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.”