Executive spotlight

A CEO with an FBI background and consumer focus

Hartmann’s resume includes Home Depot, HD Supply, Mitre 10 and the FBI.

True Value Corp. CEO John Hartmann’s first mission was to meet as many dealers as fast as possible. In his first three-and-half-months on the job, he talked to some 450 retailers at 13 roundtable events around the country.

Hartmann took over the co-op’s CEO spot officially on May 31, replacing Lyle Heidemann. There was a lot to cover in his first official HCN interview, which touched on Home Depot, the FBI and the new name for the co-op’s Chicago headquarters.

On his first four months

“Taking the time to listen to the membership to find out what’s working is particularly important, especially for a new leader. I’ve been to 13 round-tables around the country — met 400 to 500 members face to face. I’ve heard, most importantly, our members want to grow. They want to grow individually, and they want to grow collectively.”

On the new “Retail Support Center”

“When I said [during the General Session] we’re renaming the headquarters from the retail headquarters to the retail support center, that was the first spontaneous applause. And I think that’s a pretty significant signal of where this company is going.”

On previous CEO Lyle Heidemann

“I think Lyle did a terrific job of setting True Value on a course to shift from a pure wholesaler to more of a retail-focused company. But I think our journey now is to shift beyond that and become more of a consumer-focused company. Everyone in that value stream — from the consumer to the retailer to the co-op to the vendors — benefits from a focus like that.”

On his background as an FBI field agent

“People’s vision of the FBI is what they take away from television and the movies. But the typical field agent makes his living by speaking and getting information. It taught me how to have a conversation, and more importantly, it taught me how to keep my mouth shut and listen.”

On the competition

“I respect the competition, I know (Home Depot CEO) Frank Blake, I know the people there. The big boxes are doing well because they’re relevant. You gotta give them points for that. HD in particular. It matters less to me who the competitor is, whether it’s the big box, whether it’s Amazon. Or whether it’s another hardware store. What really matters to me is how relevant the stores are.

An example of a good hardware store

Cole’s Hardware in Danville, Pa. It’s an 11-store chain. They have taken the core hardware business, and they are terrific partners with us. They modified it gently to fit their communities. A terrific mix of products and family-driven customer service, where they have made the emotional connection with their customer. And that’s just one of many stores.”

On hardware store success

“Independent retailers, doesn’t matter what flag they fly, must get and remain relevant to the new generation of consumers.

“I’m 50 years old. I’m old now. When you look at the demographics of the country, it can’t be your granddad’s hardware store anymore.”

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