MARCO ISLAND — Local “mom & pop” hardware stores faced with the specter of a Lowe’s home improvement store going up in East Naples plan to keep prices low to compete.
The “big box” chain is scheduled to open at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Collier Boulevard toward the end of the year. The building is under construction.
No big fan of what he calls “major setbacks for mom & pop operations,” Mario Curiale has for the past 20 years operated Marco Building Supply in the town’s industrial area.
“We just can’t carry all they can,” Curiale said of Lowe’s and similar stores, “so you have to preach knowledge to help homeowners and contractors ... building confidence, educating them.”
“Also, we don’t have the clout or the financial ability to do the loss leaders they do. For example, sometimes they sell cement for less than they buy it.”
“But, we are cost competitive,” he said. “A lot of our products are cheaper than the box stores.”
He said this aspect is vital, because contractors shop around just like any other consumers.
Curiale admits that the big stores tend to have experts on the floor, necessitating the same for his operation.
“I’m a general contractor myself,” he said. “Knowledge is the key. I can’t compete as glamorously, but I can in terms of functionality.”
Marco Building Supply carries lumber and building materials “from A to Z,” as Curiale puts it, but not appliances and paint.
Bottom line, he said is that: “A business is only as good as the person is interested in running it.”
With a background in the building trade, Steve Trafton has operated Marco Ace Hardware since July, 1976.
He agreed with Curiale about competitive pricing, and said it was relatively easy — courtesy of the Internet — to stay abreast of pricing structures.
“I’m always working and checking that back and forth,” he said.
Trafton said one concession is that smaller stores such his are not in direct competition with the Lowe’s and Home Depots of the world.
His customers spend an average of about $16 per visit for small home improvements, he said, while big box customers average about $70.
“The point is that if someone’s doing a big project, they don’t mind driving 20 or 30 miles,” Trafton said.
But, as one of the Ace Hardware corporate ad campaigns goes, he said, it’s about “getting in, getting what you need, and getting out with the right item to finish the project.”
It’s also about looking after the locals, Trafton said.
“Take care of the customers, and they’ll take care of you,” he said
Trafton has weathered some big box competition before when Winn-Dixie Stores in 1980 brought in a hardware and lawn and garden store to swell its grocery supplies operation.
“They didn’t succeed because they didn’t have a high level of service,” Trafton said. “It costs money to train employees, and they weren’t prepared to do that.”
According to Collier County clerk’s office records, Lowe’s purchased 13.39 acres for $9.5 million to build the freestanding store at the strip mall. The 116,000-square-foot building will also house a 32,000-square-foot garden center.
Initially, as reported in August 2009, Lowe’s and the county faced delays in the project because of the potential for increased traffic at the intersection.
With the intersection already listed as “failing” by the county, several developers planned projects for the area that would possibly overload the roadways.
However, most of those deals fell through because of the faltering economy, and the way was left clear for Lowe’s to follow through with its plans. County commissioners and the company reached an agreement in March 2009 that would allow future expansion of the intersection and the store to be built without creating further traffic problems.