New kid in town: Massive Brooklyn store is latest addition to Menards’ regional stable

May 5, 2019

By Stan Bullard | Crain’s Cleveland Business

Julian Franzen, general manager of the new Menards Mega Store in Brooklyn — which the company calls its Cleveland store — said he loves giving tours to people who have never before seen a Menards.

“People are surprised at what we have, such as food and an automotive section,” Franzen said.

Food, indeed. There is a 12-aisle food, health and beauty section, which includes a display of nutrition supplements and vitamins that a pharmacist might envy. Fresh bread, frozen shrimp and a huge rack loaded with laundry detergent are also there.

Menards has been selling food since 2007, so it’s not a late-inning addition to the do-it-yourselfer haven at a time when a variety of retailers are adding food to their offerings in the face of online competition.

“We see it as convenience for our customers,” Franzen said.

Inside the hulking, 240,000-square-foot store at 7700 Brookpark Road there’s breadth and depth of supplies for the most hard-callused contractor or do-it-yourselfer.

The lighting fixture display alone consists of 2,000 items, with in-stock items on the ground floor and items available by special order on part of a mezzanine circling three-quarters of the store. The mezzanine in the lighting section also contains couches and chairs — also available for sale — where Franzen said customers are welcome to take a break. In other areas, behind large walls that also serve as signs identifying departments, the mezzanine also serves as extra storage for larger items.

The drive-in lumber store allows customers to load boards directly into their truck or car after paying for it. There’s also a separate online and heavy-purchase pickup area.

There is a department to order millwork and wood trusses — triangular supports for angled roofs — as well as engineered wood beams that can be made to order and shipped in from one of seven production centers throughout the regional Eau Claire, Wis.-based company’s service area.

“We’re heavy on displays,” Franzen said, to help customers learn how to build things.

Menards also carries its own line of customizable Klearvue Cabinets, which can be put together from standard components in a variety of finishes (think Ikea-style assembly). The store includes a design center that allows it to teach customers how to build them and get help in ordering.

The wood trusses, cabinets and even steel roofs are among multiple items that Menards produces itself.

Burt P. Flickinger, managing director of retail consultancy Strategy Resource Group of New York City, said Menards is distinguished by its vertical integration, or producing products that it also sells. “Some may say costs are too much to produce these items in the U.S.,” Flickinger said, but there is a cost case to be made for making things locally and shipping them shorter distances.

Franzen sees it more simply. “This gives us more control over quality,” he said while demonstrating how the rudiments of a kitchen cabinet may also be adapted to produce an entertainment center or a bedstead.

The Brooklyn store joins a Menards location that opened last July in Cuyahoga Falls, an Avon store that opened earlier this spring and a Mentor store that will open in late summer.

Menards opened the Brooklyn store because of its central location to serve a densely populated area, Franzen said, and to “serve people who are hungry for what we have to offer.”

Menard spokesman Jeff Abbott in Wisconsin would not speculate how many stores the company ultimately may add here, a market that has little population growth and is already home to plenty of places to buy hardware and food.

Flickinger said it’s a case of a regional chain known for offering low prices expanding its footprint. He added that Menards will most likely take market share from the national DIY chains in the market, Home Depot and Lowe’s. There are currently 300 Menards stores.

Flickinger added that lumber yards and other local suppliers serving contractors and home builders are so specialized and customer-focused that Menards, even with very competitive pricing, may have little effect on them.

Menards continues to invest in sales and service to gain market share as a family-owned company, Flickinger said, while national DIY shops are publicly traded and have had to cut expenses to meet sales and dividend expectations.

Asked where Menards could be faulted, Flickinger said he believes it is in its measured growth, while national DIY retailers are at this time adding few new stores. However, Menards clearly picks its sites with a rare patience. For the Brookpark Road store, the company shelled out $10.4 million to buy the empty Brooklyn Super Kmart four years ago. Even with finding and readying for development multiple locations in the region, that was a long hold for a retailer before setting up shop.

For some, the expansion can’t come soon enough. Sherry Swirynsky, a Brook Park resident who was on her way into Menards on Wednesday, May 1, shook her arms over her head in excitement over being able to go to one of the chain’s stores close to home.

“It’s flabbergasting,” she said, “in terms of the selection and the quality. Just look at what’s here. We like going to Menards to see what they have. We discovered the Sandusky store because we keep our boat at Cedar Point. We’ve been going there for five years.” In the past, she’s bought general merchandise, patio furniture and floor coverings in the Sandusky store.

Another shopper was overheard in the garden center saying, “What are these doing here? That’s marine store stuff.” The object of his observation was a box of plastic fenders that protect docked boats.

Although Menards has an app with a map of the store for smartphones and many of its lines are available for online purchase, it also has a down-home feel to it. That’s epitomized by simple postage-paid orange sheets of paper at the entrance that nondigital natives can use to mail in customer comments the old-fashioned way.