Nuts & bolts Hardware store making a move back to its roots
By Mike Mathes
Kim McKeen is excited about bringing hardware back to the forefront at Farm & Home in Chilton.

Times may be changing at Farm & Home, but the more things change, the more they revert to the store’s roots.

As a Do It Best Hardware Center, Farm & Home will be making changes through the first half of this year to bring its hardware sector into more prominent view.

“We have always been a hardware store here at Farm & Home, but in the last few years, we have added a lot of other categories,” owner Kim McKeen said.

“Some of the ‘other stuff’ has overwhelmed our core business,” he said. “When customers would come in and ask to be directed to the hardware section of our store, we would point them to the rear of the store.”

He recalls recently being questioned by a customer, “Do you sell nuts and bolts in this store?”

That was enlightening to store management. “If the sign on the highway says it’s a hardware store, and a customer can’t figure out where the hardware is, we no longer have a hardware image,” McKeen said.

The bottom line for the customer will be that they will see hardware when they first enter the Farm & Home store. US Cellular and the electronics center will remain on the left, and the pet center will stay on the right, but it will be rows and rows of hardware straight ahead.

Changes in place

The plan at Farm & Home calls for the hardware department to return to the front of the store, where it will be more prominently featured.

As changes are made, customers will see some empty shelves in the front of the store. Those empty shelves are signs that the move has begun. Hardware and paint departments will be moved forward. Some of the existing merchandise centers at the front of the store will be moved to the rear.

“We plan to shift all of our seasonal departments to the back room,” Mc Keen noted.

“Lawn and garden has always been important to us, and we are not getting out of the business. We just realized that it’s important only about 7 months of the year, while all those good hardware customers have to walk past it all year long.”

The back room will house lawn and garden, along with a seasonal power center, featuring the tillers, mowers and chain saws. The move also gives Farm & Home the opportunity to expand on its rental categories.

“The good news is that we have already received positive feedback on the starting phase of the changes,” McKeen added.

Opportunity to review products

The move is also providing Farm & Home with an opportunity to review its inventory and customer offerings. Even in a category as stable as hardware, some things will run their course. Others will change or be replaced by innovations.

Working with Do It Best Hardware, Farm & Home is able to review “plan-ograms” to get a better feel for the best hardware offerings available today.

“We are learning that we had some outdated and out-of-fashion merchandise. We can update and take advantage of the space and inventory dollars to ex-pand in areas of greater customer need,” McKeen said.

Do It Best not only offers inventory suggestions, but also assists with appropriate market pricing. “This helps us bring our pricing in line so that our customers know that they can count on Farm & Home’s pricing to be as competitive as anyone else around,” he added.

Pallet Alley planned

A new function for space in the back room will be the creation of what the owners are calling “pallet alley.”

This will give Farm & Home an opportunity to offer bulk pricing on good buys. Pallets of common items like windshield washer, wood pellets, ice melt and the likes will be lined up in rows designed to pass volume price savings along to customers.

Custom framing closing

In order to put hardware back to the forefront, Farm & Home has had to review the value of other departments.

On a sad note, the store has decided to close its custom framing department. “Though it has served us well, the custom framing area hasn’t kept pace with the growth of the rest of the store,” McKeen. “We truly need the space more for our hardware at this time, than for custom framing.”

Farm & Home also expects a name-only impact from recent developments with Radio Shack. For several years, the electronics department has carried the Radio Shack brand name.

As a company, Radio Shack has filed Chapter 11, but Farm and Home will continue to run its electronics department with different branding.

“It only means we won’t have Radio Shack brand name products in the future. We will be reviewing our electronics department and keep those things that have been of interest to our customers,” McKeen said. “None of these changes will affect US Cellular customers.”

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a move back to its roots

With an eye on the future, Farm & Home is banking on the success of the past, returning to its hardware roots.

“We are still a big hardware store with other stuff. We have been a hardware store forever, and it’s just time we get back to that. We want our customers to be able to come here and say, ‘Are we ever lucky to have this kind of a store in Chilton.’”