True Value’s President and CEO John Hartmann wants to make it clear that the doors are open for all independent retailers to attend the True Value Fall Reunion in Denver regardless of wholesale affiliation, size or market. This is a marked departure from the members-only affairs that were more typical of True Value’s past events. But this is the first Reunion following the sale of 70 percent of the company’s stock to private-equity firm ACON Investments, which was completed in April 2018, and Hartmann is hoping the company’s newly broadened customer reach will translate into growth for the new True Value.
Hardware Retailing spoke with Hartmann to discuss the latest developments following the transition, what he wants the industry to know about True Value and what attendees can expect from the Reunion. Take a look at this article for more information about the reunion, and to learn how to register to attend the event.
Hardware Retailing (HR): A lot has happened with True Value since the deal with ACON Investments. Can you fill us in on the latest news as it relates to this sale and the status of the transition?
John Hartmann (JH): It’s been an incredibly exciting year—not only the process leading up to the announcement but the excitement since the deal closed in April. Our leadership team has been focused on meeting the commitments we made to our members, and every commitment has been met. In fact, we returned nearly $250 million to our members three weeks after the deal was finalized.
Simultaneously, we’ve seen a lot of excitement through our increase in new customers. We signed 69 new customers who came on after the transaction. Year-to-date, we’ve signed 90 new customers, which surpasses our customers signed on in 2016 and 2017. True Value is not slowing down, and we anticipate doubling our all-time record, welcoming over 140 new customers by year-end in 2018.
We’ve been focused at this point not just on bringing on new prospects, but new customers. This fall at the Reunion in Denver, we’re also setting up prospects to make purchases at the show.
HR: What has the response been from members since the sale was finalized and the transition began?
JH: I make it a point to talk to retailers every day. It’s important to know how we’re supporting their businesses. Any type of change can draw concern. However, much of the feedback we’ve received from retailers is them reporting that now that the dust has settled, they see nothing in their day-to-day business has changed. The big anvil from the sky never fell.
A few weeks ago, we hosted a roundtable in Chicago with some of our retailers. The overwhelming response is that True Value is still their company. It’s the same people, the same set of values and the same approach to business. Life marches on in a positive way.
HR: Has anything surprised you since the completion of the deal?
JH: Our team puts a lot of effort into communicating as clearly as possible with retailers. We held 15 town hall meetings around the country. That level of face-to-face communication was an important part of the process.
The effort put into the communication about the transition paid off with the overwhelming majority of our retailers voting in favor of the transaction. We were pleasantly surprised to see how much it paid off. The tone and understanding from members were phenomenal.
If there has been a surprise, it’s been how this transaction has illuminated what True Value has been doing over the last five years. Our company provides the best product assortments, the best cutting-edge marketing support, the best technology support and the best modernized supply chain.
HR: What has been the biggest challenge in this transition? What do you want our readers to know about True Value as a distributor?
JH: The biggest challenge for us navigating through the transition was helping those who needed more information to feel comfortable that this transaction would lead to more growth and profitability and help us accelerate our support of the independent hardware retailer. What’s interesting is that nothing about our core business and what we do every day has changed since the transition.
As I’ve said to team members at our associate town hall meetings—our goal is to show our retailers through our daily service that we’re conducting business as usual.
Since the transition from a co-op to a distributor, we’ve seen our members utilizing some or all of the equity returned to them to reinvest in their businesses.
What’s been new for us as a distributor is having the ability to offer things our members enjoy to any independent retailer, either converting to True Value completely or turning to us as a secondary supplier—that’s the most substantial change for us from a post-transition perspective.
We want all independent retailers to know that True Value is open for business. There is no equity requirement to be part of the True Value family!
HR: What are the plans of the company moving forward? Would you say the strategic plan is continuing to move in the right direction?
JH: What’s really exciting about the strategic plan is that it’s anchored in the growth of our customers. Nobody should expect anything but continued focus on supplying customers and current members with the best products at the best prices and service levels. A lot goes into that.
We will continue to focus on customers’ growth and profitability and remain focused on our strategic plan, which can be accelerated under our new structure.
HR: What would you like independent retailers across all buying groups and co-ops to know about True Value and its future?
JH: True Value invites all retailers to come and learn more about True Value at the Fall Reunion in Denver. We’ll talk to you about what True Value can do for your business. There is no better way to learn what TV can do for you than to attend this event and meet with us and other True Value members. You’ll also find easy access to the best product and prices—with categories you won’t find anywhere else.
We’ve talked about support for independent retailers for years now. That’s how we do business—maximum flexibility with an a la carte menu of services so you can choose what works best for your store.
We’re very excited about what’s ahead for our company. We have some great things planned for the Reunion. Not only do we think it’ll be our largest Reunion yet, but we’re expecting to have our best attendance in over five years and the number of stores signed up. Sign up today!