Helping to future-proof the High Street
Home Hardware prides itself on blending traditional High Street values with modern retail approaches, always with local communities in mind.
This was never more evident than during, and in the wake of, the Covid pandemic, as Fiona Leary, the company’s Financial & Business Development Director, explains: “Obviously, we were an essential business, but we had to close initially until the shops were made safe and the staff were protected.
However, our website was never meant for 500 Click & Collect orders a day, it wasn’t designed for that.”
Seizing the opportunity to up-date what was, by its own admission, a dated website, the business set about upgrading its technology, making temporary but essential changes before embarking on what Fiona refers to as ‘a quiet revolution’ – a three-year technology transformation resulting in a brand new, interactive website, taking advantage of what’s called Omnichannel outreach.
Recognising the change in consumer spending habits, the business first of all engaged with Business Gateway consultants from North Ayrshire who provided top level support in helping to understand Omnichannel technology, and then partnered with MTC Media in Dundee to deliver a new website providing customers with numerous ways to shop or get in touch.
With links to NearSt, a retail tech platform designed to get people back into the High Street, it combines the simplicity and convenience of online shopping with the traditional face-to-face experience.
“The idea is that customers can search on their phone and see that what they need is just down the road. They can see real time products.”
So, in addition to searching traditional information such as directions, contact details and opening hours for a particular store, shoppers can also search the store inventory.
“If you’re looking for Evergreen Lawncare, for example, you can see if it’s in stock, how far away it is and when the shop is open, which is absolutely fantastic.”
The existing Click & Collect service remains but the new NearSt facility offers a faster, more streamlined experience. Plus, Home Hardware still offers free delivery for orders over £40 from all of its Wrights stores.
“It’s much more up-to-date and complete,” says Fiona of the new website, “but it still has that local feel. It meets the demands of everyone.”
And that local feel remains a priority, hence the ‘fight-back’ attitude and desire to see local High Streets flourish.
“My dad was absolutely obsessed,” Fiona says. “He just felt that if he didn’t put up a fight, then who was going to. He loved the trade. It’s evolved a lot since he started, but we grew up with this mantra, we couldn’t escape it. I find it difficult not to be passionate about it because I understand it, I’ve seen it from the inside, and I’ve seen it over a very long period of time. The story is just there to be told.”
That story began with Fiona’s father, Jim Ferguson, working for William Wright in the first ever Wrights store in 1962. He bought the business seven years later, keeping the original name and opening a further nine local stores. As one of the founding members of Home Hardware (Scotland) Ltd, Jim saw the company expand to include over 40 family run businesses throughout Scotland and the north of England.
The Head Office remains in Prestwick and with a thriving distribution hub in Ardrossan, it is still very much a community-focused enterprise. Fiona’s brother, Brian, is also a Director of the company, the siblings following in their father’s footsteps and keeping business local.
“We’re trying to future-proof the business,” says Fiona. “We need to be reaching out to the demographics that are so used to being online as a default position, that they don’t leave their house and they don’t wander down the High Street.”
That said, she admits it’s wrong to tar an entire generation with the same brush.
“They don’t all shop online, but I don’t think we can underestimate the challenge that’s going to face the High Street as the older generation diminish, because the habits that they formed as young people will disappear. I think there’s still another decade of attrition.”
Fiona accepts that the company’s technology transformation is an ongoing project, and she encourages other businesses – retailers, cafés, coffee shops – to be equally forward-thinking. After all, the more reasons there are to visit a High Street, the more successful it will be.
“Combination is the key word. We actually all need to work together as businesses. We have to realise that one supports the other. We also welcome competition, but big stores are not a replacement for specialist shops. I don’t think people have really thought about the consequences of going further afield or shopping online. We’ve all got to be aware because it’s our decision making as consumers that saves these shops and these jobs.”
The new website is designed with this decision making in mind, making it as easy as possible for customers to find what they are looking for, make a purchase, and either collect or take delivery of their goods.
“We’ve got a very talented young team, all from Ayrshire, helping with the website along with our team in Dundee. We’ve worked really hard to give each one of the shops a profile so people can meet the team, learn about the shop and see much more of what we’re about.”
The check-out facility will also be quicker with more payment options available, including PayPal, PayIn3 and ApplePay. There is a countdown to dispatch confirming how quickly you can receive your items. You can even take a virtual tour so you can see exactly what the shop is like before you visit. Plus, the Click & Collect facility is being improved, which is extremely important in driving customers to the High Street stores. Customer reviews are also more visible, thus assisting further with decision making.
“Ultimately… we want to enhance the customer journey so that even if you’re shopping with us online, it’s almost like the experience of the local store.”
It’s all part of Home Hardware’s commitment to local communities, a commitment that will continue when Phase 2 of the technology transformation is introduced in the summer. This will involve the launch of a new digital loyalty programme, integrated live local stock information to mirror Google/NearSt and improve the Click & Collect process, and Answerbase, a tool allowing customers to find out exactly how to use certain products. All social media channels – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok – will also be integrated as the new website becomes truly Omnichannel.
For those who prefer the traditional, tangible approach, you’ll be pleased to know that you can use your Scotland Loves Local gift cards, and you’ll still receive the seasonal leaflets through your door.
“It’s a really good communication vehicle,” says Fiona, “direct to people’s doors in the local areas. We’re not going to change that because it’s brilliant. What we are doing, is linking it much more with our blog, which links with our FaceBook, which links with our advertising… it’s all connected for the first time.”
What else is there to say? See for yourself at www.homehardwaredirect.co.uk.