If you’re a woodworker and live in the Orlando or Sacramento areas, you probably heard the buzz or maybe even attended the official “board cutting” ceremonies over the past two months. But if not, here’s the big news: Rockler is expanding its network of retail stores. The company opened a 10,000-square-ft. store in Altamonte Springs, Florida, in late September, to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 300 shoppers. It’s the first store Rockler has opened in 11 years. Then in October, Rockler opened its doors to Rocklin, California, woodworkers with another new 8,000-sq.-foot store.
Additionally, over the past two years, the company has relocated stores to larger spaces in four other cities: Atlanta, Seattle, Arlington (Texas) and Concord, California, plus has undertaken minor remodels to stores in Indianapolis and Burnsville, Minnesota.
All of this retail store activity may seem surprising, given the enormous rise in popularity of online shopping. One might wonder, why open more brick-and-mortar stores in an age where online-only vendors like Amazon have redefined the shopping experience to a few phone or mouse clicks?
“Convenience is the key,” says Ron Hornbaker, Rockler’s CEO. “We want to be able to serve our customers no matter where they wish to shop. Our goal is to provide a level of service that keeps us top of mind, whether they prefer to shop online, by catalog or in a store.”
Back in 1978, Ann Rockler Jackson opened the first woodworking store in Minneapolis. At the time, the company was called Minnesota Woodworker’s Supply and the store name was The Woodworker’s Store. Over nearly four decades since, Rockler’s network of retail stores has grown to 31 locations in 21 states, plus its mail-order catalog and online businesses.
And, for Hornbaker, there’s room for much more retail growth. The new Florida and California stores, plus other store remodels, are just the start. While he’s not ready to discuss where Rockler’s next stores might be, the company ambitiously plans to open five more locations over the next 12 months.
Walking into the “new” Rockler store experience, one gets a sense of openness: aisles are wide and the stores are brightly lit. But what really captures your attention is a glassed-in area with bleacher seating and a full complement of stationary tools. This open viewing classroom area will provide an immersion experience not previously possible at many Rockler stores. It’s a central feature of the new store locations, plus all of Rockler’s recently relocated stores and the Indianapolis store.
The addition of an in-store classroom helps explain what, for Hornbaker, distinguishes a woodworker from other types of retail shoppers. “Because woodworking is a hands-on activity, many of our customers want to see, touch and hold products before they make an investment. Retail stores also provide a space for woodworkers to come together. (Here) we will be able to host woodworking guilds, teach classes and demonstrate techniques and products.”
Aside from a gathering place, retail stores bring expertise. Hornbaker says employees selected for the new stores are experienced woodworkers who understand the products and can help customers make informed decisions. “Several customers have commented to me about how happy they are to finally have experts to talk face-to-face with,” Hornbaker adds.
And, more and larger retail stores also can help the company stock a larger variety of products to serve its emerging customer base. This includes the younger and broader group of DIYers, makers, crafters, refinishers, remodelers and designers. “They appreciate Rockler for the authentic brand that it is and are helping us adjust our assortments (of store products) to better serve them.”
That expanded product line includes hobby CNC machines, a larger stains inventory, paints and new finishing lines, trendy hardware such as hairpin legs and a unique selection of slabs and natural-edge lumber.
There’s also the new Full Spectrum Laser, featured on the cover of Rockler’s November catalog. “The laser not only takes woodworking to a new level, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for anyone who loves to create,” Hornbaker says, adding that the company is committed to staying on the forefront of this sort of new technology as it becomes available.
But, regardless of whether it’s the traditional woodworker who has shopped with Rockler for years but without the benefit of a “backyard” store, or the new maker crowd who might be encouraged to come into the woodworking avocation more fully, Hornbaker says more stores bring more convenience to everyone. And that’s essential for Rockler’s growth in the marketplace.
“Over 61 years, our focus has always been to build relationships with our customers, not transactions…we have a deep heritage in woodworking that we are committed to preserving, and I feel privileged to be part of a company whose first thought is our customers.”
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