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11/08/2021

‘Top Guns’ take aim at industry issues

Award-winning retailers share thoughts on supply chain and labor shortage.
a group of people sitting on a bench reading a book
From left: Brackin, McNaughton and Templeman.

If you can buy it, buy it.

That’s the distilled advice given by a panel of award winning retailers who took on a variety of issues during the recent NHPA Top Guns Awards event in Las Vegas.

Supply chain challenges and labor shortages were top topics for the retailers, who represent a long history of business success through the Top Guns program. The 2021 class, who assembled here during the National Hardware Show,  also represent a wide variety of businesses:

• Mike Brackin, president of HomCo Lumber & Hardware of Flagstaff, Ariz.;
• Ian McNaughton, owner of Gravenhurst Home Hardware, in St. Jacobs, Ontario; and
• Greg Templeman, president of Sunpro, a pro-focused dealer with 16 locations in Utah and Idaho.

Each explained that they were feeling new types of business pressure from supply chain disruptions.

“Well, if my father knew how much our value of our inventory was right now, he's turning over in his grave a few times,” said Brackin of HomCo Lumber.

Brackin added that his team includes specialists who “are constantly looking for product” to fill gaps. “Not just a week supply or two week supply, but maybe even a six-months supply,” he said. “Luckily, we have the space to handle it.”

High performance during a supply chain crunch requires effort to stay ahead of the curve, he added, and it can also involve “getting creative on merchandising. “Patience is key during these times.”

He added that everyone is in the same boat.

McNaughton, the Canadian representative on the panel, explained  his playbook for the supply chain crunch: “We’re just gobbling up everything we can get our hands on,” he said.

Many LBM dealers are double buying said Templeman. In other words, they’re buying in anticipation of a need sometime in the future, with the added hope that the second order may arrive at the yard before the first.

“It's certainly a crisis for us,” he said. “I've got great managers that are doing a great job managing through it, but when it's there and we know that it's an item that will turn quickly in our operation, we buy it.”

Top Guns fun fact

Interesting fact about the 2021 class of Top Guns includes this brush with fame: Brackin’s great grandfather was a founder of Payless Cashways, which had a long and storied run in the home center industry during the 20th century.

Hiring and the labor shortage was another major topic among the panelists. And while all agreed that a labor shortage is taking a toll on the entire industry, the smaller businesses reported that their stores have not suffered from staffing shortages.

Brackin  explained,  “We’re always looking, and always looking to hire good people.” The business conducts group interviews once a month, whether HomCo has openings or not. If someone stands out, they’ll make an offer. “After 60 days of training we usually have spot for them," he said.

That was the case with the store’s current manager, Christy Engle.

Both Brackin and McNaughton said, they know that others in the industry are hurting for new hires. But both say that it’s common for customers to apply for jobs at their stores. A sign at the Home Hardware store reads: “We are not in the hardware business, we are in the people business.” And that culture, McNaughton said, helps attract job seekers.

Templeman described a different situation at the pro-oriented, LBM dealer Sunpro. “We are having a labor crisis.” The company has agreements with 5 different staffing agencies in its effort to fill positions. He described one tactic as going door to door and distributing handouts with job opportunities. “It is really, really hard night now in Utah and Idaho.”

Templeman added the company, a 2019 Hardware All Star honoree, will not lower its standards, or “compromise its core values in hiring.”

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