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Taylor's Do-It Centers

Updated: November 14, 2011 - 9:21 am

Posted: November 5, 2010

Founded 1927

Business type Hardware and garden center

Based Virginia Beach

Website www.taylorsdoit.com

Annual gross revenue $15.59 million in 2009, $15.32 million in 2008 and $14.54 million in 2007

Employees 131 in 2009, 127 in 2008 and 118 in 2007

How does a mom-and-pop hardware chain survive amid Lowe's and other big-box giants?

Get smaller, said Joe Taylor, president of Taylor's Do-it Centers, which began in 1927 as a Virginia Beach fuel and feed business.

Today his company has 10 relatively modest hardware stores throughout Hampton Roads. Nestled near residential neighborhoods, they sell niche products - Stihl power tools and unusual garden items - and rarely exceed 15,000 square feet. In fact, the company's new Suffolk location, which opened in September, fits snugly inside a 7,000-square-foot space. The average Home Depot is 15 times larger.

Taylor likens his locations to convenience stores, the home-improvement version of 7-Eleven.

"We try to locate closer to our customers so that they've got a choice," he said. "They can shop at Taylor's, where they can get in, get out, get good service and get back home. Or they can go to a big-box."

When Taylor's grandfather started the business, that sort of competition didn't exist. But times change, and the company has adjusted. It's now a member of the Do it Best Corp., an international cooperative of independent hardware retailers. Taylor also did away with building materials and lumber.

"What we've done in terms of setting ourselves apart from the 'boxes' is looking at where they're weak," Taylor said. "That means getting into niche categories, whether it's pet and bird food or cleaning aids. We developed some really strong niches for destination shopping. We're the largest Weber grill dealer in Hampton Roads. We're the biggest independent selling Scotts lawn products."

In 2008, the company began stocking Stihl products, which are sold only at independent retailers. The Stihl line - chainsaws, leaf blowers, edgers and other power tools - will generate $600,000 in new sales this year.

The recession forced the company to cut expenses, and customers were definitely more frugal during the downturn. But the "staycation" boosted the sale of grills, and customers saved money on yard services by mowing their own lawns - and buying the necessary tools at Taylor's. The company also took advantage of the affordable lease market, negotiating rent space for two new locations in 2008, plus a new Suffolk store.

"We were able to open three stores during a pretty bad economy," Taylor said. "So now, when the sun comes out, I'm going to be the one that benefits as opposed to someone who waits for things to get better."