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NHPA 2021 Top Guns

The 2021 NHPA Top Guns Are Committed to Comprehensive Service and Strategic Investment

The North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) has recognized key home improvement operators for their successes and strategic solutions for 15 years with the Top Guns award. This award highlights retailers who are committed to their communities, their teams and to the independent channel at large.

Meet this year’s honorees, who represent distinct segments of the industry, and who are all committed to making the independent channel a place where people want to work and want to shop.

Discover how this year’s honorees navigated a challenging year for the supply chain and what their strategies are for finding long-term employees. Also, learn how they are investing in their businesses to continue growing beyond a record-breaking era for the industry.

For more insights from this year’s Top Guns, click here to read individual Q&As with each honoree.

Mike BrackinMike Brackin
President, HomCo Lumber & Hardware
Flagstaff, Arizona

Mike Brackin comes from a line of home improvement retailers. During the Great Depression in Iowa, his great-grandfather founded Payless Cashways, and his father served on the board until 1975, when he founded the store that would become HomCo Lumber & Hardware in Phoenix.

That store was where Brackin started his career in the home improvement industry, working in the lumberyard as a teenager. His father moved the store to Flagstaff in 1979, and the business still operates out of that location. After earning a business administration degree from Northern Arizona University, Brackin joined the family business and has never looked back.

After nearly 50 years, HomCo Lumber & Hardware is a prominent 50,000-square-foot operation serving Flagstaff, Arizona, and the surrounding areas within 150 miles of the business. Brackin says his keys to success are investing in a strong team and staying true to your word with customers.

“The team and the culture are our business,” Brackin says. “That’s what separates us from our competition.”

Brackin says his team, from his chief operating officer to his retail store manager, all have one trait in common: They’re all self-starters. That quality is what has allowed him to take a step back from day-to-day operations in recent years and focus on the big picture.

“The people here take ownership of their jobs and the store. I’m very blessed to have the staff I do,” Brackin says. “I’ve been able to transition to working on the business instead of in the business.”

Brackin says investing in training and celebrating staff successes is a key to developing strong teams and retaining employees. Some of his team have been with the company almost 30 years, including truck drivers, sales associates and other key team members.

Personal training and providing the tools they need to continue serving customers are critical to everyone’s success, Brackin says.

“My people utilize all the assets we give them—like good equipment in the yard, access to advanced training—and that’s the difference that customers see,” he says.

Customers also see how the competition often doesn’t measure up. In the early years, HomCo was the only option in the Flagstaff area, but as big boxes came into town, Brackin says the store did lose some customers.

“We’ve lost jobs due to price, but our customers always end up coming back because of the way we operate,” he says. “My people do a great job of building relationships. Everything we do, we do well.”

Brackin says the future of the company is focused on growing sales out of the single location. The company recently invested in e-commerce, which he says will be key to remaining competitive.

“E-commerce is going to help us get more exposure and that’s our focus,” he says. “Combined with our brick-and-mortar and our people, that’s the future.”

Ian McNaughtonIan McNaughton
Owner, Gravenhurst, Parry Sound and Bancroft Home Hardware
Ontario, Canada

Ian McNaughton didn’t start in hardware.

In fact, some may consider his initial career venture in telecommunications technology nearly on the opposite spectrum of owning and operating a hometown hardware store. But that’s where McNaughton’s story starts.

McNaughton and his wife Tara traveled the world for his job with their young children for nearly 10 years looking for a place where they could put down roots. Eventually, they made their way to Gravenhurst, Ontario, a lake community about 100 miles north of Toronto, where they found an opportunity to buy the local hardware store.

“We knew we wanted to run a small-town business and serve the community,” McNaughton says. “There’s nothing cooler than a hardware store.”

Just over a decade later, the McNaughtons now own three stores in similar communities, where they have discovered a niche supporting vacationers and residents in these recreation-focused communities.

Their third store, Bancroft Home Hardware, which they purchased in February 2021, was actually the first store they had interest in buying. The McNaughtons waited 12 years for the opportunity to buy it, and they are glad they did.

“Early on, I got the advice that you can overpay for a poor store and you can overpay for a great store, so it’s up to you to choose which one you want to own,” McNaughton says. “When we bought Bancroft, we inherited a beautiful store and a longstanding staff with great customer service.”

The McNaughtons’ commitment to excellent customer service has not gone unnoticed. Last year, their second store, Parry Sound Home Hardware, received the Proud of My Home award for Best Home Hardware Store Over 6,000 Sq. Ft. And this year, the Gravenhurst store earned the Best Home Hardware–Central Region award.

McNaughton acknowledges that these successes are due to the teams he has in each of his stores. Several of his staff members across the three stores have been working there for at least 20 years, and some are nearing 40 years.

“Our staff get all of the credit,” he says. “They do the work every day.”

The McNaughtons are proud of the history that has been a part of each store they’ve taken on. They ended up taking over the Parry Sound store 50 years to the day the original owners had purchased the store. That longevity—both the store’s and the team’s—is a point of pride for McNaughton.

“It’s a badge of honor to be operating stores that existed long before we owned them,” he says. “We’re caretakers in the period of time we own them. They are bigger than us.”

Greg Templeman

Greg Templeman
President, Sunpro
15 locations, Utah & Idaho

In 2015, Greg Templeman was happily in the containerboard industry. A conversation at his daughter’s soccer game with the president of Sunpro led to an unexpected opportunity. After a few interviews and facility walk-throughs, Templeman was offered
the role of northern region vice president.

After learning as much as possible, he was promoted to president of the $400+ million company headquartered in Orem, Utah. He has led the company with 16 locations since 2017.

Sunpro has expanded with three acquisitions and one new location in the last three years, but Templeman doesn’t let that growth interfere with the company’s focus on its core values. The philosophy Templeman leads with today is rooted in the same vision and core values the business began with more than 80 years ago: building a better community with integrity.

“Like most, we compete with national and local independent brands sourcing material and products from the same manufacturers and distributors we do,” he says. “Quality products and services are really the entry fee to compete, so we place a clear and consistent focus on Sunpro’s differentiators including blended pricing, objective pricing profiles and our rewards program.”

Although Sunpro comprises 16 locations across two states, Templeman says highlighting the localness and focus on community of each store is critical to competing.

“Our vision is ‘building a better community,’” he says. “Employees live in the same local communities as their customers, so we are collectively making both our employees’ and customers’ communities better places to live.”

Rewarding loyalty is a significant strategy for Sunpro. Its unique and generous customer rewards program focuses on building loyalty with its best customers. For every $1 a customer spends with Sunpro—“whether it’s a box of nails or a $90,000 lumber pack”—the customer earns 1 Sunpro rewards point. The points can be redeemed for gift cards, travel vouchers or signature Sunpro rewards trips to places like Scotland or the Maldives.

“Loyalty programs are critical to customer mix,” Templeman says. “Our program allows us to reward our on-time paying and most valued customers, providing one-on-one time in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Some customers have been going since the beginning.”

Some Sunpro customers use the rewards program as a vehicle to recognize their own teams for a job well done by sending them on the signature trips. Templeman says the trips also provide an opportunity to connect with customers in a less stressful environment.

“Employees know these trips are made possible through the Sunpro program, so they are more likely to want their employers to buy from us,” he says.

About Melanie Moul

Melanie is the communications and content manager for the North American Hardware and Paint Association. She joined the NHPA team in 2016 as an editor for Hardware Retailing and now helps lead the communications team to deliver relevant, timely content to the industry.

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