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Taking Cues From Outside

Taking Cues From Outside

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Bringing New Points of View to Home Improvement

A great leader can change the trajectory of an employee’s entire career. 

By giving helpful compliments when an employee feels overwhelmed or maintaining a work environment where everyone feels respected and empowered, responsive leaders can help employees and businesses alike soar. 

For Adam Ziegler, the time he spent away from the home improvement industry provided crucial leadership lessons that he now applies to his career as owner and vice president of Ziegler’s Ace Hardware.

Ziegler also finds value in investing in his community. Like other home improvement leaders, Ziegler says he finds new opportunities to grow his business and his leadership skills by getting involved with community organizations. Discover how those local roots have enriched his business and helped Ziegler expand his reputation as a leader. 

A Family Foundation
Ziegler is the fourth generation at the helm of Ziegler’s Ace Hardware, a business his great-grandfather started in 1930. Alongside his father, Ziegler now oversees nine locations across northeastern Illinois.

Ziegler says some of his earliest memories revolve around his family’s business, including his father making weekly rounds to every store.  He remembers his father checking on each store individually to determine the overall health of the business. 

He worked in his family’s stores as a teenager, and later studied accounting and business administration. 

“I always knew that one day I would play a role in running our family business, but despite growing up in the business, my father encouraged me to focus on my education and gain outside work experience,” he says.

After graduating with a master’s degree in accounting in 2005 from Southern Methodist University, he got a job at a national accounting firm. His new job placed him in a very different work environment than the stores where he grew up.

But Ziegler always had his family’s business in mind. After seven years in corporate accounting, he returned to Ziegler’s Ace Hardware. 

When he rejoined to the family business, he updated the decades-old accounting system the business had been using with modern financial reporting systems. He says this decision led to a more streamlined financial reporting process and greater accuracy for the business. 

Additionally, he used his experience in corporate finance to lower his company’s banking costs by preparing an RFP and negotiating with a new bank. 

“Working outside the industry for a few years was really important for me,” he says. “It gave me a different perspective on how things should be done, and the best practices for running a business.”

Putting Leadership Into Words
Two years later, he developed a plan to instill a new focus at the business. He decided to craft what he calls a “noble purpose” that would guide each employee to represent the business confidently and ensure they connect with customers, vendors and other team members on an authentic level.  

“We had a mission statement for the business, but I didn’t think it went far enough,” Ziegler says. “I think mission statements can be a little too broad. We really wanted to make our business’s focus meaningful and something people can understand.”

After collaborating with his management team, Ziegler unveiled the business’s official noble purpose: “Our team develops trusting relationships with our neighbors by helping them find everyday solutions for their home and business.” 

“Employees can use the noble purpose every day,” he says. “They can ask themselves, ‘Did I work to develop trusting relationships with my customers today?’ and know immediately whether that happened.”

Ziegler says the noble purpose served his entire team well as it embarked on the journey to open the company’s most recent store, its ninth location, which opened in Bartlett, Illinois, in February 2017.

“That was the first store I’ve opened, so there was a lot of learning that went into that process,” he says. “But I had an excellent team around me and they really helped me out. We took things one piece at a time and got things done together.”

With so many locations in the area, the business is always hiring new employees. Once a month, the company holds an orientation for new employees to introduce them to the company’s noble purpose. It’s also a chance to explain how they can use it to guide their in-store decision-making.

Ziegler also believes in empowering his employees by arming them with in-depth product knowledge to best serve customers.  Each year, Ziegler selects one area of the business where his employees will receive additional training. In the past, Ziegler Ace employees have taken a deep dive into plumbing and electrical, and in 2017, the stores’ employees focused on business-to-business sales.

Ziegler says he is still drawing on his experience outside hardware and home improvement to guide his operation forward with effective leadership. He says his best bosses outside the home improvement industry motivated other employees to follow their example. They never demanded respect; they earned it, he says.

“I try to lead by example,” he says. “I want my employees to feel comfortable coming to me to discuss whatever’s on their mind. I have an open-door policy, and I love talking to my employees to encourage them.”

About Todd Taber

Todd Taber
Todd is an assistant editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. He graduated from Indiana University where he majored in journalism and French. Throughout his career, he has aimed to highlight small businesses and their community value. He joined NRHA in 2017 and now serves on the news and marketing teams. In his free time, he likes to run, spend time with family and travel the country.