Hardware Retailing

JAN 2018

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 | January 2018 46 J ames Coté had just returned from college and was ready to resume his job at the town's hardware store, but it was obvious that something was wrong. The store, sitting on the town's picturesque main street, had once been busy with customers. Now, it was anything but attractive. The shelves were half-empty and many customers were leaving the store without purchasing anything. During a rainstorm, tarps covered several rows of gondolas so water from the leaking roof wouldn't ruin merchandise. The building was on the verge of foreclosure. Causes for the decline were easy to spot. The housing crash of 2008 struck a hard blow to the local economy. The owner, hoping the downturn would be short lived, tried to hold on to the property by selling off inventory. Purchases declined, and expenses overtook income. The business was quickly becoming unsustainable. With a fresh business degree in hand, Coté might have gone anywhere to start his career. "But I was having a conversation with a customer about the store, how it might close soon, and he said, 'You should buy the place,'" Coté recalls. That conversation planted a seed in his mind. He talked it over with Megan, who is now his wife. "She was on board with the plan, so we took the leap of faith," he says. "Two months later, the store was ours." The Long Road Forward Coté admits there were a lot of unknowns about how he could turn the business around, but he knew the issues the store was facing and what was working in his favor. Inventory was low, customers were frustrated and the building needed an overhaul, but the economy was starting to pick up again. "Looking at past sales numbers, I knew there was potential," he says. "My main effort was to bring in the inventory to bring in the customers." The other piece working in his favor was a strong support system. Megan helped out at the store on the weekends. He also kept the manager who had been at the store for 14 years. "That first winter, the manager and myself were the only full-time employees," Coté says. "Without him, it would have been incredibly difficult." To finance the operation, Coté borrowed money from his parents, but cash flow was still tight. For the first nine months, he didn't take a paycheck so he could put as many resources as possible into the store. For James Coté, bringing the store back from the brink of collapse meant restoring inventory controls, making the salesfloor easier to shop and developing a new marketing plan for the business. A Second Chance for Osterville House & Garden

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