By Chris Jensen
“I don’t like to do something without heart.”
That is how Renee Zaman describes her mission as owner of Mazo Hardware in Mazomanie, Wis., which has been particularly evident in the year of the pandemic. All the good feelings that come with a hometown hardware store are embedded in the culture of Zaman’s store. She is lovingly known as “The Hardware Queen,” right down to the crown she occasionally wears for fun on the sales floor.
The former pre-school teacher took over ownership in 2009 and infused her playful, spunky personality into the store operations. She is at the store seven days a week to answer any questions her customers may have and provide the support her staff needs.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it threatened the upbeat atmosphere at Mazo Hardware, but Zaman was determined to find a way to provide her community the relief it needed.
Not only did she adapt to maintain safe business practices, but she went above and beyond to get even more involved in her community. The impact her essential business has had on the community has not gone unnoticed, and Mazo Hardware has become a symbol of uplifted spirits in Mazomanie.
IDEAS BEGIN TO SPARK
When news of the pandemic began to spread, Zaman waited in anticipation for what would happen to her business. Hardware stores across the country were deemed essential, which meant she had a huge responsibility on her hands.
Plexiglass shields were installed at all registers, although Zaman insisted on calling them their “sneeze shields” to bring laughter to the situation. They placed six-feet distancing placards on the floors and employees were asked to wear masks and gloves. They developed cleaning routines that involved sanitizing every area in the store hourly.
As masks became increasingly difficult to secure, Zaman and her team thought of ways to make their own. They figured out how to fashion a mask with a vinyl shield made out of materials stocked in the store. A local doctor’s office, impressed by the design, ordered 10 for his own office. Mazo was already making a difference, but Zaman and her team didn’t want to stop there.
THE VOTE MUST GO ON
Mazo Hardware was well underway offering curbside pickup and keeping their customers informed about their safe business practices through social media. They continued to drive traffic to their 6,500-square-foot store with fun quirky videos describing all the ways they were adapting to COVID-19. They created a safe environment for their employees and customers, but their community had even more important needs to be met.
Mazomanie citizens were in the midst of the spring primary elections. Many voters wondered if there would be a safe place to cast their ballot in person. That’s when Mazo Hardware stepped in with a solution.
One morning, Zaman entered the store to see her longtime employee Joe Kliebenstein. He had a prototype for a plexiglass configuration that could be used for so much more than their registers. As they began talking about their new “sneeze shields,” they developed an idea for a way to extend a helping hand to the community’s election situation.
Mazo Hardware got busy producing plexiglass shields, then sold them at cost to eight polling locations so that voters could feel safe while they cast their votes.
In the coming weeks, Zaman and Mazo Hardware continued to support their community.
“I got an email from the local hospital and they needed PPE and other items. So, we donated masks, gloves, rain suits and sanitizing cleaner,” Zaman says.
She adds, “People understand I care about them fiercely. I have a young single mom on staff and child care is very expensive, so we alter her hours creatively so she can still make a living.”
At one point, Zaman was operating without 10 of her 16 employees. “I had to get by with two new people and one other person helping, with the phone ringing constantly. I worked nonstop for three months without a day off,” she says.
With families looking for creative ways to spend time together indoors, Zaman strategically selected fun products and created specific end caps to prompt family fun activities. The store’s promotional videos remained silly, quirky and a good laugh for all their customers.
Paying close attention to what was selling fast, Zaman had to work extra hard to find sources for in-demand items with her sales up 30 percent. “I spent a bunch of time looking through catalogs to find stock,” she says, adding that she relied on Do it Best as well as other sources to stay fully stocked for her customers.
A LASTING IMPACT
Zaman had no dreams of one day owning her own business, especially a hardware store. “I’m not a detail person and I hate shopping. I made every mistake you can make,” she points out. “I had a consultant tell me we’d never make it and that I should file for bankruptcy. I figured it out, because I’m persistent.”
She adds, “I’m using things I learned from my early childhood education. It took all of my skills such as be a good listener, ask questions and learn something new every day. I challenge myself to be more knowledgeable.”
If one thing has been clear as Mazo Hardware has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that Zaman made sure she and her team never lost their positive, can-do spirit. They didn’t just see a need and provide it for their community, they lifted the community’s spirits.
Zaman could not have foreseen the changes that were to come, but she proved no matter the obstacle, the team at Mazo Hardware would commit to putting a smile on their customers’ faces and being part of the solution.
She is humbled and speechless about being honored with the Beacon Award. “Me getting this award matches the passion I have for this community. I’m not here to make money, but to help my fellow human beings. This award is the best reflection of what I’m trying to accomplish with the business” she says.