fasteners, tools, plumbing and electric supplies and paint.  Westlake also offers a wide range of lawn & garden products and operates large Garden Centers adjacent to many of its stores.

Contact:
Jayne Siemens                           
(913) 268-0606
jsiemens@vencomm.com

Corporate Contact: Liz Benditt, 913.888.8438

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