Hardware Store on Wheels?

Think of Mr Whippy ice cream vans, mobile libraries, clothing/souvenir vendors at sports events, and you’ll recognise that many merchants are succeeding by taking their products to the people. Could hardware stores benefit from a similar strategy?

One of the biggest business units in any hardware store is the delivery vehicle fleet. Rural retailers, in particular, are constantly carting goods to building sites and other commercial customers as part of their overall service offering. Such services are aimed squarely at the trade sector, and respond to specific orders and worksite timetables. But what about general consumers who do not have ready access to a store?

Rural Australia is a constellation of big townships surrounded by satellite towns. For many people in these satellite towns the trip to the main commercial hub is impossible or inconvenient. These people may be retirees who do not drive, single parents who do not own a vehicle or teenagers who have not yet gained their driving licences. Would a weekly visit to small towns in a well-provisioned hardware goods truck reap dividends? Depending on the nature and isolation of the town, a mobile store could be a great way of selling “awkward” or heavy items (ladders, barrows, workbenches, etc) while also consolidating the regional reputation of the base store.

Precedent
The idea is not without precedent. In the USA there are well-established mobile vehicle businesses that are doing well by visiting targeted clienteles. Snap-On, for example, is a $2 billion tool fabrication and distribution business that relies largely on mobile van sales networks. Certainly, general consumers are outnumbered by government and industrial clients, but the general principle of taking a well-stocked van to a defined, expectant marketplace is evidently working.

Another company, Hi-Line, uses vans stocked with up to 1,200 line items to distribute abrasives, hand tools, fasteners and other hard goods to thousands of customers in heavy equipment industries.

Similar opportunities might exist in Australia for visiting not only outlying residential communities, but also factory sites, large farms, Council offices and depots, golf clubs and estate construction sites.

Moreover, modern technology allows for mobile electronic transactions, including credit card purchases, as well as instant on-line ordering capabilities, so payment options need not be limited by the mobility of a retail service.

The potential for hardware trucks to drive slowly through industrial estates (with loudspeaker jingles prompting shouts of “Hooray!”) may be some way off, but opportunities undoubtedly exist already for selected mobile services in regional, isolated areas.

By John Power