A Legacy Lives On: Read how the Miller brothers, Hartville Hardware’s founders and leaders, were honored with a legacy award at hardwareretailing.com/hartville-legacy-award.
Saying his colleagues are like family is more than a cliche for Scott Sommers. At Hartville Hardware & Lumber, where he serves as president, Scott works every day with his brother, uncles, cousins and other family members. Building on the foundation of service to customers and the community his grandfather, Howard Miller Sr., and uncles, Howard Miller Jr. and Wayne Miller, started in 1972, Scott has put in place his own successes. Those achievements have led to him being named a North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) 2023 Top Guns Award honoree.
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 their teams. This year’s honorees were specifically chosen for their focus on utilizing technology to improve operations.
Success Passed Down
Scott grew up in the business and has worked full-time for Hartville Hardware & Lumber for 28 years. During that time, he has seen the company grow exponentially. Hartville Hardware & Lumber is part of HRM Enterprises, which also includes Hartville Kitchen, Hartville MarketPlace and Flea Market, The Shops at Hartville Kitchen, Hartville Contractors Supply and Top Advantages Surfaces.
The operation is still manned by members of the Miller family, including Scott, his brother Gary Sommers, who serves as chief executive officer of HRM Enterprises, and his cousin Zach Coblentz, chief operating officer of HRM Enterprises.
Even though Scott’s grandfather and uncles didn’t formally write out the ideas behind the company’s culture when they started the business, their philosophy of leading through serving and caring for the customer set the foundation for Hartville’s success.
“We are fortunate to have inherited a great culture from our grandfather and uncles,” Scott says. “The leadership team took the steps to cement those values into formal guiding statements, which we now use for recruiting and training as we continue to expand operations.”
Following Where the Tech Leads
Growing alongside Hartville Hardware’s culture, technology has played a role in the company’s successes. Scott says their strategy is to be a “fast follower” and adopt new technologies other businesses have found success using. Leadership at Hartville Hardware also takes part in several roundtable groups with NHPA and their wholesaler.
“These roundtables and networking opportunities give us connections and access to some of the best stores and people in the industry,” Scott says. “They have also been a wealth of information on new technology, and allow us to see how other stores are using tech. We rely heavily on the experience of other stores when assessing what makes sense to implement in our stores.”
In 1982, Hartville Hardware purchased its first computer system from Triad Systems Corporation, which is now Epicor, investing $110,000, a huge sum at the time considering the size of the store, Sommers says.
“Triad became the Epicor Eagle system we still use today,” Scott says. “Our people know it well, and we use all aspects of the system, from delivery to advanced ordering and everything in between.”
In the late 1980s, Hartville Hardware offered specialty tool catalog orders through the mail. During the anthrax attacks in 2001, mail orders saw a large decline, and leadership at Hartville embraced online platforms to continue selling specialty tools, launching its first e-commerce site in 2002. Scott says it took several years to become profitable on the e-commerce side but they remained steadfast in growing and evolving online.
In the two decades since it stepped into online technology, the company has continued to implement programs and processes that improve efficiencies, enhance customer service and grow the bottom line. Scott says they have found success in technology because they have devoted the necessary time and energy.
“We realized quickly that we needed to have people focused on technology,” Scott says. “E-commerce isn’t something you can do part-time and be successful. We have 13 people on the development and IT side of the business and 10 employees focused on digital marketing, putting content on the site, marketing our e-commerce, creating graphics and more.”
To keep the business on the cutting edge of new technologies, Scott says the operation has been trialing electronic shelf labels in the appliance department. Hartville utilizes a price scraping tool that shops 15,000 items and compares those items’ prices to other retailers’ prices. As another way to analyze success, Cody Miller, divisional merchandise manager for the lumber and building materials division, developed a gross profit mapping system that formulates the gross profit of every four feet of the store.
Scott says the company has been using technology in its onboarding process as well and has a dedicated employee for training who manages the learning management system.
Hartville Hardware & Lumber has also licensed training from NHPA, using operations, product training and other resources from the association.
Implementing technology for hiring and retention has provided consistency, which has contributed to the overall success of the operation, Scott says.
“Our learning management system has taken onboarding to a new level,” he says. “We have been able to give a consistent experience to our new hires, which makes them feel comfortable and up to speed much quicker. It also helps us share our culture initiatives to all our new team members.”
Another component that has made Hartville Hardware & Lumber successful is Scott’s use of analytics to assess all areas of the operation. He continually reviews data and scoreboards from various departments, endcaps and other parts of the store to assess which areas are most productive and which need improvement.
“I give credit to Howard and Wayne for starting this culture of tracking a wide variety of data to see how our company measured up,” Scott says. “They also get all the credit for showing what it means to truly empower your employees; they both did that exceedingly well.”
A Solid Foundation
Looking back over his career, Scott says he owes much of his success to his father, uncles and grandfather, who set the stage for a company that cares for its employees, customers and community.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to my wife Kami. Her hard work in our home has allowed me to focus on the business,” Scott says. “My parents also deserve credit for instilling the value of hard work in me.”
His family at work—both blood and chosen—has also made him and Hartville Hardware & Lumber successful.
“The team that I get to work with every day is so special,” he says. “They are the boots on the ground that make us tick and keep us moving forward, and the visible leadership from our managers and our sales team is tremendous. They are what really makes us.”
While he is grateful to receive the Top Guns honor, Scott shies away from all the glory.
“This award means a lot, but I think our team deserves it,” he says. “They have worked hard to build this place over the years, and I’m excited and humbled to accept it for the whole team.”
Positive Company Culture Equals Long-Lasting Success
A solid company culture is the cornerstone of Hartville Hardware & Lumber and its sister companies. Part of that culture is authentically connecting with employees, empowering them and allowing them to take ownership in their roles. HRM Enterprises has over 900 employees across all of the entities, and with that many employees, it can be difficult to stay in touch with everyone, says Hartville Hardware & Lumber president Scott Sommers. To solve that issue, Scott says the leadership team started “20 Group Meetings,” where once a year, Scott and other leadership team members meet with 20 employees at a time. These groups of 20 include a mix of employees from across the hardware division.
“These meetings are a way for us to discuss concerns, answer questions and continue promoting our culture,” Scott says. “They are also a way to connect employees with our three strategic anchors: best place to work, best guest experience and long-term sustainable results.”
During those meetings, employees consistently shared that their favorite part of their job was the people they worked with, says Gary Sommers, Scott’s brother and chief executive officer of HRM Enterprises, the umbrella company of Hartville Hardware. Around the same time, Gary and Scott also attended a seminar that discussed the concept of like drawing like.
“That concept really resonated with me—when you have a team of good people, it is going to attract other good people,” Gary says. “It shows you have a positive culture because you continue to bring in positive people.”
Another part of the Hartville Hardware culture is empowering team members and allowing them to take the necessary steps to fulfill the company’s second strategic anchor of offering a best guest experience.
“From the major tool department reset we recently underwent to the rebuilding of our Idea House, it’s the changes our staff have done that make our showroom and our store so great,” Scott says. “That’s not me pushing them; that’s the team taking initiative, and they always knock it out of the park. That culture of empowering our people has really paid dividends, and it’s one of the reasons the overall store experience is so good.”
HARTVILLE HARDWARE & LUMBER CORE VALUES
- Always put God first.
- Treat our customers, suppliers and each other as we would like to be treated.
- Give back to our community.
HOW WE BEHAVE
- We do whatever it takes.
- We give more than expected.
- We are long-term focused.