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HILLSVILLE — By popular demand, online merchant Red Hill General Store will grow its tiny real world retail space by an additional 4,000 square feet.
For the last 11 years, partners and employees of the Internet sales outlet based in Hillsville have hustled to keep up with online and phone orders of nutcrackers, galvanized wash tubs, pressure canners and other housewares — and for good reason, according to Tom Largen.
At the height of Christmas and the summer canning season, as many as 500 packages a day leave the warehouse in crammed-full UPS trucks.
When Red Hill expanded its operation about two years ago in a move to 1035 Sylvatus Highway, company officials reserved a room for customers who wanted to shop in person, Largen explained. But when customers arrived, the 12-by-12-foot retail space nestled in the office suite seemed a little underwhelming, especially when compared to the 12,000 square feet of warehouse space there.
"This is the place people would walk into and say, 'This is it?'" Largen said on a tour of the operation. "We saw a lot of disappointment in a lot of faces."
Maybe the customers wanted to show up in person to buy a White Mountain Ice Cream Freezer to save on the shipping, or maybe they just wanted to go for a ride and decided to go see the general store, he said.
Considering the fact that these shoppers often detoured hours out of their way to stop at Red Hill, it became high time for the business that survived the bursting of the Internet bubble to concentrate on its "bricks and mortar" location.
Walk-in customers will no longer get short shrift when they visit Red Hill's 4,200-square-foot shop, due to open Nov. 21, and can find many of its 10,000 product offerings on the shelves in front of them.
(If not, then an employee will be able to get that product out of the warehouse.)
"We found that people want to hold, torch, feel and see," Largen said.
While slowly growing online sales over the last decade, he admits he avoided any fanfare about the business in the local media.
While visitors from afar might have inspired the new shop, the general store wants to attract local customers, too.
That should be easy, because the ethos behind Red Hill has been to offer useful, durable, dependable products that people need, he said. That's what people in Carroll County look for.
"We got started with the idea of an old-fashioned hardware store online."
Hence, the warehouse full of metal buckets, wash tubs, canning jars, lids and baths, wood stoves and related equipment, knives, farm supplies, cow bells, washboards (including a musical one), pitcher pumps, garden tools, pet supplies, different brands of food processors, kerosene heater supplies, stoneware and more, more, more.
So buyers won't be caught short, the general store gets in all related products when it carries a product line.
An example of that is stocking all the parts to go with the Mirro brand. In fact, Largen said the store acquired the rights to produce gaskets for older model pressure cookers and now Mirro itself buys those gaskets from the Hillsville company.
The general store has gone from four guys doing all the work out of a garage to a total of 15 people answering the 800 number, packaging and shipping, maintaining the Web site and everything else that has to be done daily.
They've shipped products to all 50 states and probably most zip codes in the United States, he said.
The retail store will feature some new offerings, like gluten-free foods, Rainbow sandals, Columbia sportswear, Aeropostale and American Eagle Outfitters to appeal to the youth.
Red Hill General Store examined itself in light of the “green movement," and found out they're already pretty environmentally conscious, Largen said. "You can't get much greener than a hand-cranked meat grinder."
The store will represent its green philosophy in lighting the aisles with compact fluorescent bulbs and supplementing power with a small wind turbine placed out at breezy Fancy Gap.
This green electricity will make sure the computers on the Internet driven side of the business will not go down when there's a blackout. "The nice thing about that is when the power blinks, we won't blink."
Certain products will also reflect the sustainable attitude, like the reasonably priced organic cotton clothing and the pellet stoves that turn biomass into gases that burn with low emissions.
Red Hill General Store will also happily reuse shipping supplies like clean foam peanuts and air pillows, Largen said. Make sure to leave them with an employee when dropping off.
It will be nice if the general store becomes even more of a destination for travelers or those driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway, Largen said. They do want to provide quality merchandise for the locals, too.
"We want people to understand they can get quality products at a good price that you actually need," he said.
When the store opens,
the hours will be 8 a.m.
to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and
1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Web site is www.redhillgeneralstore.com
and the toll-free phone number is 1-800-251-8824.