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True Value confronts the coronavirus

CEO John Hartmann describes changes in the DCs, and beyond.

BY HBSDealer Staff

At the 2019 National Hardware Show, keynote speaker John Hartmann, the CEO of True Value made an observation: “The speed of change will never be slower than it is today.”

Still, Hartmann couldn’t have imagined then that the Chicago-based hardware distributor would seek and receive FDA permission to begin making hand sanitizer in its Cary, Ill. paint manufacturing plant. (Approval was granted Wednesday, he said. Read more here.)

That’s the kind of change that is accelerating fast and furious as the hardware and building supply industry – along with the rest of the world — faces an invisible enemy.

John Hartmann

“None of us have ever seen anything like this,” Hartmann said. “It is an unprecedented time for all the citizens of the world. And I think we’re seeing some of the best things that human beings can do when they come together to fight a common battle.”

Hartmann was speaking from his desk in Chicago – where the company is operating on a mandated every-other day schedule with a voluntary work-from-home provision. He outlined some of the other changes at True Value:

  • Order limits on fast moving products. These include cleaning products, sanitizers, virus-control-related products. The limits exist so “all of our store owners have an opportunity to procure those for their stores,” he said.
  • Pay increase for hourly distribution center employees. A move designed “to recognize their selfless work and commitment to serving essential businesses,” he said.
  • Maintenance moves. Distribution centers and the paint facility have taken virus protection steps. “These are really critical times for us to ensure that material handling equipment is sanitized every time it’s used. Where possible people are maintaining social distancing that we’re taking every precaution available following all of the CDC guidelines to ensure that we can do our best to keep people held.”

In the retail world, True Value stores – and all independents, for that matter – have increasingly adjusted store hours to allow for cleaning, sanitizing and replenishment. Additionally, online ordering and curbside delivery have emerged as alternative ways to support customers. “So there’s a lot of modern retailing going on right now in the hardware channel,” he said.

The business of hardware continues, and the distributor has seen “incredibly strong” increases in project-related products. Paint and sundries, and spring-related gardening merchandise are among the drivers. “We think that will continue as people stay at home,” Hartmann said. “They want to do something other than sit around and watch television.”

Hartmann said the commitment that independent hardware stores of all stripes have shown to their communities is a source of pride. Asked about the expected duration of the battle, Hartmann said he’s looked at the models from other countries, but the equation remains full of uncertainty.

“I’ve talked to our retailers all across the country,” he said. “I’ve talked to our retailers in multiple countries outside of the US and I’m just incredibly proud of the positive attitudes that they’re taking towards supporting their communities in a time of dire need.

“There’s much more ahead of us, and we need to continue to adjust every day,” he said. “We intend to support our stores the best we can and support our associates and do our part to fight the fight.”

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