Gasper Home & Garden gets creative to keep customers satisfied

RICHBORO, Pa. — At Gasper Home & Garden Showplace here, Eli Hymer, who calls himself a combined buyer/designer/manager, says that he has translated this back-to-the-basics approach into a buying frenzy.

“He who has inventory this year is going to be king,” says Hymer. “We have quadrupled early buy and we are adding five new vendors to spread the risk around. More vendors give me five more people to pull things from to keep product on the floor.”

Gasper recently bought a warehouse that came with a retail store, which he said is key to keeping a year-round presence, even in Bucks County, outside Philadelphia.

“Even though we are in the Northeast, we service people in the South and West, a year-round presence,” says Hymer. “In outdoor furnishings, everybody is starting to buy early and they want to be able to shop.”

The biggest challenge comes down to weaknesses in the supply chain. Manufacturers pass on the best information they have, which has been that orders will be ready in April, then May; in June or July, then August; and still not here.

“And these are vendors that you can always count on,” says Hymer. “I have been doing this 35 years and everything is so inconsistent this year that you have to be prepared to expect the unexpected. I’ve never had this challenge before and I am re-learning everything.”

Part of the answer is that Gasper Home & Garden doesn’t depend solely on the sales of outdoor furniture, in that it has a significant landscaping business that provides turnkey landscaping, from design to supplies to installation, from in-house decks, pergolas and patios to meticulously planted gardens.

Another part of the answer is to become a lending library. Hymer says he bought 30 sets of patio furniture to loan out to customers whose promised furniture had not arrived—and whose summer would have likely been ruined. Most customers were satisfied with the temporary arrangement—and when it was over, the furniture was taken back to Gasper’s and sold.

“It may not be what they ordered or what they wanted but we were able to give them something they could use for the time being until their orders came in,” said Hymer. “This year, I’ve bought extra inventory so I will have more to loan out if need be.”

He adds that the unusual times call for changes in sales tactics. For one, sales associates give customers the most accurate information they have from the manufacturer, not from the store itself. Calling the customer back with no information is better than not calling at all.

“You try to accommodate them, maybe loan them furniture, maybe change the fabric to make it do,” Hymer says. “It’s an investment. If it is a minimal wait time, you are better off waiting for what you want instead of taking what you can get. We do outdoor couture; we do a combination of different fabrics that are not in any one showroom but is specific to their home. We think they will wait.”

Accordingly, full-line retailers and online retailers aren’t much of a concern.

“We are a specialty store,” Hymer says. “We know the ins and outs of the industry. Indoors is dabbling in it and we are taking it seriously. People want to deal with someone who knows the product category and who knows the industry … (and with online) we have people who dabble in it. We are who we are. People want to buy local; if you worry about online, you might as well close your doors.”

The best advice? Bring together strategy, tactics, and implementation in the midst of one of the most unusual retail environments in history.

“I have always thought that if you prepare yourself for a bad year, you will have a bad year,” Hymer says. “This year, people who have inventory are going to be king. Smaller retailers, if they don’t have any inventory, won’t have any worries because they won’t be around.”

For his part, Hymer will pivot his offerings into different showrooms from January through July, in hopes that it will be the right inventory mix. He predicts that with the continuing COVID pandemic, more people will be remaining at home—and that those that are will have memories of the past year.

“The industry had a record-breaking year last year and I think this year is going to be worse than last year, which is why I’ve spent time, effort, and money with a huge inventory,” Hymer says. “Going into January through April, we did not know what wait times would be when they came out with false information on foam shortages, aluminum shortages, fabric shortages, and trucking delays. Now we know all these things and the customer knows all these things. It’s going to be more of a challenge and you are going to have to be on your best game from day one this summer.”

This story first appeared in sister publication Casual News Now.

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