Independent home improvement retailers are committed to customer service and strong product knowledge. They’re also committed to their associates, who provide that service and knowledge to customers. Westlake Ace Hardware, while never wavering from its commitment to its customers, has taken another look at how to best serve its associates.
In February, Westlake Ace announced Helping Hands, a 501(c)(3) charity independent of Westlake designed to help company associates in times of need. Helping Hands can assist employees in any of Westlake’s 98 stores across eight Midwestern states with funds donated by their co-workers. Under this system, co-workers can pitch in to make sure the people they work alongside are secure in the worst of situations, such as illness in the family or damage to an employee’s home, and it goes to the core of the company’s goals and foundation, says Curt Sparks, Westlake’s human resources manager, culture and values.
“The goal truly is to have associates helping associates. We talk in terms of the Westlake family, and it’s made clearer what through Helping Hands what that means,” Sparks says.
The program is still in its infancy, but the enthusiasm by Westlake employees is already noticeable, he says. The company previously offered payroll deductions to allow employees to contribute directly from their paychecks to other charities, such as the Children’s Miracle Network, but the opportunity to donate into a charity designed for their own co-workers has sparked even more excitement.
“This is a way to provide a service for those in need, and in this way, it’s members of the Westlake family helping their own family,” says Jenna Bobrukiewicz, secretary of Westlake Helping Hands and legal services manager for Westlake Ace Hardware.
The charity was established separately from Westlake’s corporate structure, with its own board of directors. This arrangement means Helping Hands is better able to prioritize applications for grants, Bobrukiewicz says, and make sure funds are being used to maximum benefit. The program allows associates to apply for grants from the charity, which are then reviewed by the board to determine if certain criteria for aid are met. How much aid to appropriate is determined on a case-by-case basis.
For Sparks, Helping Hands is a real-world extension of a corporate culture that he has often spoken about.
“I get to talk about core values, and this is us showing our core values in a very tangible way,” he says. “It really does make me proud.
“We want to take care of our associates just as they take care of our customers,” he says. “We back it up with money and action. It says we really do care.”