Award-winning small business talks growth
Carr Hardware, the six-store retailer based in Pittsfield, Mass., made headlines this month for winning a National Small Business Award. The retailer cruised to the award on the strength of community-first creed. And it already promised away its prize money to help renovate a park in Pittsfield.
In an interview with HBSDealer, Carr Hardware owner Bart Raser described his company as one with all the traditional strengths of a small business – veteran, knowledgeable employees; a friendly folksy culture; and an ability to make quick community-focused decisions.
But make no mistake, the company is growth oriented, and has opened two of its six locations in the last two years.
Opening a new store and expanding into new market can be a challenge for the small hardware store. “The one thing it forces you to do,” says Raser, “is it forces you to develop more controls and more discipline. Expanding helped us bring in better talent, and bring in more best practices. At the same time, we’re a folksy company and we can still make decisions with our gut.”
As an example of a decision that came from the gut, Raser described the time he went to visit a store going out of business for the sole purpose of acquiring its Lozier fixtures. He ended up walking out with the key to the store.
That kind of ability to make fast decisions, he said, is a “huge advantage” for small businesses facing competition from national chains as well as internet rivals.
“I think we’re heavily community integrated,” he added. “Customers view us as a community partner. A lot of our employees are career professionals and experts in their fields. And we benefit from warm fuzziness of shopping local.
Originally founded by Sam Carr in 1928, the company was purchased by the Raser family in 1962 and day-to-day operations are still handled by Marshall Raser, and his son, Bart.
When asked how it fetl to win the Independent We Stand National Small Business Award against competition from hardware stores, book stores, pet stores and all kinds of small businesses, Raser said: “I think we were very surprised, thrilled, excited, humbled – all of those words. We’re very proud.”
The ‘Indie’ award goes to Carr Hardware
With six stores and a loyal following in western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut, Carr Hardware took home the Independent Small Business of the Year award or Indie Award. Carr competed with a wide variety of small businesses to win the cash and prizes.
And as a sign that the retailer means what it says about giving back to the communities, it has already pledged to donate the $5,000 cash award to a park revitalization project in Pittsfield, Mass., home to the store’s main branch.
[See other hardware store finalists here]
“This year’s winner exhibits the spirit of what makes independent businesses special — a focus on both customer service and the community,” said Bill Brunelle, co-founder of Independent We Stand. “Carr Hardware garnered support through its mission to serve customers and the community by choosing a pay it forward approach with the prize winnings. The $5,000 cash prize will help pay for a splash pad at a community park. It’s that type of local involvement and dedication we see from our nominees each year across the country; this award helps us recognize and reinforce those efforts.”
Family owned and operated since 1928, the company was originally founded by Sam Carr and purchased by the Raser family in 1962. Marshall Raser and his son Bart still handle business operations. With more than 100 total employees, each location prides itself on offering years of specialty experience. Carr Hardware serves homeowners, contractors, commercial customers, institutions and government agencies throughout the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and surrounding areas through their stores. The business also supports many organizations including Rotary Club, Berkshire Health Systems, Pittsfield Economic Redevelopment Commission (PERC), multiple Chambers of Commerce, Downtown Pittsfield Association, Boys & Girls Club, Berkshire Humane Society, Volunteer Dogs for the Blind and The Vocational & Technical Scholarship Fund.
In addition, employees are encouraged to volunteer in their communities and have served on Volunteer Fire Departments and coached local sports teams. Most recently, through product and cash donations, Carr Hardware provided its customers with a platform to support hurricane relief efforts for those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
“Our community supports us, and we support them. We saw that come full circle with our hurricane relief efforts in Houston earlier this year,” said Bart Raser, co-owner of Carr Hardware. “Now, to see the support of our customers lead to an award like this, it is humbling and even more meaningful. It’s nice to know we live in a community that appreciates the value and impact of independent small businesses. Shopping local is part of our culture; it’s how we build community.”
Carr Hardware, a member of the True Value Company co-op (and which also receives some product through Orgill), will receive prizes with a combined value of more than $50,000, including:
• $5,000 grand prize
• $1,000 for the winner’s favorite small business group
• $1,000 STIHL equipment certificate.
• 12-month subscription and three months of free managed marketing services from SnapRetail (valued at $1,696)
• Branding, advertising and public relations makeover from independent advertising agency — The Meridian Group
• Three days/two nights retreat and branding workshop in Virginia Beach, Va. (valued at $1,000)
• Plaque to display at winner’s business
• Public relations and social media recognition
For Busy Beaver, an active 2018
Pittsburgh-based Busy Beaver plans to open five new home improvement centers throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia in 2018. Its Grove City, Pa., location is set to open in March and a Greenville, Pa., store will open in May. Additional locations will be announced the first quarter in 2018.
At 50,000 square feet, the Grove City location will be larger than the 35,000-square foot average of its other 18 stores. The home improvement center will feature an expanded seasonal department, an indoor lumber yard, a new farm and ranch department, and a designated contractor service center.
“We're excited about our continued expansion plans for Busy Beaver during the next year across the entire region,” said Joe Kallen, CEO of Busy Beaver. “Starting with Grove City, we'll be pleased to offer local residents and businesses a customer-friendly store experience that addresses the needs of DIYers and supports local contractors.”
The Grove City store will be located at 11 Pine Grove Square, Grove City, PA 16127, and will hire approximately 20 full-time and 10 to 15 part-time employees. Busy Beaver will conduct hiring events in the area starting in January.
Currently, Busy Beaver operates 18 stores in three states, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia; and employs more than 350 people. The company was foundedin 1962. In 2015, Busy Beaver joined the True Value Company co-op.