August 21, 2017
Viewpoint

Aubuchon Hardware embraces change on a stormy retail landscape

William Aubuchon, IV

Editor's note: Aubuchon Hardware announced Aug. 3 it will close its Westminster distribution center by the end of the year and lay off 31 employees.

Recently a customer walked into one of our stores in search of a megaphone to use at an event that same day. She could not return to the Radio Shack where she originally bought the broken one in her hand, and there was no time for online ordering. She is far from alone in not being able to return to a familiar brick-and-mortar place and consult someone with know how.

Consider brands regional and national on the scrap heap: Caldor, Tower Records, Circuit City, Sports Authority, Filene's, Blockbuster, AJ Wright, KB toys, Villager's Hardware.

The news of Amazon buying Whole Foods sent a shiver through every retailer's bones. This is the most important retail development in recent memory.

Retail is hard. The landscape is challenging. Clinging to the status quo deals dire consequences. At Aubuchon Hardware, we value a 109-year family commitment to customer service, resilience and innovation.

Never has there been a more urgent time for us to become more efficient and less cookie-cutter to harness sales opportunities specific to our unique markets. We will move smartly to invest in more competitive prices and give our local loyal customers an easy-to-use digital experience. At the same time, we will invest in our dedicated and high-performing employees with more pay and training.

We are changing quickly to stay competitive. That means taking bold steps to shift away from our traditional approach of centralized distribution and stocking decisions.

Since February, we have converted three stores – Cohasset, Mass., Moultonborough, N.H., and Easton, N.Y. – to a different system of merchandising, using results of a local study as a guide and giving our store managers more leeway to determine how to utilize their space and which products to stock. Rather than depending solely on our central warehouse in Westminster, which can only hold 15,000 items, we collaborated with multiple larger wholesalers to provide access to over 200,000 items.

On average in each store, we added 19 percent more linear footage and 36 percent more products (6,500+ new items in each store!). The final merchandising plans and pricing strategies are unique to local demand.

We are as committed as ever to giving our customers better selection and better pricing, but on the downside, we have had to cut positions in distribution, buying and merchandising at our headquarters, where 95 percent of the stocking decisions were made. These decisions are not easy, but they are necessary in order for a family-owned business like ours to hold its own against retail titans in the age of online shopping and same-day delivery.

This is the end of the cookie-cutter era for Aubuchon Hardware, and in the long run we believe these changes will not only help us thrive and grow, but ensure our loyal customers will have more good choices.

Aubuchon is president and CEO of Aubuchon Hardware.

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