Kirby Scales, General Manager, Russell Do it Center
7 home centers and 2 building supply stores, Alabama
A chance opportunity at a family friend’s hardware store was the beginning of what would become a lifelong career for Kirby Scales. Today, he manages operations for Russell Do it Center, which has nine locations in central Alabama.
Read the conversation with Kirby below and click here to listen to an exclusive podcast episode on Hardware Retailing‘s brand new podcast series Editorially Speaking.
Hardware Retailing (HR): Tell me a brief history of your business.
Kirby Scales (KS): Russell Lands is a multidisciplinary company based in central Alabama. It was founded in the mid-1800s with a mill and has grown over the last nearly 200 years to include residential communities, recreational spaces and facilities, real estate, restaurants, conservation and more. In 1984, Russell Lands acquired Russell Building Supply, and since then, the home improvement division has grown into nine home center and lumberyard locations throughout central Alabama along with a design center. Our division has over 200 employees. Across our stores, we serve DIYers, remodelers and professional contractors.
HR: What unique challenges do you think independent retailers face in today’s market?
KS: One specifically unique issue is how far do we dive into an online presence? Our customers still want to “touch and feel” a lot of the products we sell, but on the other hand, you don’t want your business to become a dinosaur.
Our main struggle is on the building materials side of our business, which in my mind helps drive retail. It is much easier to offer hardware, grills, coolers and lightbulbs, but how do you offer commodities in a price-sensitive market? Specifically lumber—there are so many variables in that category. Do you open yourself up to having to be the lowest price every time to be awarded the job?
We know we need to satisfy the online consumer, but if we continue to have success in our traditional brick-and-mortar location, the subject seems to keep getting pushed aside. We all know it is the elephant in the room. We currently offer online purchasing, but not all categories. One of our goals is to commit and find our “sweet spot” in the lumber and commodity portion of our business model. Customer interaction is still key to our industry.
HR: What do you think the industry will look in the next five to 10 years?
KS: Our industry is slow to react and much of our customer base does not embrace change. I think even more responsibility will be placed on us to know what the customer needs and to help them through their projects. Most customers expect us to be heavily involved in their projects—we are no longer just an order-taker.
Most customers expect us to be heavily involved in their projects—we are no longer just an order-taker.
HR: What are some opportunities independent retailers have in the short term?
KS: With many customers working on home projects right now, independents have the opportunity to gain market share with people who may typically shop at big boxes, but feel more comfortable in their local store because it is more convenient and they are comfortable with the staff. If they have a good experience at an independent business compared to what they are accustomed to, perhaps they will return in the future.
HR: How have you been addressing the pandemic in your operation?
KS: The pandemic has not impacted our plans; in contrast, we have prospered through it. We have taken the same precautions as other retailers: social distancing, plexiglass shields at checkout, frequent hand-washing and customer limits and numerous other safety measures.
HR: What does being an “industry disrupter” mean to you?
KS: I’m not sure how much of a disrupter we are or will be in the future but we listened to our customers and heard over and over about the skilled labor shortage, so we have tried to contribute to a solution. Customers want the job to get done on schedule, at a fair price and to a high standard. We have not been afraid to try products that other retailers may be uncomfortable dealing with. Hopefully we will continue to have success in this area and expand our product offering.