2020 Retail Beacon

  • Retail Beacon Award — T&M Hardware and Rental—Ellwood City, Pa.

    By Chris Jensen

    Tim and Mary Post are delighted to see their kids Samantha and Scott join them in the family business, T&M Hardware and Rental.
    Tim and Mary Post are delighted to see their kids Samantha and Scott join them in the family business, T&M Hardware and Rental.»

    Tim and Mary Post bought their first hardware store on their wedding anniversary in 1991. They lined up the kids sitting on the dock behind the store and snapped a timeless family photo. Twenty years later, Tim and Mary opened up the local newspaper to a surprise. There on the page was a familiar photo. Each kid was lined up across the dock at their first store, only now they were all young adults. The photo was captioned, “Twenty years ago my father bought my mother a hardware store for their anniversary. Happy anniversary mom and dad, both in business and in life.”

    As Tim puts it, “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

    Today, the Posts operate six T&M Hardware and Rental stores in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Do it Best members have taken an interesting path to finally discover what they were meant to do—serve their community as hardware retailers.

    Tim and Mary Post have built a successful chain of hardware stores by working well as supportive partners.
    Tim and Mary Post have built a successful chain of hardware stores by working well as supportive partners.»

    GETTING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL BUG

    Before the Posts could start building their chain of successful hardware stores, they had to gain some life experiences and grow as life partners. Although Tim’s first dream was to be a physical education teacher, he ended up working for a national industrial supply distributor. Mary’s background was as an elementary teacher.

    Tim found he was good at his job, while his company discovered he had a knack for turning around distressed branches. Transfers first to Chicago and then to Los Angeles involved uprooting their growing family, while giving Tim lots of on-the-job learning and confidence.

    “Working for a commercial supply distributor, I gained a good understanding of the business for when we bought our first store,” says Tim.

    It was while they were out in Los Angeles in 1986 or 1987 that Tim first thought of a goal to have his own business. He set in motion a plan, transitioning to an outside sales rep job closer to family in Pittsburgh. “In addition to calling on clients, I probably visited 50 or 60 hardware stores to see if this is what we wanted to do,” he explains.

    “We began a journey with his career turning around distressed branches. We became each other’s confidantes,” Mary says. “Tim was driven more by family to provide for four kids, while I was confident that I could research and find roles that worked for us together.”

    Tim Post never had a doubt that they could turn around the distressed store they bought in 1991.
    Tim Post never had a doubt that they could turn around the distressed store they bought in 1991.»

    TAKING THE PLUNGE

    The couple started to search for the perfect location to open their store. The search came down to a choice between three struggling hardware businesses. Tim and Mary decided to go with the most underperforming store. It was in a bleak situation and on the verge of closure with little hope of survival.

    “I always felt if we could take the bleakest store, it would be easiest to make the most dramatic difference,” says Tim.

    The Posts felt they could save it, so they invested their entire $65,000 retirement savings into Tim’s most important turnaround project. They closed on the store on their wedding anniversary.

    Tim had spent years collecting advice about how to run a successful store and he knew one key was to stock it with in-demand merchandise. Their newly purchased store had about $95,000 of outdated inventory on dusty shelves when they took it over.

    In an effort to secure the staple products they now needed, the two traveled to Chicago for the True Value market. They came up with $67,000 of products they wanted to buy. They had already emptied their retirement savings. They tried to cut down to the bare minimum but only shaved off $8,000.

    The Post children surprised their parents with a newspaper ad that brought back memories of their hardware journey.
    The Post children surprised their parents with a newspaper ad that brought back memories of their hardware journey.»

    In frustration, Tim threw all the work in the trash and ventured out for some air. They ended up at a Denny’s restaurant, where a pivotal moment turned out to be their salvation. Tim and Mary opened their Denny’s menu and something about the tagline on the front cover of the menu made them erupt in laughter: “Moons Over My Hammy.” To this day, whenever the business is becoming too stressful, they take themselves back to that breaking point.

    At the market the next day, Tim boldly convinced Mary they needed to sign up for a $22,000 computer system to organize the store’s inventory. They weren’t going to give up. The compromise for the computer system became integral to their success.

    Tim never had any doubts the store would be successful. “On one of my first days in the new store we just bought, a gentleman came in who was a chemical plant buyer. He asked if I was there to close the business. I said no, I’m here to grow it. He ended up working for us later.”

    Mary adds, “We learned to rely on each other, particularly in the early years. One of the things we determined early on, when one of us made a decision the other supported it. We knew they had made it in the best interest of the business or the family. We never tried to purposely sabotage the other but reconcile the issue so we could move forward.”

    In the fall of 1993, Tim’s older brother, Roger, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It proved to be another pivotal moment in the evolution of their business.

    As Tim recalls, “I had been working another job since 1991. Roger was staying with my sister, who was one and a half hours away. I’d visit every week, traveling up and down the highway thinking about how the store was stagnant, because we had difficulty finding people who would make decisions and stick with it. I finally realized life is too short and there’s no guarantee.”

    Tim’s brother passed away in February 1994 and with that tragedy came a new resolve. Tim and Mary both quit their jobs and went all in with their dream to build a successful hardware business.

    The Ellwood City store expanded in 2017.
    The Ellwood City store expanded in 2017.»

    EXPANSION AND GROWTH

    Tim and Mary’s decision to invest more time in the store quickly paid off. In the first year of managing the store full time their sales doubled.

    In 1996, they added 2,500 square feet for rental to go with their 5,000-square-foot store. In 2000, they got into party rental. “I said we’re creating a three-legged stool: hardware, rental and commercial/industrial. If one segment goes down, another goes up,” Tim explains.

    In 2001, they switched their co-op affiliation to Do it Best and Tim and Mary renamed their store T & M Hardware & Rental Inc. They felt it was a good reflection of their partnership.

    After 13 years of growing their single store, Tim and Mary took on another turnaround project. The store they purchased in Harmony, Pa., was close to bankruptcy, but they were confident they could build it up.

    Their third store in East Palestine, Ohio, followed in 2008, which was not a turnaround situation. A family tragedy forced the owners to sell a store in pristine condition that had only been operating for 11 months.

    Their fourth store came about in 2010 when the Posts realized the two hardware stores in New Castle had gone out of business and left the town without a hardware store. It would be their first ground-up location.

    The Posts credit the support and programs from Do it Best with helping to make their business successful.
    The Posts credit the support and programs from Do it Best with helping to make their business successful.»

    ALL IN THE FAMILY

    Tim and Mary’s four children—Samantha, Scott, Jenna and T.J.—all worked in the business while growing up and then left to pursue outside interests.

    Scott returned to the business in 2012, but not before fulfilling a task for his father.

    “I asked Scott to go to the Do it Best market as a prospective store owner. I wanted him to make sure he was certain this is what he wanted to do,” Tim recalls.

    Taking over some of Tim’s responsibilities, Scott’s role is to oversee the rental business and grow their proprietary vendor programs like Stihl, Channellock, Yeti and Milwaukee.

    Business was good and the family was content focusing on driving growth in the communities they now served. But then, as Tim recalls, “divine intervention” struck and T & M Hardware & Rental was about to get bigger.

    Samantha, their eldest daughter, was working in Washington D.C. learning a range of marketing skills. However, she didn’t have a passion for the industry she was in. During a visit home, she asked her parents if there was room in the family business for her.

    As luck would have it, the Posts had been approached a few weeks earlier about a hardware store that was about to be liquidated just outside Pittsburgh. They turned it down. But now with Samantha expressing interest in coming home, they purchased the business and moved Samantha into an apartment above the store she would now be managing.

    “Samantha is involved with payroll, accounting, human resources and marketing, taking on some of Mary’s responsibilities,” Tim points out.

    T & M Hardware & Rental’s business was in full swing and their sixth store brought their journey full circle. When Tim and Mary viewed this location, something seemed all too familiar. This hardware store was one of the stores they had considered for their first purchase 25 years ago. As they inspected this store, they looked back on all their success. The first time they considered this store, their sales were around $450,000 annually. In the ensuing years, their company-wide sales had reached nearly $7 million.

    DEALING WITH COVID

    In the year of COVID, the Posts have discovered another complication to operating stores in two different states—there are new rulings coming out every day for Ohio and Pennsylvania. Stay-at-home orders were addressed differently by each state.

    “Early on we made the decision to institute policies across the whole company,” Mary explains. “Taking temperature in Ohio was the first mandate, so we were borrowing thermometers so each store could have one.”

    Although employees were concerned about their family, Mary knew it was all of them working in the essential businesses who were at greater risk. “The first few weeks were the hardest because of the fear and then it got easier. We made sure we had enough masks, gloves and cleaning supplies—we didn’t want our employees to be afraid,” she says.

    They were pleasantly surprised to discover the pandemic led to double-digit sales increases. “Big boxes had to limit people to 50 in mid-April, so we were slammed,” Tim points out. “We thought it would be busy for a few weeks, but it’s still going strong today.”

    Tim rallied the community to build a playground in Ellwood City in 1998.
    Tim rallied the community to build a playground in Ellwood City in 1998.»

    COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

    The Posts have always been community-oriented, getting as involved as possible with various nonprofit groups and organizations. “Whatever you need, come see us. We can commit time or hardware or rental products,” Tim says. “We’ve been involved in a number of projects over the years. We want to be part of something that makes a difference, where we can help out.”

    In 1998, Tim spearheaded the development of the Kids Created Kingdom playground in Ellwood City, rallying the entire community and school kids behind a meaningful project that has left a lasting impact.

    “Our philosophy is one of what do you need from us? If funds are low, we’ll write a bigger check. You want people to feel you’re approachable,” Mary says.

    Community involvement has taken on a new dimension during the pandemic. The Posts were especially concerned about the devastating effect on local restaurants. They donated tents to some so they utilize for outside dining and stay in business. They also began buying lunch for their staff from a different local restaurant each week.

    LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM

    Tim was elected to the Do it Best Corp. board in 2016, an experience that has given him a different perspective on his business and the industry.

    “My mindset has always been to make sure decisions are made that are in the best interest of the family. That’s the same way to approach the challenges Do it Best faces. I can’t just be limited to what happens to our region. You’re dealing with all areas of the business on a much higher level. It’s been very helpful and allowed me to put some of those steps they’re taking into our business,” he explains.

    There is no doubt in Tim’s mind that Do it Best has been very instrumental in their success. “At Do it Best, the company philosophy permeates over every employee. Not every company has that philosophy. We feel we have a partner that’s in it for the long haul for us,” he says. “The co-op programs and support from Do it Best have been a big part to make our business relevant to the community.”

    Tim states that he is overwhelmed by the interest in their business and humbled to be considered for the Beacon Award. “This award does not define the end of our industry careers, but gives us a platform to look back and reflect on being part of a great industry where you can live out your dream,” he says.

    Mary seconded her husband’s thoughts, saying, “We truly feel we have been blessed with the American Dream. The life we have led for the last three decades, taking a risk and investing in ourselves, our community and our family. We have been able to achieve this success with the help of so many employees, our co-op and bankers, who allowed us to do what we really love doing. This award is a great way to round out our family life, plus it’s gratifying to have two children who want to continue on the tradition.”

  • Retail Beacon Award —McGuckin Hardware—Boulder, Colo.

    By Chris Jensen

    From left to right: Barry, Dave, Dee, Jason, Vicki and Everett Hight represent four generations of the family behind McGuckin Hardware.
    From left to right: Barry, Dave, Dee, Jason, Vicki and Everett Hight represent four generations of the family behind McGuckin Hardware.»

    When a fisherman with an entrepreneurial streak named Bill McGuckin started McGuckin Hardware in Boulder, Colo., in 1955, his retail philosophy focused on a belief in personalized service and selection. Sixty-five years later, some things never change.

    McGuckin’s is still run by the same family. In 1960, Dave Hight joined his father-in-law as a partner in the business. Dave and his wife Dee (McGuckin) Hight took over the business in 1966 after Bill passed away.

    Today, the business is run by Barry Hight (Dave and Dee’s son), along with his wife Vicki and their son Jason Hight. Barry is president and Vicki is vice president and office manager, while Jason is the store manager.

    The store’s 65-year tradition of exceptional service is so established that a book has been written about it called “Behind The Green Vest,” which came out in 2015. McGuckin’s “Green Vest” concept is well known around town and through much of the hardware world as a symbol of exceptional service. All employees wear green vests and they often tie it into their advertising and promotions.

    “Dad’s mantra was always ‘Get ‘em in, get ‘em out fast,’ and that has been a key ingredient to our success,” explains Barry. “Find someone in a green vest who can help.”

    McGuckin Hardware in Boulder, Colo., features a 58,000-square-foot sales floor.
    McGuckin Hardware in Boulder, Colo., features a 58,000-square-foot sales floor.»

    “It’s just the basics of customer service,” adds Vicki. “We recently had a group meeting in the parking lot, separated for social distancing. We reiterated how Dave always talked about how we’re providing a service to the community.”

    The company employs 220 people and the store covers 58,000 square feet of retail space. In addition to core departments, McGuckin offers automotive, botanical, craft and hobby, pet supplies, extensive housewares, sporting goods and a fully staffed shop for any kind of work that customers need to have done.

    McGuckin Hardware has always been in the same shopping center. They expanded the original location three times until 1972, when they moved into an old furniture store and added a lot of square footage. In 1978, they moved across the parking lot. In 1992, they added more space so they could expand into categories like housewares and sporting goods.

    Years ago, they began downsizing the warehouse. The Hights just closed on a new warehouse that is smaller—13,000 square feet compared to the former airplane manufacturing plant they used that was 48,000 square feet. “We used to do a lot of factory-direct orders, but vendors can get us stock to Orgill’s warehouse in Hurricane, Utah,” Barry points out.

    McGuckin Hardware is also on the leading edge of e-commerce, with its new website.

    “During all this COVID craziness we unveiled a new website working with Orgill and Tyndale Marketing to develop that,” Barry says. “That helped our curbside service and brought a more robust catalog to the web. We have such a unique blend of items. COVID comes along and we’re doing more in one day online than we used to do in four or five months.”

    McGuckin Hardware features 18 departments offering nearly 200,000 items.
    McGuckin Hardware features 18 departments offering nearly 200,000 items.»

    ADJUSTING TO THE NEW NORMAL

    They took a huge hit in March when the stay-at-home order took effect. “We scrambled to keep up with everything. We were on pins and needles that we’d be deemed essential,” explains Barry.

    They were able to get curbside service going in a few days, which proved popular right away. “We never closed, but people quickly realized the extent of the situation,” Vicki says.

    They were giving out homemade masks at the beginning made out of heavy-duty Scott towels and staples, along with putting tape on the floor and spraying down carts. They shut down three of four entrances. “We started taking the temperature of all employees who come in, which we still do,” she notes.

    With curbside humming, their sales increased 25 percent in April and May even though their customer count stayed low. Gardening and bird seed are in demand, as are DIY products that people are doing on a higher level. Innertubes have been huge. One weekend they put 1,000 innertubes on sale, which unfortunately led to a long line to fill up the innertubes.

    McGuckin Hardware has even had a book written about it called “Behind the Green Vest.”
    McGuckin Hardware has even had a book written about it called “Behind the Green Vest.”»

    “As things started to break, we were selling five-gallon containers of isopropyl alcohol for local businesses,” Barry says. “We’re known for our support of local businesses, and this was something they needed.”

    A number of their associates are working less hours now by choice. “We employ a lot of retirees and some had family concerns. Five longtime employees retired and we lost 60 percent of our staff at the start,” Barry points out.

    “We normally have 100 to 110 employees on the floor any given day—we were running with 30. We normally have 60 cashiers and were down to operating with three,” Vicki adds. “Our management team worked every day for 12 hours for 70 straight days. Finally, I said OK, it’s time to take a day off.”

    “I was pulling orders. Vicki was helping curbside. We had a lot of employees who stepped into a different role,” Barry notes.

    Adds Vicki, “We have a lady who has been here 30 years and worked in the garden center. She stepped up so much, she’s now manager of curbside pickup.”

     Bill McGuckin (right) founded McGuckin Hardware in 1955, joined by his son-in-law Dave Hight (left) as a partner in 1960. The two focused on personalized service and selection.
    Bill McGuckin (right) founded McGuckin Hardware in 1955, joined by his son-in-law Dave Hight (left) as a partner in 1960. The two focused on personalized service and selection.»

    RECOGNIZING DEDICATED SERVICE

    The Hights decided to internally impose restrictive travel for employees and an honor system if in a group of 100 or more. “It’s a trust issue. We just lifted our non-travel policy that we had for a month for out-of-state travel—you had to be quarantined for 13 days,” she says.

    “We didn’t see our grandkids for three months. We still don’t go to restaurants,” Vicki points out. “What’s important to us is that our customer base feels very safe. They’re greeted by masked employees and they see us wiping down carts. We get a lot of comments that they trust us.”

    “I think our greatest achievement was keeping mom and dad at home,” Barry says. “Dad worked every day for 65 years. He’s 91 and lives one mile from the store. He’s always asking about the store. We brought him to the store one time after closing and we had dinner in the aisle—he roamed the aisles for two hours. We forward sales numbers to him, because he likes to see how we’re doing.”

    Dave would have noticed that June and July increased but the customer count was lower. That sporting goods took off in July and that they can’t get keep up with demand for watering cans.

    McGuckin donates money to nonprofits like Cultivate, which helps seniors connect with their surrounding communities.
    McGuckin donates money to nonprofits like Cultivate, which helps seniors connect with their surrounding communities.»

    “Sales have finally leveled off. We’ve moved past the garden push and cooling stage. Now we are trying to figure out the push back to school in a college town,” says Vicki, who adds that they are almost back to full staff.

    “Our HR person has been very informed about what’s going on. With a lot of people out, we changed how we do vacation time,” says Barry. “Our CFO and IT manager have been working from home a little, but we’re not a business that can have a lot of people working from home.”

    According to Barry, “Our employees are so receptive to learn a new task or process and just keep going. Now you know who you can count on. You need the doers. Like Earl, who has been here 46 years. Today he’s selling fans. His family was worried about him, but he’s the poster child for hard work.”

    Adds Vicki, “We got a PPP loan and have had it forgiven, so we were able to adjust payroll. We decided to give bonuses to people who really stuck it out in early May.”

    Vicki did something else that speaks to the company’s sense of family and togetherness—she sent out 125 handwritten thank you notes to the associates who were getting bonuses. “Honestly, it felt good to do it for what they did for our business,” she says.

    Customers felt safe shopping at McGuckin Hardware, because they are greeted by employees like Barb Beck who are wearing masks.
    Customers felt safe shopping at McGuckin Hardware, because they are greeted by employees like Barb Beck who are wearing masks.»

    BRINGING THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER

    Throughout its history, McGuckin Hardware has been a major support to the community, including donations, fundraising and events. Anything the community asks for, the Hight family finds a way to deliver. During the COVID-19 response, they have been a pillar of their community helping customers and giving out multiple donations, including mask donations when available.

    They take requests and do register roundups and provide tables for various groups to offer services. “Normally we do six to eight roundups a year for causes supporting food, elderly and children such as Meals on Wheels. We change organizations year to year but continue to have a strong relationship with the city and the hospital. We stopped all register roundups during COVID,” Vicki says.

    When three large carloads filled with boxes of isopropyl alcohol came in, they hid some boxes for the hospital. “Our community service wasn’t always public, but internally we’re very aware that we’re trying to help city government, fire and police departments and the hospital,” Vicki notes.

    Special events are normally held nearly every weekend at McGuckin including bi-annual tent sales.
    Special events are normally held nearly every weekend at McGuckin including bi-annual tent sales.»

    During normal times, special events are their specialty and a way to bring the community together while having fun. They are held almost every weekend, from weekend workshops and vendor-driven events to barbecues and bi-annual tent sales.

    “We have to look at every event and see if it’s feasible,” Barry says. “We can’t have Grillapalooza or things like that, because serving food is out of the question. We also have no idea what the holiday will look like.”

    The Christmas holiday season is definitely a thing at McGuckin Hardware. They usually bring in 2,500 live trees. The store features a massive Christmas offering with live music, lots of activities and visits from Santa.

    “Being in the spotlight is nice every now and then. It’s a lot of hard work and we don’t do it for the recognition,” Barry says. “The store’s success comes down to Dad’s dedication—he built a great business that really respected employees and took care of customers.”

    Adds Vicki, “To be recognized with an award for community service is nice, because that’s what we do. It’s a big exclamation point for us.”

    Kris Sprigg loads a curbside order.
    Kris Sprigg loads a curbside order.»
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