Thoughts from retail's Top Guns

Bay Hardware in Seal Beach, Calif.

Las Vegas -- The 11th anniversary of the NRHA Top Gun awards did not disappoint.

The four retail honorees of 2017 gathered on stage here at the National Hardware Show on Wednesday to form a panel discussion on how they fell in love with the family business (most of them, it turns out, wanted to go into finance in their younger years), as well as all things past, future, and now in hardware retailing (namely: what's going to happen with the aging workforce?).

Here are a few choice quotes from each of the honorees.

Scott Jerousek of Farm & Home Hardware
1 location in Wellington, Ohio. Purchased in 2008 from father and uncle. Grew top line from $3.8 to $5.3 million.

"Growing up in hardware is something I cherish, but I can tell you right now that it isn't something I was always interested in."

"The biggest challenge is being able to look at the business from 30,000 ft., and that's something everyone has got to be able to do."

"The greatest thing for me is you go and you plan, and it completely changes. I love the adaptation. You get up in the morning and you learn something every day. There's not a lot of jobs where you can do that."

Jonathan Miller of Miller Hardware
3 locations in Valdosta, Georgia. Working through succession plan with father and brother; won Young Retailer of the Year in 2015.

"Our greatest area of concern deals with the generation gap: not just with customers, but internally as well. We have some very, very long-term employees. Whether or not they can do all these things with technology, they're key employees. But hiring is porbably one of the hardest feats right now."

"People are going to be expecting the independent retailer to look a lot different (buy online pickup in store, for example). It takes time to get there and I think we need to invest there."

"Whenever it comes time to start pointing fingers, you point in the mirror."

Diana Brunjes Newton of Bay Hardware
2 locations in Seal Beach, California, plus a lumberyard. Working on complete remodel of store to drive sales and profit.

[When my dad bought a store in California,] "I feel in love. I felt like it needed a hug, and that's pretty much what we did. We turned the state of that business around. We found another store that wasn't for sale, but we made a deal. It's generating sales that are more than three times than it was when we bought it. It's all about the hug."

"You can't be scared to fail. If you want to dip your toes into something, it's okay if it doesn't work out. The time will come for you to start picking up more stores."

"This business and industry are incredible. No two days are ever the same, so if you're into that, this is the right business. If you love working with your hands or problem-solving, this is the right business."

Matt Woods of Woods Hardware
6 locations in Cincinnati market. Working through succession plan with parents; won Young Retailer of the Year in 2015.

"We went from one location to 6 stores in one year. I promised my wife that for the next two years, I'm content. But after that, my goal is to have 1-2 acquisitions per year."

"People capital is the biggest challenge. We had to actively recruit. People are still shell-shocked from the bad economy, and wages are going up."

"Don't box yourself in. Find what you love and run with it. I never thought I'd come back to the family business."

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