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Hardware stores deck their halls

OCHRISTMAS TREE Hank Bros. True Value Hardware allots about 500 square feet of its store for Christmas.

In recent years, many independent hardware stores have begun to emphasize the holiday category in an effort to become a destination for everything from artificial trees to the latest in designer decorations—and for good reason.

The National Retail Federation estimates that the average American will spend $49.76 on Christmas decorations this year, up from $46.49 in 2006. And competition is heating up. Home Depot, for instance, intends to double its holiday decor sales in 2007.

Todd Santee, Do it Best’s merchandise manager, outdoor living and trim-a-tree, said that when the numbers are in, he expects the co-op will have ordered 5 percent to 10 percent more merchandise for next year than it did for 2007.

“At our 2008 Do it Best Winter Conference & Expo, we (will) feature our Christmas in January exhibits on the expo floor,” he said. “There will be more than 15 vendors with their Christmas displays, and it’s a great time for members to be able to not only see what items are going to be popular for the upcoming season, but also to place their orders.”

Patron’s Do it Best Home Center in Bardstown, Ky., stepped up its Christmas business in 2006, taking a 600-square-foot space that had been used as a rental department and displaying 50 Christmas trees ranging in price from $79 to $500, as well as a variety of lights, wreaths, garlands and other basics.

Patron’s, which sold about 100 trees last year, does get some competition from a nearby Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, and they’re only 40 minutes from Louisville, which has many Christmas outlets. “Lots of people used to go there [to Louisville], but we have brought a lot of business back here locally, which is a good feeling,” said Krista Foster, store manager.

Elliott Ace Hardware, with four locations in Elm Grove, Wis., has been building up its Christmas business since the early 1990s, flip-flopping the outdoor living department to a Trim-A-Tree area between November and January. Each store has a dedicated staff member to run the department and make sure it is kept organized and well-stocked.

“It’s important to keep it neat looking and appealing to shoppers, and anything you can get out of the box and on display is a positive,” said Stephanie Buchmann, advertising manager for all four locations.

In addition to core Christmas items, Elliott Ace Hardware also carries the miniature porcelain Christmas Village that Ace has been stocking since 1993. Each year, about 10 new styles of porcelain homes and other village features are made available through Ace, and some customers shop Elliott’s stores just to add these pieces to their collections. “It’s little things like this that add up and differentiate us from other outlets,” Buchmann said.

Ace Hardware Garden Acres in Longmont, Colo., has also built up its Christmas business to the point that sales in the category rank third for the store overall—behind lawn and garden and paint. The store has built its reputation on unique items, as well as having a broad selection that takes up 2,500 square feet of the 20,000-square-foot store. About 30 trees are displayed on the sales floor, and there’s a 16-foot run of holiday-related products brought in from the Denver and Dallas gift marts in February and March.

“If you think you’re going to do well in Christmas by putting up a dozen trees in the center aisle, you’re wrong,” owner Dan Gust said. “You have to train people to set up the merchandise right. You absolutely have to make a commitment to it.”

Hank Bros. True Value Hardware in Paducah, Ky., devotes about 500 square feet to Christmas in each of its two 12,000-square-foot stores, which face competition from two Lowe’s stores, two Wal-Mart Supercenters, a Home Depot and an independent Christmas tree store. They were the first in their area to bring in pre-lit Christmas trees, and this year introduced the community to no-fluff artificial trees, which can be put up in about five minutes, according to fourth generation owner Chuck Hank. In addition, customers can pay an extra fee to have floor clerks come to their home and set up their trees.

“We may not be the biggest in terms of allocated floor space, but we’re right in there in terms of reputation and business,” he said.

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