Profile: Walmart takes hardware to Hart

Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
Dan Ochwat profile picture

What started as a small rollout at Walmart has quickly come to showcase the retailer’s store brand investment in the hardware category. Late last year, Walmart quietly introduced a private brand for the hardware category called Hart, debuting a small assortment of power tools, a lawn mower and small items like a tape measure. The brand image with blue and white colors, reminiscent of of its parent, debuted with educational images online and welcomed itself to new consumers as a possible gift idea for the holiday season.

By February, however, a full line of 350 items hit stores, blanketing the chain’s hardware departments in that same bold blue color, supported by a high-powered omnichannel marketing campaign that included massive floor displays, social media tie-ins with celebrities, retail-tainment events and more. Walmart was making a statement: the chain was getting serious about hardware and its private label line.

In some ways, the new private brand was a surprise. The everyday low-price mass merchant, a leader in American retailing, had not been known as a chain to buy power tools. Walmart does sell tools and equipment from major brands, and it does have a store brand in place called Hyper Tough. But Hart is being positioned as the ultimate hardware line for the do-it-yourself home improvement consumer.

“With Hart, we are empowering all levels of DIYers to tackle any project and inspiring them to take on new ones, no matter their skill set or budget,” said Andrea Schaffer, senior buying manager for hardware and paint at Walmart U.S. “Our investment in this exclusive tool line furthers our commitment to helping busy families save time and live better — all for a great value at our everyday low prices.” 

Schaffer agreed that Walmart has not been considered a destination for high-performance tools, hardware, outdoor and automotive products, but going forward the plan is to communicate to the customer that Walmart is “seriously committed to providing a high-quality, broad range of competitively priced products.”

Tool Time
At the center of the Hart product line are battery-powered tools that all use an interchangeable battery system designed with portability and versatility in mind. For drills, cutting tools, portable lights, rotary tools, buffers and so much more, there’s a 20-volt battery system. For such bigger items as lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, blowers and more, there’s a heftier 40-volt, interchangeable battery system.

The larger tool line aims to replace gas-powered equipment needed for larger outdoor spaces, Shaffer said. Additionally, the Hart program features a vast and growing range of hand tools, accessories, and storage solutions that are designed to be durable and high quality. 

To develop the breadth of Hart product, Walmart worked with its supplier Techtronic Industries, or TTI, a global company founded in 1985 and a leader in cordless lithium-ion tool technology. The company manufactures power tools, accessories, hand tools, outdoor powered equipment for national brands that include Milwaukee, Ryobi, Hoover and more.

Kyle Edwards, TTI’s group marketing manager, said the Hart brand was developed specifically for the broad range of customers that Walmart attracts — from tool novices and newly minted homeowners to serious DIYers.

With more than 350 products now, Hart is looking to cover all aspects of DIY needs for consumers. It’s Walmart’s high-performance line for those looking for low effort. Hyper Tough, which was developed several years ago, still exists in several tool and hardware categories and “is positioned as a good/better value,” Schaffer said.

Besides the DIY story Hart tells, Schaffer said that she is proud of the line developed as a collaborative effort between Walmart and TTI.

“The ideation, development and launch of the Hart brand is a case study in collaboration, speed to market product development and operational excellence, all underpinned by a remarkable partnership between Walmart and TTI,” she said. “The program was developed and implemented in record-breaking time."

The ideation, development and launch of the Hart brand is a case study in collaboration, speed to market product development and operational excellence, all underpinned by a remarkable partnership between Walmart and TTI.
Andrea Schaffer , senior buying manager for hardware and paint at Walmart U.S.

She added that TTI has been a leader in the DIY space for many years. “Combined with Walmart’s customer insights and additional intensive market research, we identified the right mix of products and merchandising execution to reach the Walmart customer.”

Marketing Push
To bring Hart to consumers and tell its DIY story, Walmart’s omnichannel marketing campaign began with the right packaging — a look that did not scare away a casual home improvement shopper.

“We created packaging that was unique within the competitive landscape and that speaks to the DIY customer,” Schaffer said. “The packaging has high visual impact on the shelf and clear benefit callout in order to simplify the purchase decision for the customer.”

After that, Walmart communicated the product through a variety of ways. One play was a spring social media tie-in with home improvement celebrities Leanne and Steve Ford, the duo at the helm of HGTV’s “Restored the Fords.” The Fords — who use their interior design and contracting experience to inspire viewers to handle projects at home — hosted educational videos on the Hart dedicated website and posted videos on their Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels. Walmart did the same.

Around the same time, Walmart had retail-tainment events held to demonstrate tools, public relations work, digital advertising campaigns continually ran, social media influencers were activated to present Hart to its viewers, and Hart field teams hit stores and participated in nonprofit community events. Walmart was getting the Hart name out there. 

Inside stores though, merchandising was designed to stand out. In-line racks screamed the Hart blue color and assortment of tools. Large island displays were dedicated to the battery-powered tool line — the centerpiece of the program — and endcaps with signage showed DIY consumers using tools.

Schaffer wouldn’t release specific results on how the tool line is performing in sales, but said customer reaction has been positive. She also indicated that the success so far has just been the retailer’s opening salvo with Hart. “Over time, we will continue to increase the current offering of more than 350 items and will expand to other product categories and departments beyond hardware, outdoor and automotive year after year."