Hardware Retailing

FEB 2019

Hardware Retailing magazine is the pre-eminent how-to management magazine for small business owners and managers in the home improvement retailing industry.

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HARDWARE RETAILING | February 2019 84 Woods was instantly intrigued by the idea, but wondered if the touring technology could be used alongside e-commerce applications to bring new opportunities to his business. Woods envisioned a virtual walk-through of his business's downtown Cincinnati location, which would allow customers to view online replicas of his store's aisles and inventory and grab items to purchase online. Woods applied to the first Reimagine Retail program, but says he and his team hadn't quite perfected their 30-second elevator pitch. "In that first year, I don't think we had really refined our proof of concept," he says. "We were still early on in our discussions, so I think we still had a few things to work out." Woods perfected his plan for the virtual walk-through by adding a free same-day delivery component to the virtual walk-through. As he applied for the 2018 Reimagine Retail cycle, he framed his pitch around the word on the tip of every retailer's tongue. "I started our second Reimagine Retail application with: 'This is how we beat Amazon.' The point of our virtual touring is that we want to be a micro e-retailer," Woods says. "Within a 45-minute drive of Cincinnati are 3 million people, and I'm sure most of them use e-commerce, so why not focus our e-commerce on those 3 million people?" His strategy paid off—to the tune of $100,000. With the second Reimagine Retail program's prize in his pocket, Woods returned to Cincinnati to make the business's vision a reality. First Steps, First Clicks Woods says finding time to devote to getting the project off the ground while still overseeing six busy retail operations was sometimes difficult. "It's been a challenge to fully focus on this initiative without leaving the rest of the company behind," Woods says. "This is a fun project, but it's not a revenue-producing project just yet, so I've got to make sure every other part of the business is healthy and sustainable." Woods says one of the first orders of business was to connect with the third-party IT provider that would build the business's new website and incorporate e-commerce functionality into the virtual touring platform. To accommodate real-time inventory updates across the business, Woods also invested in new POS systems. To ensure associates were familiar with the new systems and that the store's inventory is accurately displayed online, Woods says the store manager of his downtown Cincinnati location worked closely to train employees on the new machines. Although Woods' idea of interactive e-commerce required major technological somersaults, combining it with on-the-ground, same-day delivery provided its own set of logistical obstacles. Namely, Woods had to find drivers to bring the online orders directly to customers within one business day. Woods plans to use store staff for deliveries and eventually hire full-time drivers. He expects At Woods Hardware, customers can browse a full assortment of hardware and home improvement staples, alongside paint, live plants, grills and cleaning supplies. Now, customers can browse and buy items from the assortment using the virtual tour.

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