“I think it was good for our stores to reconnect with the local communities that we serve.” –Mark Begg, Owner, Home Hardware stores (Crysler and Maxville)
The Home Hardware stores in North Stormont and North Glengarry pride themselves on supplying quality home improvement and construction materials—not to mention wholesome customer service.
Lockdown meant closing the stores to in-person shopping. And that effectively cut off Home Hardware’s primary means for interacting with customers.
Mark turned to video and social media to market new products and also relied on historical practices to adjust to the new realities of retail.
Home Hardware reinforced community ties, internal communication, and team spirit.
Mark Begg took ownership of the Home Hardware in Crysler in 2017 and Maxville in 2019. Prior to this, he spent close to two decades working in the school bussing and motorcoach business. Though it may have seemed like quite the jump to move from bussing into home improvement, for Mark it was a good fit.
“It’s in my blood,” he says proudly.
Mark’s great grandfather purchased the Crysler building in 1924 when it was a sash and door factory; he then switched to selling building supplies and joined the Home Hardware family in 1965. Mark’s grandfather then ran the store for 50 years until 1974, when he sold the business to Claude and Simone Quesenel. Almost four years ago, Mark purchased the business back from the Quesnels and brought ownership back to the Begg family. With all going well with the Crysler store, he decided to add the Maxville store to his portfolio in August 2019.
The pandemic brought drastic change to the stores’ regular marketing and sales efforts.
“We spend 99% of our advertising efforts in attracting people to come into our stores so they can see what we have to offer,” Mark says. He volunteers an example: When Home Hardware released a new colour collection, our region was contending with its second lockdown. What would have normally triggered a big marketing campaign plus in-store celebration events wasn’t at all possible.
“We needed to think about how to shift from attracting people to our stores and to instead bringing our stores into people’s homes,” says Mark. “We did that with social media and by producing two videos. They turned out to be a huge success for us.”
For their efforts—one colour collection video and another that acted as a local business promo—, he estimates getting about 10,000 video views and because of this, he intends to keep “them as part of the marketing mix moving forward, for sure.”
“For what they got in response, it’s a no brainer,” he says. “People really like to see the faces from their own communities.”
Naturally, day-to-day operations also had to change to accommodate the new pandemic-era regulations. With strong support from Home Hardware head office, Mark saw an increase of more than 200% in online shopping with local pickup. Though it was a challenge to shift to curbside service, Mark looked back in time to the way general merchants once operated.
As he explains, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, customers would go to the general store with a list of items: some flour, some sugar, a couple of pounds of nails, some new laces for your boots. The general merchant would then go about his business behind the counter, gather all the items in the order, and bring it all to the counter where payment was made.
“We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. The ideas, the original roots of retail, being general merchants: That’s essentially what we had to pivot back to.”
Though the new service model meant the staff had to operate at a faster pace than usual, Mark feels the behind-the-scenes encouragement and necessity of cooperation helped keep them motivated and connected.
“People communicated better with each other and with our customers,” he says. “It was really good for our stores to reconnect with our local communities too.”
Mark says that the pandemic was a catalyst for embracing change.
“As human beings, we’re creatures of habit. I think as business owners, we fall into that rut of doing the same thing over and over again, he says. “This past year pushed change upon us and I think that instead of looking at change as a bad thing and resisting it, that sometimes embracing change isn’t such a bad thing.”
From where he stands, the Home Hardware stores in Crysler and Maxville will continue to play an important role in those communities. For that, Mark is grateful.
“We were lucky; we were allowed to stay open and serve our customers in a time of need. And I think the local connection was reignited as the well as recognition for the importance of local businesses. I hope we’ll be around for a good many years to come.”