Throwback Thursday: Wizards of the Coast
Ray Griffith remembers Coast to Coast Hardware, and a pair of memorable mentors.
The July 6, 1992 issue of National Home Center News, the forerunner of HBSDealer, covered the changing of the guard at Coast to Coast, the hardware co-operative. President Ken Hoffman had announced his plans to retire. His successor: a 38-year-old Ray Griffith.
Griffith, of course, would later become CEO of Ace Hardware Corp. and earn a spot in the Home Channel Hall of Fame. Now retired, Griffith explained his admiration for Hoffman and Coast’s Senior VP Rollie Carlson in an e-mail exchange.
“We spent a lot of time together during the fifteen years I was at Coast,” said Griffith. “Road trips were always interesting and fun. I learned the co-op hardware business from them and developed a love for entrepreneurs working with them and our successful Coast retailers.
“Those days were full of challenges and fun. As I reflect back on Coast it is evident to me that we were light years ahead of other hardware distributors in terms of data collection and retail practices. No one operated stores like a Coast to Coast store. To a large part that was attributed to Ken and Rollie’s leadership.
“Ken Hoffman was a fun-loving hardware warrior who was like everyone’s dad or grandpa. He was an icon in the hardware industry, and he always put the retailers first. His motto and litmus test regarding a program’s viability was: “is it good for our retailers?” He also loved to sing a little Sinatra. Ken Hoffman was a man of his word and a truly great guy.
“Rollie was Ken’s right hand man and more of a flashy extrovert who also enjoyed life. Rollie was innovative, colorful, smart and tough. He had contracted polio in his younger days, but that didn’t stop him from doing anything. His signature marks were bright colorful ties and his cane he needed as a result of the polio. The two of them were like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. I was in awe of both of them and their talents. “
Griffith also shed light on his experiences with the business side of Coast to Coast, which merged with Cotter & Company in 1997, and later rebranded under the True Value banner. Griffith wrote:
“I came to Coast to Coast stores in 1978/79 when I was 25. I had worked for Osco Drug stores and was recruited to run one of about seven new corporate Coast to Coast stores. The one I was to manage was in Circleville, Ohio. Ken and Rollie were both in Corporate roles at the headquarters in Minneapolis. At the time, Coast was a part of Household Finance that had a retail division consisting of Von’s grocery stores, Ben Franklin, Coast to Coast Hardware and a couple of furniture outlets. Roger Stangeland was president.
“Coast went through several transactions as Household spun off the retail businesses, and eventually Richard Bard bought Coast and relocated it to Denver, Colorado, where he lived and had a vacant office building. Richard took Coast public, then back private, and in that process Amdura Corporation bought it and eventually took it into bankruptcy. In the end, Coast could not support Amdura’s other losing subsidiaries and debt load. Ken had assumed the role of president, but the company’s predicament was not a result of his leadership.”
Where are Ken and Rollie now? “To my knowledge Ken still resides in a northern suburb of Chicago and Rollie resides in the Minneapolis area where he is a general manager for a couple of golf clubs.”
If you have memories of Coast to Coast, share them with us at [email protected].
HBSDealer’s Throwback Thursday is sponsored by Schaffer Associates, a national management consulting firm specializing in executive search and organizational strategies for the hardware, home improvement, building materials, and consumer products industries. As the premier management consulting firm serving the industry, we help build organizations and leadership teams that foster corporate growth and success well into the future. Contact us at SchafferAssociates.com.
My first real job out of college was as a Project Manager at Coast in Ray's Eastern division. I travelled the country setting up new stores and re-merchandising existing ones. I'd spend a few months at each job and consequently got to know the area and, especially rewarding, got to know the store owners. It started me on a path of entrepreneurship and in hardware/building materials, a road on which I am still traveling. One of the most fun jobs I have had! -- Paul Kluempers, General Manager, AG-CO
Thanks for sharing this history Ray, it sure was a great company, one of my personal favorites to work with!