Three questions for John Mize
It was announced this week that John H. Mize intended to step down from day-to-day operations at Blish-Mize Co., where has worked for 56 years, most recently as executive chairman and chairman of the board. He’ll continue to serve as chairman of the board of the Atchison, Kan.-based family owned hardware distributor.
As previously reported, Mize was president and CEO of Blish-Mize for about 35 years. “I saw success and had some challenges, and I also had a lot of fun,” he said.
In the following Q&A-style email interview, Mize expounded on his career and the state of the industry.
What is the biggest change in the business today, compared to early days of your career?
Technology — truly the computer and the internet. The computer helped speed customer service at both ends. More speed on our end to get orders to our customers. Blish-Mize was also one of the first to provide price stickers for our customers with bin labels for quicker reordering.
Who was your mentor in the business?
My mentor was my father [John Mize Sr.], who ran our company for years with a vast knowledge of working with both vendors and customers.
What’s the biggest challenge facing hardware stores?
Hardware stores have to provide answers for their DIY consumers and have the goods in stock. They also have to provide the same customer service as their online competition — easy returns, fast delivery. A lot of our customers today are not the traditional hardware store — they are lumber yards and building materials dealers.
Our biggest challenge has always been how to grow. Acquisitions is one of the answers. We’ve made a few of them. We are a survivor in this business because we manage our business responsibly and we take care of our customers.
John Mize looks back in gratitude
John H. Mize says he plans to continue to visit the Blish Mize office, even after he retires from active management later this year. But after May 31, the Atchison, Kan.-based hardware distributor will enter a new chapter.
Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board John Mize, plans to retire from active management after 56 years on the job
“I look back on our almost-150-year history and feel gratitude to so many customers who have shown their faith in our employees and our company,” says Mize, executive chairman and chairman of the board.
Mize started full-time at the company after college in 1962 and held sales territories in Colorado and Nebraska. He was later promoted to field sales manager and traveled the company’s entire servicing area.
“My forte was salesmanship, marketing, and being in contact with others. I have never met a stranger, so to speak,” he said. “I am still deeply committed to the prosperity of the business, but I never permitted myself to become solemn about it. We are a family-owned, employee-focused company, and we are extremely dedicated to our customers. I look back on our history and feel gratitude to so many who have shown their faith in us,” said Mize.
Mize held the Chairman, President & CEO position for around 35 years, and the company saw incredible growth and acquisitions under his leadership. “I’m aware of the opportunities I’ve been given, and I’m grateful to everyone I’ve worked with throughout my career. I saw success and had some challenges, and I also had a lot of fun.”
Mize will remain Chairman of the Board and plans on stopping by the office at least three times a week. He will continue to offer guidance to the office staff. “I feel good about the future of our business under our fifth-generation leadership, with Jonathan Mize as president and CEO, and our excellent executive team and staff.”
True Value vote looms large
A bus decked out with the True Value logo and a sign that reads “Tools for Transformation” has been roaming the highways on a mission – to explain the choice faced by dealers that could dramatically change True Value, or not. At issue is the structure of the co-op, the future of the brand as a distributor, and the liquidity of shareholder’s equity tied up in stock.
As reported March 15, The True Value Company announced a transaction with private equity firm ACON Investments that will return $229 million to True Value retailers. Under the deal, True Value retailers will retain 30% of the company, with 70% equity going to ACON. The deal will result in current True Value retailers taking 70% of their invested capital, 100% of their promissory notes and the 2017 Patronage Dividend repaid following close. The move is described by True Value Company as a deal to “accelerate transformation of True Value Business.” It will also convert the structure of the company from a co-op selling products to its member owners, into a distributor selling products to any and all customers.
In an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Hartmann is quoted: “The concept of a co-op, which I’m very respectful of even though I’ve asked shareholders to move away from that, is that individuals came together as a group to do things they couldn’t do on their own. The unfortunate thing is it traps their investment, their equity, in the company.”
The plan to bring in ACON Investments as a majority owner has led to a wide range of opinion within True Value’s family, and throughout the industry.
Among the True Value dealers showing enthusiasm for the deal is Steve Fusek. He posted the following on a popular industry bulletin board: “Not sure how this can be a bad deal, especially for members of the coop. We get paid our $229 million to control ourselves. No risk of accounting errors, etc. How can that be bad?” The elimination of debt and the ability of the company to invest in itself were also cited as positives by Fusek.
“I have yet to speak with a member that did not think this was in the member’s best interest,” he posted.
In a network of some 4,000-plus dealers, not everyone is in agreement.
Tom Cost, Jr., of Killingworth (Conn.) True Value was in attendance for the True Value tour’s meeting in Manchester, N.H. on March 21. “I think the mood has swung from very upset and frustrated, to mildly concerned and cautiously optimistic,” he told HBSDealer.
On Monday, Hartmann’s bus tour was in Mankato, Minn., for the tour’s 15th and final “Town Hall” meeting with dealers to explain the benefits. “Meetings were very successful at ensuring our members were fully informed to cast their vote,” said Jean Niemi, VP of communications for True Value Company, via e-mail. “Overwhelming majority have walked away feeling positive.”
The deadline for voting is just before midnight April 12. A simple majority is required to pass the proposal.