Improving Efficiency: Learn how Eric Hassett and Hassett Hardware utilize technologies to improve customer service at hardwareretailing.com/technology-mix.
Hardware—along with hard work and a love for people—runs in Eric Hassett’s blood. Those qualities have led to an extremely successful career at Hassett Hardware and have contributed to him being named as one of this year’s North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) Top Guns Awards honorees.
Top Guns honorees are chosen for their commitment to and passion for the independent home improvement channel. They are pillars of innovation and have helped grow their businesses through strategic leadership with consideration for their communities and teams. This year’s honorees were specifically chosen for their focus on utilizing technology to improve operations.
Eric is the owner and president of Hassett Hardware, which includes five retail stores and one outdoor power rental equipment location in the San Francisco Bay Area. The business was started in 1957 by Eric’s grandfather Bob Hassett, and Eric got his start in the company and first taste of the industry when he was 11.
“My grandfather had me come to the store after school to pump kerosene out of a 55-gallon drum into glass containers and put 49-cent stickers on the containers,” Eric says. “I moved to sweeping up the nails and then got a big promotion—sorting nuts and bolts.”
Eric’s father, Larry Hassett, who started working in the business when he was 13, became owner in 1986, carrying on the legacy of being customer-focused that Bob started at Hassett Hardware. Eric says his future in home improvement retail was solidified when his dad opened the operation’s Palo Alto location in 1993. It was the company’s first computerized store, and Eric spent weekends and breaks from college working there learning the ins and outs of retail from operations to technology to company culture. He came back to the business after graduating from the University of California, Davis with the intent to work for his parents for a year while he figured out his next career move—either go to law school or work as a political consultant.
“During that year, my dad was great about stepping back and letting me take on a leadership role,” Eric says. “I quickly realized the business was a great fit because I like entrepreneurship, managing people and solving customers’ problems.”
Culture Comes First
While Hassett Hardware has many accomplishments to its name, the biggest key to its success has been a focus on cultivating a positive company culture. Eric prioritizes company culture, mission and values, and he can remember the exact moment he realized the operation needed a shift. He was attending an Ace Hardware event in 2012 where Linda Small was presenting on Everything DiSC®.
“At that time we had four stores, and I was constantly struggling to figure out why we weren’t executing consistently across locations,” Eric says. “As Linda was presenting and I read through my profile report, I realized I was the problem. I had not been intentional with how I explained our culture.”
In 2013, Eric, his brother Richard and his leadership team rolled out the operation’s core values, mission statement and vision to employees and began the process of creating consistency across each location. The team started with nine core values and two years ago, reworked the values down to four to make them easier to remember.
Where to Start With Tech: Eric Hassett shares his best practices for getting started in tech and how to evaluate what your operation needs to succeed. Learn more at hardwareretailing.com/bring-on-tech.
“The original nine core values are still seen in the four we have now. They are now just easier to apply to what we do,” Eric says. “Everything we do is focused around our core values, so it’s important that our employees are able to remember them.”
The four core values include: Every Customer, Every Time; In It Together; Do the Right Thing, Not the Easy Thing; and Communication Makes or Breaks Us. Eric says the leadership team makes sure everything they do falls in line with those four values to set an example to all employees to incorporate them into their jobs.
Core values play into the hiring practices at Hassett Hardware as well. Eric says they hire with intention, looking for employees who are in line with the company’s values and mission.
“Our core values are everywhere—in our communications, on signs on the walls, talked about in our manager check-ins and more,” Eric says. “Those values are how we make sure we have a shared understanding across all stores, provide a high level of customer service, hire the right people and continue to grow and maintain who we are.”
The operation’s commitment to its values has paid off. Eric says one of his proudest moments was when The Mercury News in San Jose, California, named Hassett Hardware as one of the best places to work in the Bay Area in 2013. They have won the award ten years in a row since.
“This award is given based on employee nominations, so to win it when we are surrounded by all these Silicon Valley companies offering free massages and unlimited vacation hours lets us know we’re doing something right,” he says. “The effort we are putting in to treat everybody with kindness and respect and doing the right thing for everybody—not just the bottom line—is working.”
Tech That Works
Growing up in Silicon Valley, Eric says he has always had an interest in technology. He has taken that passion and made it work for Hassett Hardware, bringing in programs and processes that ultimately offer a higher level of customer service, which was a priority instilled by his grandfather at the beginning of the company.
“I read a study that said only 7% of an employee’s time is spent giving meaningful assistance to a customer,” he says. “I want that number to be more like 40% or 50% for our employees, so I look for technologies that can achieve that goal.”
Eric started simple, adding operation-focused technologies that eliminated pen and paper processes and allowed employees to focus more of their time and energy on the salesfloor. Now, each store requires very little employee time for ordering and inventory management thanks to programs that automate those tasks.
The operation has recently been testing electronic shelf labels (ESLs) as another way to save employees time and effort. With ESLs, any price changes are done digitally and without numerous hours spent physically changing price tags. Because it is an expensive technology that requires a large upfront investment, Eric says he is also interested in other ways ESLs will improve efficiency, such as having the tag flash a light for special orders or flash to help employees find specific items when doing inventory.
During the summer of 2022, Hassett Hardware started using the Theatro communication system. Eric says the system has eliminated over 50% of broadcast transmissions across the store and employees are only hearing the conversations they need to hear so they can better focus on customers.
Currently, Eric is working to bring in the autonomous robot from Badger Technologies, which roams the store each night and checks for price errors, product outs and misplaced items. Employees manning each department will get a report every morning listing the errors and can easily find and fix them.
“Rather than send the employee for an hour down an aisle to try and catch these errors, my hope is the robot does the work and then provides the checklist so my employees can get to work fixing them faster,” Eric says. “If I can cut the time they need to spend to improve the accuracy and aesthetics of their aisles from an hour to even just 15 minutes, that’s going to be more effective. They can use that saved time to focus more on customers.”
When it comes to adding technologies, Eric says he is not looking to replace employees, but rather enhance their roles within the company. Any technology Hassett Hardware has in place allows the employee more face time with customers.
“Service is going to be our differentiator today, tomorrow and for the next 10 years,” Eric says. “Anything we do will follow this priority.”
Help Along the Way
As he looks back on his career so far, Eric is grateful for his parents, who started him on his successful career path.
“My dad had the foresight to step back when I came on. He didn’t micromanage me but brought me along and empowered me,” he says. “I also had my mom in my ear saying, ‘You don’t have to do hardware.’ So I never felt trapped.”
In his career, Eric says he has been fortunate to be part of a group of Ace Hardware retailers who have been a positive influence in his professional life, including Gina Schaefer, Mark Schulein, Michael Wynn and Jeremy Melnick—all coincidentally former Top Guns.
Celebrate the Honorees
The 2023 Top Guns honorees will take the stage on Aug. 3 at the NHPA Independents Conference to discuss the technology solutions they have implemented and the ROI they’ve seen as a result—in sales, employee engagement and customer experience. Celebrate the honorees following the panel discussion at the Top Guns Reception, sponsored by STIHL and the National Hardware Show. Register today.
“Whether it’s chats at conferences or being hardware dorks and talking about retail philosophy over drinks, my peer group has been really strong, and that’s contributed to my successes,” he says. “It’s a community, and I would not be able to do anything I do without it.”
The team back at Hassett Hardware has also played a huge role in Eric’s—and the operation’s—successes, helping him grow as a leader and allowing the business to thrive. He says it’s a huge honor to be named as a Top Guns honoree, and he is proud to be joining the ranks of previous honorees.
Eric attributes their current successes to having his brother Richard and the leadership team step up to the challenges of retail and embrace change as an opportunity, not a hassle.
“Ultimately, this award goes back to my team,” he says. “My name might be on the plaque but what we’ve done with our culture, our stores and taking care of our customers, that recognition goes to our 145 employees who do this work day in and day out. I want them to understand we’re being recognized for excellence by all of their efforts, not just mine.”