Hardware stores see boom as residents turn to home

Hardware stores saw a boon through the summer months as restless residents began home improvement projects. Pictured are Gary and Kathy Rouleau at Lawrence Bros. Hardware on Chapel Street.

BURRILLVILLE – At a mom and pop hardware store in Burrillville, the cash register is ringing with brisk sales.

“It’s great that people come out and support small business,“ said Gary Rouleau, co-owner of Lawrence Bros. Hardware on Chapel Street.

A year ago, when life was normal, Gary and his wife Kathy Rouleau bought the charming, old-fashioned-looking store from local Stephen King, who owned the business for 39 years. Since 1952, Lawrence Bros. Hardware has filled its shelves with all the items Burrillville customers need to do their shopping close to home.

What do people need in 2020? People are particularly purchasing everything to do with gardening, said Gary. Rouleau said that April, May, and June were especially busy at the store.

Sales are strong at Lawrence Bros. Hardware, and at nationwide home improvement chains. In the first quarter of 2020, despite restrictions in some states on gardening centers for several months, sales at Home Depot increased 7.5 percent and at Lowe’s by 11 percent, reports Banker & Tradesman newspaper. What’s more, Ace Hardware sales skyrocketed 26 percent in April, with a phenomenal 580 percent increase in online sales.

At Lawrence Bros. Hardware, gardening supplies fly out the door. The store sold out of vegetable and flower plants for one example, Gary said.

By choice, by decree, or by cancellation or restriction of usual summer activities – from beach-going to attending festivals and flea markets – locals are spending more time at home, one factor driving the gardening trend.

“People are becoming farmers,” said Kathy Rouleau. “They have nothing else to do.”

Watering cans are another top-seller. Gary says he sold “at least triple” the number of watering cans that he sold last year. That’s when he can get them, that is, because the supply runs out.

The unprecedented days, weeks, even months people are spending at home is boosting gardening supply sales – and do-it-yourself home improvement. Steve Basten, senior manager of building products research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting of Irvine, Ca., says nationwide much of the sales increase at home improvement chain stores is from purchase of items in the $300-500 range, the “the core of the do-it-yourself sweet spot,” according to Banker & Tradesman.

The market for home remodeling is on the upswing because people confined to home, “realized the need to update or reconfigure indoor and outdoor spaces for work, school, play, exercise, and more,” said Chris Herbert, managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, in a press release on the quarterly indicator of the home improvement and repair market – Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity – for July.

A 2020 LightStream home improvement Trends Survey found seventy-three percent of those surveyed plan to renovate this year; 57 percent are expanding or continuing projects, such as outdoor projects (49 percent), home repairs (35 percent), bathrooms (33 percent) and kitchens (32 percent.)

However, Herbert predicts the boom in home improvement won’t last because of high unemployment and decline in home sales.

What the future holds for America – and mom and pop shops such as Lawrence Bros. – is yet to be seen. But for now, the gardeners and home improvers are reaping the fine fruits of what they have sown. And the Rouleaus will stand ready to meet the demands of their customers, in times both normal and extraordinary.

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