Home » Industry News » NRHA Visits, Learns From Retailers
NRHA President and CEO Bill Lee spoke to retailers at a networking luncheon Feb. 25 in Metairie, Louisianna. He has six more visits coming up.

NRHA Visits, Learns From Retailers

The North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) takes great pride in helping independent home improvement retailers run better, more profitable businesses.

To connect with retailers and learn how the association can serve them even better, NRHA president and CEO Bill Lee has committed to visiting all of the communities where NRHA board members run their businesses. He has started the tour and has six more visits to make.

Lee answered questions from Hardware Retailing about his travels.

Hardware Retailing (HR): You’re about halfway through your tour. Where have you gone so far?

Bill Lee (BL): So far, I’ve visited four of our 10 retailer board members. In February of this year I had the pleasure of visiting Gary Copeland from Valley Supply Hardware in Rising Sun, Indiana. Gary was our board chairman at the time we had our visit. Later in February I visited with James Cabirac, owner of Kief Hardware in Cut Off, Louisiana. We met in New Orleans and had lunch with a great group of retailers from the area. At the end of March, Megan Menzer, owner of Newton’s True Value in Cherryvale, Kansas, was next up. Then in early April I was in Canada to visit with Adam Busscher, owner of Picton Home Hardware in Ontario.

HR: How long you are in each city and what do you do while you’re there?

BL: A typical trip has involved spending a few days with each board member and their families. It’s a great opportunity for us to really get to know each other, to spend quality time talking about their businesses, NRHA and our industry. We usually get in a car together and visit a few other local independents, which is always fun; I really enjoy seeing the variety of independents throughout the country. We also invite owners of other independent hardware stores, home centers and lumberyards within a 25- to 30-mile radius of the board member’s hometown to get together for a dealer lunch and meeting.

HR: How do the visits benefit the independent home improvement retailer? Why should dealers consider attending a luncheon hosted near their city? 

BL: Well, there are several really neat things that happen at these dealer lunches. First of all, it’s fairly rare that local independents have met face-to-face. They usually know of each other and their businesses, but because they’re so busy they just haven’t had the time or the opportunity to get to know one another. These dealer lunches may be the first time they have ever shaken each other’s hands and put a face to a name. So, right away they start sharing stories, swapping business cards and offering to help each other if needed.

The second interesting thing is that it isn’t too often that dealers from various wholesale affiliations are in the same room together. So, at these lunches Ace Hardware, True Value, Do it Best, Orgill and maybe dealers using other regional wholesalers are elbow to elbow in the same room. For these dealers, it’s a great opportunity to share information about the pros and cons of each of their distributors. It’s an opportunity to share information that just isn’t that easy to get in the course of business.

This ability to bring dealers together across multiple wholesale affiliations is one of the strengths of a trade association like NRHA.

The third benefit of these dealer lunches is that they help me understand the independents better. During our lunches together, we have group discussions of the biggest challenges independents face today and talk about how their association (NRHA) can help add value to their businesses. Just by listening, I learn a lot and I can take what I learn home to NRHA and hopefully use what I hear to strengthen your association.

HR: Why are you traveling throughout North America to visit stores and retailers?

BL: Well, we’re right now in the early stages of developing a new strategic plan for your association. So, in addition to some in-depth market research with our dealers, I’m using these visits to get to know our board members and their family businesses better. And I’m using these dealer lunches to really listen to what is going on with independents across the country. It’s a very personal way of validating what we are hearing through our research about the challenges they face, about what it means to own a family business and how NRHA can serve them better.

HR: What lessons have you learned from the independent dealers you’ve met along the way? How do you plan to use this information?

BL: One of the things that really struck me as I spent time with our board members and their families is how much family is a part of their family businesses. The dynamics of family life play out in the day-to-day operations of the business, influencing so much of what goes on. For many people who haven’t grown up in a family business, they just don’t get it– family businesses are just different. For the business owner and their family, they are all in; they are fully invested, taking a great deal of risk and are tied to the business in ways that most of us aren’t. Husbands, wives, parents, uncles, aunts, sons and daughters — sometimes it’s amazing how families manage to work together so well.

Another thing that really hit home was the uniqueness of each dealer and their business. Each business I encountered was a complete reflection of the owner’s interests, ambitions and personality. Each was also an accurate reflection of the local market and needs of the customers. It’s the power and freedom of being an independent. I’d have to say that my respect and admiration for the burden of responsibility and risk that family business owners carry has done nothing but grow through my travels.

HR: Where are you off to next?

BL: Coming up soon I’m visiting with Will Aubuchon, CEO of Aubuchon Hardware in Massachusetts. We are hosting a lunch June 4 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Westborough, Massachusetts. Then on June 24, I’ll be in Iowa City, Iowa, visiting with our board’s outgoing immediate past chairman, Jerry Meis of Lenoch & Cilek Hardware. If you’re an independent in either of these areas, you’re cordially invited to join the fun. Contact NRHA at nrha@nrha.org or 800-772-4424 for more information.

In July, I’m travelling to Montana to visit T.J. Comstock, owner of Northwest Hardware, then out to Perryville, Missouri, to join Tim Buchheit, owner of Buchheit’s. Details will be coming soon on locations and dates for these dealer lunches.

HR: Is there anything else about your trips that you would like to share with Hardware Retailing readers?

BL: Making these trips has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done during my career here at NRHA. My belief in the powerful force of freedom and entrepreneurship in our country has been completely confirmed. Independents will find ways to meet tomorrow’s challenges and thrive. I’m sure of it now more than ever!

About Hilary Welter

As marketing and research coordinator, it’s Hilary’s duty to keep retailers informed about NRHA products and services and to help coordinate industry research projects. Additionally, Hilary is the voice behind NRHA’s and Hardware Retailing’s social media accounts. She appreciates a good book, spicy food, well-made horror films, craft beer and exploring new places near and far.

Check Also

North Carolina price inspections

What Would You Do? North Carolina State Price Inspections

For Kristy Ransdell, owner of Burney True Value Hardware, with two locations in Aberdeen and …