Some kids know very early what they want to be when they grow up. Marty O’Hara was one of them. Many of his earliest memories are of hanging around and helping out at the family hardware store. By the age of seven, he was already telling people that he would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and one day open a hardware store of his own.
Well, that day came on February 28, 2008, as Marty O’Hara welcomed the first customers to O’Hara True Value Home & Hardware in Darien, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
The new store -- made possible by financing arranged by NCB - is the first to be owned and operated by a third generation O’Hara. Marty’s grandfather, Martin, founded the family hardware business in 1940 with a store in Ottumwa, Iowa. His father Mike also entered the business, as a second retail location was added, in Albia, Iowa. In the 1960s, the whole enterprise became part of the cooperative now known as the True Value Company, which enabled the family to retain ownership and control of their stores while benefitting from a whole host of support and market identity services provided by the cooperative.
Clearly, the allure of running an independent hardware store serving the local community runs very deep in Marty O’Hara’s family. "It just gets in your blood," he says. But, although O’Hara may be adhering to a long family tradition, his store is definitely not in the old-style mold of years past.
With 12,000 square feet of retail space centrally located in the high-traffic Brookhaven Plaza Shopping Center, it is one of the first stores in the nation to incorporate True Value’s new attention-grabbing format. Called "Destination True Value," the initiative is designed to appeal more directly to the needs of the family do-it-yourselfer, with a special emphasis on making the female customer feel right at home.
When you walk into the store, O’Hara says, the visual impact hits you right away: "The color scheme is bright, everything is well lit and color-coded, the aisles are wide, the store is well merchandised and meticulously arranged. A tall vertical racking system runs the perimeter of the store making the back corners as accessible to the shopper as the front counter."
The rationale behind the sparkling, colorful inventory displays is to make the store not only a destination for the male do-it-yourselfer but also his female counterpart. "A guy coming in would immediately judge it to be a nice, well-ordered hardware store," says O’Hara, "but a woman would notice that it’s different from any other hardware store she’s been in."
According to Mark Flowers, Vice President for Retail Growth at True Value, women make approximately 40-to-50 percent of all do-it-yourself purchases. Moreover, they are involved in some way with 80 percent of the hardware and home center purchase decisions in the household. Flowers adds that it is certainly true in his family: "I may be the person at the register buying the paint, but odds are I didn’t choose the color. And that stainless steel grill? I may be the one that picked it out but you can be sure I got approval from my wife."
So, enticing more female shoppers into the stores just makes good business sense, says Flowers, but it is only part of the thrust behind the "Destination True Value" innovations: "Our goal is to enable our retailers to be relevant and competitive in today’s marketplace. By nature, we are not going to go head to head with the big box stores on the assortment of products we can offer. But we have identified select product lines that will definitely help us attract the do-it-yourself enthusiast."
So far, the feedback on the new "Destination True Value" program has been very favorable, reports Flowers. "Our growth for 2008 alone is on a pace to exceed expectations."
To help fuel that growth, NCB was chosen by True Value to be one of the preferred lenders to retailers like Marty O’Hara who are opening new stores or making the transition to the "Destination True Value" format. And the reason for the selection stems from a longstanding relationship between the two organizations. To date, NCB has originated more than $116.3 million in loans for 179 True Value members, as part of its ongoing commitment to providing financial services to cooperatives for the past 30 years.
"What distinguishes us," says NCB’s Brian Misenheimer, "is our depth of expertise in hardware and home center retailing. We have a team at NCB strictly focused on retail lending. And, at the end of the day, what we bring to the table that many other lenders don’t is that we really understand the industry, the programs of these co-ops and the seasonal business needs of their retail members."
Certainly Marty O’Hara speaks positively about his experience with NCB. "They were phenomenal," he says. His family has an existing relationship with a local bank, so there was always the option of going with that institution. And O’Hara investigated another bank in the Chicago area, but NCB stood out in comparison.
"In my dealings with the Chicago area bank, I was almost starting from scratch. The first question I was asked is how does the True Value franchise work? But with NCB, I really appreciated that you start so far ahead of this type of question. It allows you to focus on more market- and store-specific issues rather than have to begin by explaining how the industry functions. NCB just understands this business. And that’s a lot of value to me."
Since his store opened, O’Hara has continued to see growth in sales. And he notices that almost every day he has customers come in who say they are first-timers, which he regards as a good sign for the future.
Also, there is one other thing O’Hara has noticed lately. Married with one and two year olds, he has spotted his eldest, Mickey, taking a precocious interest in the store’s forklift. Maybe again the acorn has not fallen too far from the family tree, and another generation O’Hara hardware retailers will be coming along. Who knows?
For more information, contact NCB’s Brian Misenheimer at (703) 302-1956.