Next year, United Hardware Distributing Company and its branding icon, Hardware Hank, will turn 60. In January, as the Plymouth, Minnesota-based wholesaler heads to downtown Minneapolis for its Spring and Summer Buying Market, it will celebrate a diverse array of retail programs and a strong membership base, many of whom are farm and home retailers serving rural communities in 16 states across the upper Midwest.
The company’s longevity speaks to its ability to change while maintaining its founding principles, says President and CEO Steve Draeger. “When United Hardware began operations, the landscape across the country was dotted with many hardware distributors,” Draeger says. “Yet by sticking to our principles of putting the retailer first, we have been able to successfully adapt to a changing wholesale and retail marketplace over time.”
The company began in 1957 when a group of retailers purchased a controlling interest of the hardware division of a distribution company owned by businessman E.J. Koblas. The seven-member board of retailers set in place a precedent of a member-directed organization, a model which continues to govern the company. Members also created the Hardware Hank character as a way for retailers to brand their stores in their communities.
Today, United Hardware is a member of Distribution American and serves nearly 670 members, with services tailored to their unique needs. For example, United’s Power Programs, such as its Paint Design and Back Yard Chef programs, offer retailers complete merchandising and signage packages to establish market dominance in key categories. The Dealer’s Choice circular program allows retailers to customize ads using an online portal. One of the more recent tools is the STARS program, or Steps to Achieving Retail Success. STARS allows retailers to take a comprehensive look at their business, then identify opportunities for growth and set goals for the future.
Being a regional distributor also gives them strength in the marketplace, says Draeger, because they can specialize in the unique needs of their customers.
“United’s position as a strong regional distributor gives us the ability to focus on both products and customer types that are important to our members,” he says. “The customer base of the Midwestern retailer does indeed differ at times from those located on the east and west coasts of the country.”
United Hardware’s biannual buying market will be held Jan. 6-8 in Minneapolis, and events will include a birthday bash for Hardware Hank and free giveaways.
“Independent retailers have made United Hardware the company it is today,” says Draeger. “I thank each of our members for their continued support and loyalty.”