It started out as an exercise in benchmarking of an economic recovery, turned to an examination of best practices for independent retailers and concluded with a celebration of family-retailing values.
It was the second-annual Golden Hammer Retailer Award Panel held during the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas last month. Officially titled, “The Recovery: Is it real, and what to do about it?” the discussion also flowed from specific business tips to general economic outlooks.
Delivering the goods were honorees of the 28th Golden Hammer Awards: Hall of Fame inductee Bob Taylor, CEO of Do it Best Corp.; M. Marcus Moran Jr., CEO of Aubuchon Hardware, Retailer of the Year; and Brad McDaniel, owner of McDaniel’s Do-It Center, Tools of the Trade honoree.
Here were some of the highlights extracted from the presentation:
On the economy
Bob Taylor: “We are moving in a more positive direction. That said, expecting anything more than the 700,000 to 750,000 housing starts range will be a stretch.
“But it is moving in a positive direction. The folks who have managed their business well during the downturn have positioned themselves well now for the road ahead.”
M. Marcus Moran Jr.: “There are deals out there in real estate for purchasing a hardware store. And in a difficult period, with an aging owner who probably has no succession plan and probably with college-educated children who are going to work elsewhere. Their exit plan is limited. And what we do is we provide a package that normally pleases them.”
Brad McDaniel: “For most of the 2000s, advertising was really easy. It seemed whatever circular we bought from Do it Best, we would mail it out and it brought people in. If we threw something at the newspaper, that would bring them in, too. It’s been tougher, though, in the last couple years. So one thing we’re working on in our market is getting together with other Do it Best members and trying to do some group advertising.”
Taylor: “On the fuel price side, any time fuel gets above $4 per gallon or in the range, it impacts distribution costs. And it also affects people psychologically every week at the pump, when they see the impact the price has. Another cautionary piece and even more troubling, is the uncertainty. A lot of it does fall on Washington, D.C., and either the activity or lack thereof, depending on your perspective. Just what’s coming next in terms of tax policy, regulation might have a muting effect on the recovery.”
On competing with big boxes
McDaniel: “When we found out the box stores were coming, one of the things that really helped us compete successfully was the brand names. One was Benjamin Moore, because people know that name, and the magazines show that name.”
Marcus: “[Benjamin Moore] has been a great partner — about two full years of diligent work on their part and our part. Now not only do we have a strong paint department, but we are able to focus on color and color advice. We’re running seminars for our employees on color, and we’re going to accelerate it. It takes repetition, and it takes everyone in the store to get engaged with color.”
McDaniel: “The advantage that we independents have is that we learn people’s names. We know people’s families. Their dad shopped at the store, their grandfather shopped at the store. I have employees who have been with us a long time and know them — that also helps us in the fight.”
Marcus: “We had neighborhoods that have deteriorated. We have had big boxes that have put our lights out so to speak, or dimmed them, and it’s time to move on because that capital is no longer productive. Our source of funding acquisitions is just sometimes taking our mistakes or our misfortunes and picking up our marbles and finding somewhere else [to operate]. So, it’s a big chess game out there, and you have got to know where to put your investments.”
On the family business
Marcus: “Obviously, I think the business would not be as strong if we didn’t have good family members who have been in place a long time. The first generation and the second generation have passed on. In the third generation, each of us has a little more than 40 years experience. But more importantly, we have a strong, educated fourth generation.”
Taylor: “When you talk about family members coming into the business, that doesn’t happen unless they see growing up, an environment that worked for their parents. And one of the things that I’ve certainly enjoyed for 37 years is that this is a relationship industry. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much as I did.”
Marcus: “We’re tagged as a family business because of the family ownership. But again, there are some very important people in our management, and they are rather young, and one is in charge of all retail operations at age 30. I could go on with other stories. We’re a family business, but as a corporate family, we have blood members and non-blood members who together are all called family. And they are all holding key positions. So even though we are family-held, we are broadly managed.”
On the joys of hardware retailing
Taylor: “I think that’s great when the excitement continues. And we continue to attract great young people — and it’s especially nice when they’re family members — into this business.”
McDaniel: “When the sun comes out and everybody is in a good mood and stuff is flying off the shelves, retail is a lot of fun. A couple weeks ago on a Saturday — our first beautiful sunny Saturday in Seattle in a few months — it was just unreal. Cars were backed up at the parking lot, lines at the register. So I texted the wife and said, ‘Bring as many of the boys as you can.’ Three of [my sons] showed up, they grabbed the vest … even my 9 year old, he’s stacking fertilizer and grabbing shopping carts. That’s what makes it fun and to see them excited about the business too. And that’s also what makes me very optimistic.”