Steve Henry is the new president and CEO of House-Hasson Hardware, replacing Don Hasson, who passed away in February after leading America’s largest independent regional distributor for the past 35 years. »
Continuing a series of interviews with key wholesaler execs this year, Editor Chris Jensen interviewed House-Hasson Hardware President and CEO Steve Henry.
1. How has House-Hasson and its dealers weathered the pandemic so far and in what ways has this made the company and its dealers stronger for the future?
I would begin by saying as optimistically as I can, that I believe that we are finally past the worst of the pandemic. However, it does continue to affect the decisions that we make each and every day. It is my opinion that our great family of dealers and our own hardware business has weathered the storm like true champions. How do you plan for something as large as what we have been through? The outcome speaks to our great resiliency and strong drive to serve our customers. I believe that in almost every case, our dealers have emerged stronger and more adaptable than they have ever been. The same for our two distribution centers—the never-say-quit attitudes of our management and staff have provided for the continued growth and success of our company through this life-changing event.
The strength for the future comes from the fact that we all got knocked around a lot, sometimes daily, but we got back up and we put a band-aid on and went back to work. We had to hire differently, we had to deliver differently, we had to work different hours, we had to become flexible and fluid. We could not do business every day as we always had. I believe that because of the everyday struggles that we dealt with during the pandemic, we have been forced to think outside of the box. It is painful, but sometimes life’s circumstances force us to do things and make choices that are difficult to make otherwise. That is a good thing for the future of our business.
2. You were mentored by Don Hasson since joining the company in 2010. What lessons did you learn from Don and how has that shaped your management style?
My background before coming to work at House-Hasson was mainly financial, because of the years that I spent in banking. I also had a strong business sense dating back to my early work history of learning from my father in retail. I guess you could say that with my education and business experience, I still needed to learn a lot about distribution and the hardware business. This is where Don and his mentoring became so valuable to me and the company.
I was fortunate early on in my banking career to have a mentor who was much like Don in both leadership style and business philosophy, so it was very easy for me to fall right in under Don and let him teach me this business. Don was excellent at explaining and teaching concepts and procedures. One of his favorite quotes, and there are many, was “the devil is in the details.” He harped on the details and getting them right and knowing all about what makes things happen. Don was a leader and a front-runner, he wanted to set the pace, but he always had a plan and he instilled in me the need to make sure that the plan was followed to completion.
I would say that my management style is different than Don’s. However, I would say that his philosophy and management style has had a direct influence in the way that I lead the company. I catch myself sharing his thoughts and ideas quite often and it has been mentioned a few times that I answer a lot like he would, for our business associates. Don has had a profound influence on me and this company, and we will continue on as he expected and will settle for nothing less.
3. How difficult is it to be the new leader for a company that has been run by a strong personality for the past 35 years? What lasting legacy did Don Hasson build at the company?
The thing that I notice most about following Don as leader of House-Hasson is that those we do business with have come to expect a strong personality. That gets me a little out of my comfort zone, but I find that I am getting more and more accustomed to growing into that role. Don knew so much about this industry and this company; he was one of the most intelligent people that I had ever been associated with. I believe that he found it easy to be strong and influential because of the fact that he was a few steps ahead of most people in his forward thinking most of the time. To be able to achieve that confidence and comfort takes many years of experience. I am working twice as hard to learn and listen in hopes that someday I will be as knowledgeable as Don was. I guess the best way to summarize the answer to this question is to say that I am a work in progress in following Don as the leader of House-Hasson.
I do not have the time or enough space to begin to list everything that Don Hasson has done for this company. I will tell you that it was definitely a labor of love—he loved this company and our people like family. He came to work everyday trying to make us better, and that will continue as we strive to follow through on his efforts. Dealer markets were like family reunions to Don. He wanted to provide the best service and hardware delivery to our family of great dealers. Don was driven to make us the best everyday, we didn’t get to slack a single day, we had to get better and we had to stay ahead of everyone else. Don was passionate about making the dealers more profitable and more successful, which fostered loyalty and tremendous growth. We miss Don every day, but his great legacy of love for this business lives on.
4. 2020 was a challenging year for the industry’s supply chain. What are some of the steps you have taken to address this and when do you anticipate your two warehouses being back to normal fill rates?
The supply chain issues are not exclusive to our industry as we have all felt the pinch of going to the store and seeing bare shelves. This is something that we have never experienced before on this scale. We have seen particular areas that have been impacted before, but those have been random and short lived. What we are experiencing now creates a lot of challenges: raw materials, inventory, delivery, work force issues and I can go on and on about all of the pieces of this puzzle that create havoc in the current supply chain.
The fact of the matter is we do not know when it will be corrected, period. However, until it is, we will continue to look for substitutes where they are available, apply pressure to get our fair share of inventory and provide backhaul opportunities if they make sense to our receiving product. I will also say that, believe it or not, our fill rates are getting better, but are nowhere near our standard. We have an awesome buying department and they have worked tirelessly to raise the inventory levels so that we could provide hardware to our dealers without interruption. This is just another challenge that we will not shy away from until we get where we need to be at expected levels.
5. What major initiatives are on tap for House-Hasson in 2021?
We are looking forward to getting together with our dealers and vendor community in August for our fall market. We have not been able to visit and talk with our friends and associates in the market environment since January 2020. We are ready, and after a couple of missed opportunities, we will be getting together in Sevierville in person (Scheduled for August 12-14). This is so valuable to us. I would say that it is one of the most important things that we will accomplish this year.
The growth that we have experienced has been phenomenal to say the least, and rapid growth brings about its own share of initiatives. Improved technology both in the warehouse and our computer systems are definitely receiving some attention. I suppose that we will be looking at expansion in the near future and upgrades to delivery.
Growing pains are good. We have a plan, and now we are working out the details just as Don would have done. We are going to stay the course and hold on to the philosophy and great history that has served us well for the past 116 years. It is fortunate for us that Don set everything in place to carry on his vision and plan. We are here to make sure that it happens with the intention of making it better than he envisioned. We have been richly blessed, and it is my job to be a good steward of that which has been entrusted to me. We look forward to the great opportunities and challenges that we will face each and every day.
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