Will Aubuchon, President and CEO, W.E. Aubuchon Co. Inc.
104 stores in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, New York
W.E. Aubuchon Co. Inc. was founded in 1908 by William E. Aubuchon. Today, his great-grandson, Will Aubuchon, serves as CEO. The company still maintains the growth mindset of its founder, focusing on e-commerce and becoming a group of strong local hardware brands through acquisition.
Read the conversation with Will below and click here to listen to an exclusive podcast episode on Hardware Retailing‘s brand new podcast series Editorially Speaking.
Hardware Retailing (HR): Tell me a brief history of your company.
Will Aubuchon (WA): In 1908, my great-grandfather founded W.E. Aubuchon Co. Inc. (WEA) when he purchased the hardware store he was working in at age 23. He then added 22 stores during the Great Depression. Starting in the 1960s, my grandfather added 79 stores and built a modern distribution center. The third generation, led by my dad (William E. Aubuchon III) and uncle (M. Marcus Moran Jr.), squared up against a flood of new big-box competition, started our acquisition program, identified digital as a priority and committed to a thoughtful succession plan.
HR: What unique challenges do independent retailers face today?
WA: One of the biggest challenges independent retailers face today is the same one that has plagued our industry from the beginning—scale disadvantage. The inherent nonconformity of independent retail is a structural headwind. WEA is a great example. Though we are equivalent to three or four Home Depot stores revenue-wise, we still must compete and solve for many of the same challenges as The Home Depot, a $110+ billion organization. E-commerce is a critical challenge. Meeting customer expectations requires deep investment, talent and patience—something that is difficult to do even for large organizations, let alone those with scale disadvantage. Perhaps there has never been a more important time for the unifying power of cooperatives, distribution partners, and associations like NRHA to exist. However, “Will it be enough?” is a question that should inspire us all to collaborate more and do better.
HR: How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
WA: The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a windfall for the channel, and certainly the ability of independents to quickly adapt and create a safe shopping option for local customers played a key role. I believe convenient safety will continue to be an opportunity that our industry can leverage in the short term as new and existing customers think twice about avoiding large groups at big-box stores. My hope is that the independent channel purposefully maximizes this pandemic-driven windfall to regain market share from the big boxes. I firmly believe that a clean, digitally capable local hardware store, staffed with knowledgeable and passionate people, can not only retain customers, but attract new ones in the next 10 years.
HR: How will your business expand over the same timeframe?
WA: WEA is a family tradition that has persevered since 1908 by reading the tea leaves and making change. Along those lines, we have recently updated our mission: “Building up a group of strong local hardware brands.” We are now preparing WEA to become a group of brands, leveraging a common operating system for POS, inventory management, loyalty, e-commerce, digital marketing, human resources, finance and accounting and more. We added Lyndonville Hardware & Lumber at the end of 2019 as our first brand. By the end of 2020, we should have all the pieces in place to easily scale the system for more brands. Preserving and strengthening strong local brands that have served communities for many years is rooted in our fundamental belief that local matters more.
Preserving and strengthening strong local brands that have served communities for many years is rooted in our fundamental belief that local matters more.
HR: What does being an industry disrupter mean to you?
WA: Disruption forces you to prioritize and focus. For example, we have committed millions of dollars (past, present and future) to build hardwarestore.com into a platform to support modern consumer expectations for a group of strong hardware brands. Are we executing our e-commerce and digital marketing perfectly? No. But we are learning faster and doing more than ever before—I believe this disruptive mindset will make all the difference.