John and Patti George may be newcomers to hardware retailing, but they are certainly not newcomers to retail. In fact, last year, the owners of D-Tone Feed & Tires in Plattsburg, Mo., decided to write the next chapter in the history of the business started by Patti's father Tony Enderle in 1971. They wanted to bridge the gap between the existing tire sales and grain and feed business. Taking into consideration their farm-oriented clientele and all the consumers in the area who often had to travel 20 miles or more to buy home improvement items, hardware seemed a natural fit.
While the Georges knew little about hardware retailing, they had a good idea what kind of a store they wanted. And with John's extensive construction background, they even knew what they wanted the store to look like. "John's a planner. We had been planning this move for the past 10 years, and we often visited other stores for ideas while traveling on vacation," says Patti. "We knew we wanted to be a farm-hardware store because we already have a lot of customers who are farmers, and they need hardware too. We also knew we wanted the store to have the look and feel of a general store."
The feed supply business has been the mainstay of the operation since John started working for Patti's father 24 years ago. "We raise horses and cattle ourselves, so we live it," says Patti. "You can go to an Orscheln or a Town & Country Store, but you talk to people who don't live it like we do."
But located 30 miles from the northern tip of Kansas City, they also wanted to capitalize on the many hobby farmers who live in the area—people who commute all week long and who don't want to go back into the city on Saturday and Sunday for needed hardware items.
To plan a project of this magnitude, they knew they needed a supplier who would consult with them on both store planning and assortment planning. That’s when a retailer friend of John’s put him in touch with Jerry Bullock, who would in short order become the George’s Blish-Mize sales representative."I had several different people tell me they were a good company to do business with, so I called Jerry," says John. "We also knew we wanted to be independent." After briefly speaking to Wheatbelt, he says their criteria was more strict than he cared for, and he didn't want to invest a lot of money in a co-op in order to be able to purchase product.
Once Blish-Mize got involved in the project, it wasn't long before the overall salesfloor design and assortment strategy started taking shape. The first step was to sit down with the space constraints of the store and begin looking at Blish-Mize's Retail Merchandising System (RMS) assortments to start filling out the square footage. "We went out to our house and sat down with Jerry and our Regional Sales Manager Brad Uhrmacher to start the process," says John. "Blish-Mize made it very easy picking what we needed to stock."
Then it was time to break ground for the new building, which took place in March of 2006. On July 31, one day before their target opening date, the store opened for business. At the store's grand opening in September (which tied into the 35th anniversary of the business), the Georges expected 250 people to show up, but were amazed to see more than 500 people walk through the door. "When I first came to work here, we were only drawing from an eight-mile radius in the feed business," says John. "Now with our feed and tire business, we are drawing from up to 35 miles away, which is great in exposing our customers to our new hardware line." John also notes that 20 years ago he knew everyone who came in the front door. "Now, if I know a third I'm doing well," he says, "and many of them are female customers."
One of the dominant departments that has quickly become a major draw is hardware and fasteners. John says many times residents in the area would have to make a special trip to St. Joseph or Kansas City for a needed fastener. "Driving 20 or 30 miles for a dollar item is ridiculous," he says. But what's equally rewarding to saving customers a trip out of town is all the hardware items that farmers pick up when they come in to order feed. "In the construction phase, a lot of people were asking what we were going to sell,” says John. . "I asked them what they wanted to buy, because I wanted to open up communications and let our customers be a part of planning our inventory."
This attention to detail and the exceptional customer service provided by the staff of 12 employees is why the store has been such an instant success. "When people shop here, we speak to them and then we carry the product out to their car for them," says Patti. "There is nothing worse than the Home Depot Point, where you ask an employee where something is and they point a certain direction in the store,” ads John. “People today don’t expect the kind of service we provide. When people leave here I want them happy,’ Which he says is all part of their philosophy of satisfying “one customer at a time.”
With a comfortable feeling that they have found a true business partner that will help them continue to grow the hardware side of the business, the Georges can now concentrate on working the plan they laid out years ago and watching it come into fruition. “I’ve been in the feed business for 24 years, and it changes like any other business, but for Patti and I, this has kind of been like the birth of a child-something new and exciting and very much worth having.”