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Weldon Hardware's Owner Faces Challenges of Big-Box Competitors, Downtown Atmosphere

Bill Weldon keeps trying to find a marketing strategy that will click.

Here's a challenge, Lisle residents: Close your eyes. Picture downtown Main Street. Can you name each business in turn? Which areas are fuzzy?

A business owner who has watched the landscape change over a few decades said he still encounters customers who don't know what's available in their own downtown. And he struggles to find new ways to attract customers.

Bill Weldon took ownership of the hardware store at 4715 Main St. approximately three years ago, after working there for more than 20 years. He is an active member of the 's Downtown Business Council, which sponsors the summer car shows. He said he considers running the store his retirement.

is currently affiliated with Orgill Hardware Wholesalers, but Weldon said he is debating joining a co-op, or retail-owned buying group. The move would allow Weldon to purchase inventory at wholesale prices, and stay viable in a market dominated by chain stores.

"Big-boxes are a force to be reckoned with," Weldon said.

He said it's a customer's first inclination to shop at larger retailers, such as Home Depot or Menard's, but they often end up at his store, anyway. He said larger stores only reorder items that have moved off shelves in the past year, but he stocks plumbing fixtures that suit older homes in Lisle and Downers Grove.

"We get a lot of loyal customers, and people who don't want to drive, park in a huge lot, wander a 30,000-foot store for two-and-a-half hours looking for a nut," he said. "If you need something unique, you're wasting your gas driving."

He said people come to Weldon "for the advice and the popcorn," but mostly the advice.

Weldon said he's noticed that the best employees for the job are homeowners themselves. While experts obviously carry a breadth of knowledge, they often struggle to translate it to the customer. Weldon said homeowners tend to be the best salesmen because they've likely experienced the problems themselves, and can offer a few tricks.

 

Marketing is a Struggle

Like many small-business owners, Weldon is struggling to adapt to the changing marketing world. He has experimented with special promotions, but said it's been difficult finding the most effective format to reach customers.

Weldon has tried a couple variations of print ads. He said he received a good response from ads in Red Plum, but found it was too expensive to keep up long-term. Recently he's tried bi-weekly local newspaper promotions, with less success.

One of the services his store provides is key-cutting. Weldon said employees cut anywhere from 50-100 keys per day, but only five customers took advantage of a recent "buy one, get one" deal. He brought in extra machines to offer a deal on renting Rug Doctor cleaners, but customers did not take advantage.

Weldon said he's distributed flyers, email blasts, and direct mailers to little success. He does not believe employees from the new Navistar facility took advantage of a flyer he distributed through the Chamber of Commerce. He also offers a customer rewards program, which requires a name, street address, and email address. Members receive birthday coupons and a $5 discount for those who buy more than $250 in merchandise. He said he's often asked why the store asks for the contact information.

His answer: "Because you're going to get nothing if we don't have anywhere to send it."

Weldon has talked with other hardware store owners about how they use Facebook to promote business, but he finds this tactic more a labor of love than effective marketing.

Online coupons likely aren't in the cards, either. Weldon commended Groupon-type deals for their ability to boost sales at food service establishments, but he doesn't believe they would generate additional revenue for his business.

Even his hyper-local promotions haven't done as well as he thought they would.

Last year he sponsored a food drive, offering 10 percent off a purchase in exchange for donations, which he said garnered "barely any response." He made a "fill your bucket" partnership with , which would have allowed a maximum of 700 customers to receive a discount on any items they could fit inside the bucket. Twenty-seven people took advantage.

When he tried soliciting photos of residents' gardens, he received roughly two submissions.

His most successful promotion "far and away" is an annual turkey giveaway, which benefits two lucky customers.

He thinks the average shopper's attitude about downtown Lisle is part of the challenge.

"Getting people to come downtown is a problem," he said, mostly because those who do drive to Main Street do so for a specific reason. Whether they're there to drop off dry cleaning, pick up baked goods from , or buy a specialty product from Tina's Closet, most customers don't spend time exploring the business district.

He's also observed a decrease of motor traffic since Main Street was revamped roughly a decade ago, particularly Metra commuters who can now drive straight down Burlington Avenue to leave the commuter area, without using Main Street.

Despite the fact that there's been a hardware store in his space for many years, Weldon said he still hears Lisle residents say, "I didn't know you were here."

Weldon thinks the lack of interest is due to an ever-increasing number of offices and service-oriented business, which aren't open nights or weekends. The village is still searching for buyers for the Garfield lots between Main Street and PrairieWalk Pond. The former spaces for Zing, Wild Bran, and Vini remain empty.

Now that Navistar is in town, he'd like to see economic development efforts re-focus on small business. [] While he said "retail anything" would be nice, Weldon specifically wants more downtown restaurants, a Game Stop, or even a microbrewery in the vacant bank building. He feels such additions would change the downtown atmosphere so customers were more inclined to stay and browse.

Fortunately, the early spring weather is drawing potential customers out of their homes and into the downtown. At this time of year Weldon said he gets a boost in foot traffic from those with canine companions looking for a treat.

Still, he warns gardeners not to jump the gun on their plantings this year. He advises anyone with an itch on their green thumb to keep their plants potted just a bit longer.

 

Weldon Hardware rates an average of five stars from Patch readers. Review the hardware store, or others in the village in our Directory.

 

Karlie Baker (Editor) April 02, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Patch users can add their review of Weldon Hardware here, or read feedback from some of his previous customers: http://lisle.patch.com/listings/weldon-hardware-supply
JL April 02, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I live in Lisle and I've shopped at this store more than a handful of times...literally 75% of the time, I leave empty-handed because they either don't have what I want or they don't have enough of it. The staff is usually friendly, although I was followed around on one occasion by an employee who seemed sure I was there to steal something. I walked out without making a purchase-went to Home Depot and spent over $500. Marketing something that people either don't understand or want will yield poor results. The trick is to know 'what' you're marketing...and being a small player in a large field means needing a niche so that potential customers know 'why' they should give you a chance. Without that, they've no reason to do so. I think the customer focus, prices and availability are the key issues-NOT the location.
Thomas April 02, 2012 at 06:22 PM
I like the place. The reason they are probably struggling right now is due to the economy. People are cutting their personal expenses and when they need something, they are going to go to the cheaper place, which is usually a big box store.
Bill April 02, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Taxpayers foot $20 Million bill for the Downtown Lisle makeover; Business complains of "atmosphere." New headline for this story
Big Country April 02, 2012 at 11:17 PM
I have always had good experiences at this hardware store. I have been followed around the store or so it seemed but it was really someone looking to help me find something. The staff has been very helpful. I am going to make a point to shop here.
Vona Vortex April 03, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Once again a reasonable article is sidelined by the Curmudgeons of Lisle. You live in a community, so man up and quit your griping about taxes. If you do not want to have a nice downtown or community services then go live in a cheaper area or one that is not incorporated. Is DuPage expensive? Yes, but you make the decision to live in a community. If you do not like it, move somewhere cheaper. I am starting to comment on this blog least the rest of the world think all of us are like the Curmudgeons. Who in their right mind would ever want to move here when THIS is all they see. People pick to live in the western suburbs because they get a high standard of living. And for that one does pay for it. And leave everybody else alone that wants to live with good schools and community services. Put that in your TIF and toke on it.
D R April 03, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I would LOVE to move... but my Lisle home is now at 50% of its 2006 value and still no one wants to buy it. I guess I can't blame them. The property tax bill is $20,000 per year and goes up every year, despite falling home values. Seems that the Village only cares about TIF, increasing taxes, and bringing loser projects to town that other towns turn away. When you pay high taxes, one expects a town that treats it residents as a priority not as a burden.
Maria April 03, 2012 at 01:34 PM
In this reasonable article, the Weldons (taxpayers and business owners) complain and blame Lisle's downtown atmosphere for their business problems. Are the Weldons the "curmudgeons" you speak of? Would their business be more successful if they paid lower property taxes/rent? Would their business be more successful if more people still lived near downtown Lisle where now sits a big pond? People will move to Lisle when it is a value. Property taxes must be kept low, development must be desirable and it must add to the quality of life of the residents. Short-sighted development with no long term master plan wastes taxpayers money and causes property values and quality of life to fall.
Jane April 03, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Name-calling - simplest and lowest form of propaganda when faced with a situation that threatens your status or agenda. In school, this name-calling is known as Bullying. From: Clyde Miller, Propaganda Analysis, NY Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1937 "Call them names! Laugh at what targeted others say. Criticize their lack of Values. Denounce their ideals. Turn around their words and actions, taking them out of context and amplifying them to drown out any denial (making denial seem like admission of guilt). Use other double-binds such that whatever they say or do only mires them more deeply. Find a name that trivializes them and use it at every opportunity, with a smirk on your face and the laughter of your supporters. Show up opponents Make your opponents appear stupid, immoral or otherwise undesirable. Besmirch their untarnished reputation, holding it down in the mud, rubbing it in with the knowledge that much of the mud will stick. Be careful about the person retaliating. As necessary, ensure they are isolated and disempowered first."
JL April 03, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Yeah, there's a world of difference between being asked three times if I need help (with me politely saying "No, thanks, I know what I'm looking for here.") and then having that person follow me down three aisles as I look for other items. I have perspective: I worked in retail for 20 years and it is tough to make sure you're in the right place when someone has a question but not bothering them while they're working something out or considering their options.
Jim Strnad April 03, 2012 at 06:56 PM
!. I shop in Lisle whenever possible because it is convenient and allows me to keep my TAX DOLLARS in Lisle. I can better utilize my time at home rather than having to spend an additional hour traveling to some other Village to support THEIR tax base. 2. No store stocks everything. If one Saturday morning you decide to remodel your bathroom chances are excellent Weldons, or Ace for that matter will not be able to provide all your needs although I’ll bet they could order it for you. Lisle is a retail desert offering almost NO retail shopping so I would suggest we support what we have: Lisle with Weldons is better than one without Weldons. 3. The Village, without voter input, invested 15 million dollars in an attempt to attract business to their one block downtown that never had a history of excessive vacancies. The cute sidewalks, lamps and reduced parking haven’t worked out too well so far have they? The “water feature” is pretty nice though. Hey, isn’t that a Park District thing? By the way, that Arbor Trails development: forget it! We are in no need of another “Old Village Hall Ice Skating Rink”. To even consider permitting 160 plus new homes when we have a glut of underwater houses already available is patently ridiculous. The best thing this Village Board could do for Lisle is to rezone the Maple Avenue property and BEG Meijer to build a store on it. Support whatever little Lisle retail business we have!
William W. Weldon April 03, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Bill, Are you reading the same article that the rest of are? I have read it over and over and I can not find where I complained about the downtown atmosphere. If anything it was an invitation to poeple to come down and enjoy the atmosphere and check out what Lisle has to offer. The entire point of the article was to answer the question, "What do we need to do to attract more people to the downtown area to enjoy the street scapes and walking trails around the ponds. And maybe do a little shopping along the way?" Thank you to our supporters for your kind words and we do appreciate your business. Bill Weldon Weldon Hrdware Supply
Rob April 03, 2012 at 08:07 PM
I think Jane's comment on name calling basically sums up Lisle (and DuPage County) politics. It's fine to disagree and even voice your opinion, but when a community only has a 17% voter turnout (last municipal election in Lisle), you can rest assured the "old guard" will stay in power and view apathy as a mandate to continue on the same course. As long as Lisle residents are complacent our entire commercial district will continue to decline. Drive down Ogden Ave. from Cicero to Naperville and tell me what other town has more vacant and abandoned spaces. Defend the $20M of our tax dollars spent on downtown all you want, but has it gotten more (or more viable) businesses or increased merchant sales? Exactly the opposite has happened. Our neighboring towns have seen retail increases, we see decline. You get what you vote for and we have chosen mediocrity. Welcome to Lisle - The Town That Settles for Less
Bill April 03, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Complain: (def) to express disatisfaction; pain; uneasiness; censure; resentment or grief; find fault. "He thinks the average shopper's attitude about downtown Lisle is part of the challenge." - find fault; disatisfaction. "Getting people to come downtown is a problem," he said, mostly because those who do drive to Main Street do so for a specific reason." - find fault. "..most customers don't spend time exploring the business district." - dissatisfaction. "He's also observed a decrease of motor traffic since Main Street was revamped roughly a decade ago, particularly Metra commuters who can now drive straight down Burlington Avenue to leave the commuter area, without using Main Street." - find fault; dissatisfaction.
Rob April 03, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I've done all of the above Tommy O. Ask Mr. and Mrs. Weldon how much help the village, chamber or downtown alliance have been to them. My point is exactly your point; don't complain and say things need to be changed if you don't vote for change. The article may be about Weldon Hardware, but the problem is that people do not come to Lisle to shop (even people from Lisle). Mr Weldon has a market obligation to run a good hardware store. Local government has an obligation to invest our tax dollars to foster economic growth and help businesses succeed. You call it complaining, I call it reality. Either way the outcome is the same.
Vona Vortex April 04, 2012 at 01:30 PM
It doesn't matter WHAT the discussion is - somehow a group of like 10 people like to constantly SPAM every discussion with ones about taxes. As far as "name calling?" When I see filth like Taj Mahal and other "name calling" happening all over what is pretty much the only communication medium of the town (and one that makes money off stirring it up) then yes - it IS the Curmudgeons of Lisle. If I was considering looking at Lisle and only saw this constant griping you better believe I might not live here. Why on earth would I want to move into an area with neighbors that resemble Archie Bunker? We could have a story about Little Bo Peep and it would be sidetracked by the demographic that wants to gripe. It is your responsibility as a home buyer to research and know about how much taxes you will pay. And expect that to go up through the years as a town does projects, or as costs have a natural inflation. Paying 20K in taxes? Then you are living in a whopper of a house. TIF? That building sat empty for like 8 YEARS. I'm not necessarily a fan of corporate welfare.......but the reality is that mammoth building had ZERO hope of getting anybody in it. THAT is reality. Town that Settles for Less? Lisle is a GREAT place to live. I love the central park, the trees, the small town flavor. The Library and staff, the park programs, the close knit neighbors. The schools are a hidden gem. Don't like it? There is the door.
Jane April 04, 2012 at 01:57 PM
iStar has had 2 purchase offers in the past 2 yrs. Public record. Don't believe everything you read online, in the press or every thing that comes out of Village Hall for that matter. Do your own research. iStar submitted two offers to the County Board of Review. iStar files an appeal to their tax assessment every year. For the past two years those appeals have been based on purchase offers. Oh, and as for "vacant," iStar filed their 'Vacant Building' registration in Feb 2012. They also recently submitted a certification of vacancy to the County - that was in 2009. Not 8 yrs ago. Find the records, then make comments.
Nancy April 04, 2012 at 02:44 PM
People, people, people!!!!!! Where has this discussion gone? It started out about Weldon Hardware and ended up about the problems of the town!!! Big box stores may have their place, but so do the small hardware stores. Remember the corner drugstores where you got personal service and they knew you? They are practically extinct due to Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart, etc. Is this what you want to happen to local hardware stores? If not, you should start frequenting your local independent businesses, especially Weldon Hardware. It's a great store owned by a lover of hardware who has been in the business for 35 years. Downtown Lisle has a chance, but it's up to the consumers to help it out! And before you accuse them of not having the best prices, you should check it out first. I have found that their prices are very competitive. Remember, prices are going up everywhere, so I suggest you check out the "others" prices first before you comment.
Sharon Weldon April 04, 2012 at 03:29 PM
DR You are correct we don't have everything that everyone wants. Look at our sign the name is Weldon Hardware, we are all alone, not publicly traded and completely independent. We purchased this store in the worst economic time of this country's history and we have struggled to make this store better than it was 3 years ago when we puchased it and I believe we have accomplished that, is there a long way to go, yes there is. Trust me when I tell you being independent means just that, you are on your own. No financial help from ACE or corporate offices or your stockholders and it is not easy, it has been the toughest 3 years of my life but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we will continue to try and make this store better. The items one person wants is not the same as the next person and unfortunately because we have to pick an choose the person that gives some feedback may be get what they are looking for. The way they usually give feedback is to a salesperson. We strive for customer service and may be a bit over zealous and this will be a discussion that we don't want people to feel they are being followed. In regards to pricing, No we can not compete with HD, Menards or Lowes on everything, but we are lower or the same than all of them on some things. When I get a complaint, I will go to my competition and check the complaint out myself and investigate, all I want to say is compare us apples to apples, not apples to oranges. Thanks, S Weldon
Dick April 04, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Downtown Lisle business owners should take the matter into their own hands! It is not up to the customer to make Lisle businesses successful. Form a Downtown Business Association. It should be run by and funded by the businesses themselves (no gov't interferance or gov't funding), since it is the business owners who will reap the benefits. See, for example, the Downtown Naperville Alliance. http://www.downtownnaperville.com/index.php
Rob April 04, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Nancy: I agree with most of what you say, but the comment, "Downtown Lisle has a chance, but it's up to the consumers to help it out!" does not resonate. Consumers don't make buying decisions based on helping out a community. Lisle needs compelling stores downtown and businesses do not like to locate here. We have a very high failure rate and prospective retailers know that. When you see existing businesses struggling, why locate a new one there? The downtown plan needs to be about targeting businesses, not a facelift. When developers build retail complexes they do so with specific brands/stores in mind. They would not get bank financing without a business plan. Lisle is investing tax dollars, but there is no business plan. Ask the village to see one and see what response you get. It's an architectural and landscape plan, not a business plan. No bank would fund what was done in Lisle, but WE did. When CVS wanted to build a store on the corner of Main and Ogden, Lisle figured out a way to make that not happen. Instead, they tore down the Pizza Hut at Naperville and Ogden and built there . Starbucks refuses to locate in downtown Lisle. Only downtown along the Burlington that does not have one. That says a lot. If we want to help out downtown, it's not about being charitable to existing businesses, it's about creating a compelling retail district. Whether comments are positive or negative, everyone can agree that $20M tax dollars did not get that job done.
Jim Strnad April 04, 2012 at 11:29 PM
The LVB elected to invest millions into a “downtown” in an attempt to make it a “destination” and failed miserably. Lisle continues to experience decades of lost sales tax revenues. Finally after years of their failed endeavor to create a TIF district the Board felt justified in 2007 - 2008 to use Village funds in an attempt to stop the revenue bleeding. Unfortunately both the timing and the plan itself proved to be faulty. Mixed use projects, reduced parking and single lane traffic to increase business “sight-seeing time” unfortunately hasn’t translated into any real business expansion or increased tax dollars. Four years later and basically the same business that have been downtown for decades are still present: flower shop, tailor, cleaners, barber and beauty shop, insurance company, and etcetera. At least they're consistent, a non-destination downtown equipped with almost entirely non-destination stores. Businesses remain because of reasonable rents; perhaps this is part of Weldon’s problem. There are only two methods for the Village to secure revenue: real estate and sales tax. I do know that my real estate taxes are high enough. Perhaps we can explain to this VB that rather than forcing Lisle residents to spend their monies and resultant sales tax revenues in every other surrounding Village that they confine the last vestige of real potential development property to retail use and say no to Arbor Trail. Shop Lisle, shop Weldon’s.
Maria April 04, 2012 at 11:52 PM
The Village could offer a percentage sales tax rebate to Lisle residents. Lisle residents submit copies of receipts from Lisle businesses and the Village rebates part of the sales tax. So if Lisle collects1% of the 7.25% sales tax, they could offer a rebate of 0.5%. Say you spend $100/week in Lisle, you would be eligible for a rebate of about $25.00. This would likely net an increase in revenue since a good percentage of people wouldn't bother to file for the rebate, but they will remember that their purchase at Lisle Walgreen's is eligible for the rebate, and the same purchase at the Naperville CVS is not.
Thomas April 05, 2012 at 03:05 AM
"sums up Lisle (and DuPage County) politics. It's fine to disagree and even voice your opinion, but when a community only has a 17% voter turnout (last municipal election in Lisle), you can rest assured the "old guard" will stay in power and view apathy as a mandate to continue on the same course. " BINGO!
Thomas April 05, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Not a bad idea, Maria.
Rob April 05, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Mr. Weldon: Something to consider: There is no doubt that Big Box has an impact on your business, but there is not a Home Depot, Lowes or Menards that is in that close a proximity to you. Wheaton Ace is probably the closest competitor. 7/11 can be down the street from a grocery store and do well, Burger King likes to be down the street from McDonalds. It's about selling the brand and differentiating your business. Check out "hardware stores" like Fullers in Hinsdale or Hortons in LaGrange. They have reinvented themselves as specialty stores. Your "local" edge is a convenience hardware store and you could take on some niche merchandise that is unique to Lisle and leverages off of convenience. This type of counsil would normally be coming from a Chamber of Commerce, but.....nuff said.
Mike Loftus April 05, 2012 at 08:43 PM
To all: I love Lisle. I try to "buy Lisle" when I can and often visit Weldons. I also use Leo's Cleaners, and John Dough Bakery. (I fully endorse all of them) My dentist is Mike Gonda on Main St. There is new ownership of the Verizon store and that is a good thing. There are so many interesting stores in our downtown. We have the makings of a great downtown area. Just make downtown a destination for one and branch out. PS I have always had great experience with Flowers of Lisle, the Book Nook, and the restaurants. I don't agree with the TIF, but it is done. (I didn't like losing my County Board race, but it, too, is done) We learn and move on.
William W. Weldon April 07, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Rob, You are right on point with this chain of thought. The problem is people do not compare us to "LIKE" stores. They compare us to the "Big Box Stores". We do spend a fair amount of time in other stores all over the area and the country to see what other small stores are doing. We looked at a store in Western Illinois that started selling shotguns. They are now one of the largest Remington dealers in Illinois. We have also done market surveys to see how we line up with stores our size and the big boys. Contrary to popular opinion we are not the highest price in town. Will we always be the lowest? I am sure we won't, but we do try. When you are doing your grocery shopping how many stores do you go to to fill your list? Is Jewel always the cheapest or do you sneak over to Aldi's for one or two items? 20 years ago before the "Big Box Movement" Lisle support 3 hardware stores. Now there is one. So yes they impact us little guys. Is there a place for the "Big Box Stores"? Of course there is, I'd be lying if I said I didn't shop there. I don't sell lumber so I have to go there. But there is also a place of the little guys like us. People just need to get past the assumption that BIG is always cheaper. They aren't!
Lisle Watchdog April 08, 2012 at 01:56 PM
When will the Village of Lisle do something FOR its residents and small business owners?? If I were a small business owner in Lisle, I would be fuming that the Village is keeps handing money "deals" - i.e TIF funds - to bring new projects to town and does nothing for existing small businesses. If the large projects were highly desirable and brought new customers to Main St or Ogden, as a small business owner, I might hold my tongue. But the Village keeps handing out tax deals to controverial projects that neighbors find objectionable. All this does is infuriate group of neighbors and Lisle businesses lose customers. And these neighbors and small businesses start complaining and/or griping. Who can blame them? We have the Oakview neighbors fuming over the water issue. Neighbors at Yackely /Ogden fuming over a proposed diesel school bus terminal, Leask Lane neighbors fuming over diesel engine testing at Navistar, Beau Bien neighbors fuming over cutting the height of the tollway sound wall, neighbors fuming over the cost of the boat/trailer ordinance... and now Lisle wants to bring a deisel mechanics school and give them an $8 M tax deal.
Bill May 17, 2012 at 05:20 PM
As long as we have elected officials who accept campaign contributions from people doing business with Lisle (pay-to-play exists right here in Lisle, folks), Lisle will continue on its slippery slope ... Yes - I am talking about Ancel Glink giving hundreds of dollars to Ed Young. Highly unethical. Reflects on our entire Village.

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