Beacon Awards 2020 — Do it Best Winners

  • 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.”

  • Beacon Award for Community Service — Island Home Center & Lumber – Vashon, Wash.

    By Chris Jensen

    Earl Van Burkirk has owned Island Home Center & Lumber in Vashon, Wash., for 32 years.
    Earl Van Burkirk has owned Island Home Center & Lumber in Vashon, Wash., for 32 years.»

    Vashon Island is a short 15-minute ferry ride from Seattle—a city that has been hit hard by the coronavirus. When stay-at-home orders were issued early on, Vashon Island residents focused even more on shopping local instead of venturing to the mainland.

    “We’re the second-largest store on the island, and people here are very eager to support local,” states Earl Van Buskirk, who was born and raised on the island. He has owned Island Home Center & Lumber for 32 years.

    Owner Earl Van Buskirk (front left) focused on employees first before deciding the best ways to support the community and keep customers safe.
    Owner Earl Van Buskirk (front left) focused on employees first before deciding the best ways to support the community and keep customers safe.»

    Putting Employees First

    When the pandemic hit, Van Buskirk had to quickly make some adjustments, even as business was taking off. He decided to take care of his 50 employees as the first priority in order to provide better service for the residents who needed them. They implemented new cleaning routines to keep staff and customers safe, doubling the outside cleaning service that came in. They put up plexiglass shields and encouraged employees to wear masks and gloves.

    With all the new policies and procedures implemented, Van Buskirk further encouraged his employees to set an example as leaders in their community. “I encouraged my team to wear masks early on. Most did, then it became required. A few weeks later, it was required of customers,” he points out. “We’ve given out several thousand masks and had very few who refused to wear them.”

    Keeping his team informed has been a top priority, and Van Buskirk tried to communicate stability. He emailed them twice a week to make sure they were updated on policies, procedures and the latest CDC guidelines. He talked to his five department managers throughout each day. He allowed employees who did not feel safe at work to stay home.

    “I had one employee who’s susceptible and wanted to stay home and four people that worked from home via remote computer access doing purchasing and coordinating sales for contractor sales,” Van Buskirk points out. “We’re doing our best to protect our team and our customers.”

    When the coronavirus hit, Island Home Center began to see contractor sales decline dramatically. However, as those sales declined, retail sales began to soar for the Do it Best member.

    “In mid-March, the state shut down contractor business, so that side dropped 45-50 percent for three months,” Van Buskirk explains. “Our contractor business came back in late May and we almost made up the decrease in June and July.”

    He adds, “Our retail customer counts were up 10-12% in March and April and our average ticket went up 40 percent as people were buying a lot more stuff. Our garden center and paint business were way up.”

    Since Van Buskirk received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, he was able to continue paying all his employees even during the lull in contractor business. He has also paid out three bonuses so far for employees who have worked through the pandemic.

    During the stay-at-home order, Vashon Island residents were forced to shop local for essential items like cleaning supplies.
    During the stay-at-home order, Vashon Island residents were forced to shop local for essential items like cleaning supplies.»

    EXTENDING A HELPING HAND

    To prioritize safety, the store figured out how to conduct a “touchless sale.” Customers can call or order online and pay for their order before they reach the store. Employees then package their order and load it into their car without customers having to set foot in the store. Transitioning to Epicor’s iNet platform will make the e-commerce and inventory control process go even smoother, Van Buskirk says.

    Island Home Center is more than a retail hardware store or a pro lumberyard, and Van Buskirk is constantly looking for places to fill needs. “Because of our location, we can do things that yards can’t do on the mainland,” he says.

    They are big on housewares and sell a lot of unusual items such as feed for animals, apparel, sporting goods and fishing supplies. The store also sells beer, wine and liquor, which has been up 200 percent since the pandemic.

    When local first responders were in need of masks, they donated a large quantity of their own stock. When their island needed a location to administer drive-through testing, Island Home Center donated tents so people could get tested without having to leave their cars, along with propane tank heaters and propane for the medical team. The store has hosted several blood drives in the parking lot.

    “We support Rotary, do a lot with the local schools and churches, give to kid sport teams in the community and help the food bank as much as possible,” Van Buskirk says. “During the pandemic I’ve had local restaurants cater meals to our team.”

    Owner Earl Van Buskirk has made sure the needs of island residents are met.
    Owner Earl Van Buskirk has made sure the needs of island residents are met.»

    CONTINUING TO GROW

    With 30,000 square feet of retail space and a 30,000-square-foot warehouse for LBM, Island Home Center will do between $12 million and $13 million in sales from 35,000 SKUs this year, according to Van Buskirk.

    The business was doing $350,000 in annual sales with three employees when he bought it back in 1988. It had been in the same family for 65 years, so Island Home Center is coming up on its 100th anniversary. Van Buskirk had previously spent 18 years at a wholesale LBM company based in Seattle, so he had been in hundreds of lumberyards over the years and learned what didn’t work from the failing ones and what does work from the successful ones.

    He has been a Do it Best member for 28 years, and says the co-op has done a good job sourcing products for them during the pandemic. “Do it Best is our first and best choice for most products and has been very good for my business over the years,” Van Buskirk says.

    “I’m 74 years old and I’ve never seen anything like this pandemic,” he adds. “Very unusual times. I feel fortunate that we’re an essential business.”

    Van Buskirk was surprised and honored to hear Island Home Center was named a Beacon Award winner for 2020. “Any time you’re recognized it means your team members are the reason. We’ve had our challenges this year, but they’re the ones who make my business be successful and that’s why my company has won an award,” he says.

    Plexiglass shields were installed early on to keep employees and customers safe.
    Plexiglass shields were installed early on to keep employees and customers safe.»
  • Beacon Award for Community Service —Wholesale Lumber Company – Clint, Texas

    By Chris Jensen

    Joe and Jody Burks operate Wholesale Lumber Company in Clint, Texas, a family business started by his late father Tom in 1974.
    Joe and Jody Burks operate Wholesale Lumber Company in Clint, Texas, a family business started by his late father Tom in 1974.»

    Determined to come out of this pandemic as a stronger retailer, Joe Burks concludes that it’s all about planning, protecting the community and building trust. “It’s nice when your morals and business goals fall into sync without need for adjustment of either,” he says. “If customers and employees do not feel safe, it is going to have long-term consequences.”

    Burks and his wife Jody operate Wholesale Lumber Company in Clint, Texas, plus a second store six miles away in Fabens, Texas. His mother, Alma, owns the family’s original store in Socorro, which is managed by his younger sister, Jerri Burks.

    Jody, a retired fifth-grade math and science teacher, makes sure their customer service stays up to par. That has been more of a challenge during the pandemic.

    Joe made an educated guess early on that the coronavirus was here to stay for a while, and he wasted no time taking decisive action. “I started researching early and before we even had a case in El Paso, we had employees wear face masks,” he says.

    Around the time El Paso had its first case of COVID-19, they hired a full-time cleaning person dedicated to a continuous loop of disinfecting the high-use areas of the store. They intend to continue doing that even when the pandemic ends. “Having a clean store always makes an impression,” Joe says.

    You need big signs if you want to get people’s attention about something important, according to Joe Burks.
    You need big signs if you want to get people’s attention about something important, according to Joe Burks.»

    The Do it Best member started employee temperature self-checks, limited the break room to one occupant, installed a hand wash station at the store front, put in social distancing signage and floor markings, installed plexiglass shields at the cash registers, started keeping cash registers manned all the time and required all employees to wear cloth masks.

    Joe and Jody also revisited their sick leave policies and prohibited sick employees from coming in, making sure everyone knew the consequences for doing so.

    “Our staff is definitely uneasy about all these changes—it’s a lot to take in—but I made a point not to sugarcoat things. I worry for myself, my employees and the community,” says Joe, who holds weekly meetings with their 21 employees to keep them informed of updated policies.

    On the planning side, they updated their employee manual, added authorized signers on accounts, added to the pool of store key holders, started some cross training between jobs and wrote out an informal document of emergency “what ifs” to share with the staff.

    “When our first county stay-at-home order came out, we blocked half of our parking spots to limit peak traffic in the store and allowed only one person per vehicle in the store,” reports Joe. “During the biggest rush we had a person at the gate to let in one car at a time and would have 15 cars on the road waiting to get into the lot. It is much nicer having customers wait in line in their air-conditioned cars than elbow to elbow on the sidewalk.”

    Joe Burks made sure to keep his 21 employees updated as new procedures were enacted.
    Joe Burks made sure to keep his 21 employees updated as new procedures were enacted.»

    MASKING UP

    On the first day the CDC recommended the wearing of cloth masks, Wholesale Lumber Co. made them mandatory for everyone coming into the store.

    Joe had already spent several weeks gathering materials for masks. He had two ladies volunteer to make 1,000 cloth masks. They also came up with a low-tech mask made out of a blue shop towel, two rubber bands and four staples—several thousand of those were made. They set up an area to sanitize and then bag the homemade masks.

    “It is by no means an N95 mask, but some sources claim that as a nonwoven fabric it is superior to cloth,” he says. “And if nothing else, it does make a swell dust mask for those customers who still need those.”

    While the vast majority of their customers have been understanding of the need to wear masks, Joe says it’s easier to manage if you can hand them one.

    “With the level of service expected in a hardware store, social distancing can be hard on the sales floor. That customer who comes in holding a plumbing part still needs you to get close enough to look at it and tell him what he needs. I still stay on my crew about keeping their distance, but I think the cloth masks add an extra layer to that,” he adds.

    With safety protocols in place, Wholesale Lumber has found another way to make a difference in the community during the pandemic. “We’re going to do some small business grants to help make local businesses safer, supplying them with materials to handle a pandemic like sneeze guards. If you’re down to 25 or 50 percent capacity you’re probably not investing in projects like this, so there’s a need,” Joe says.

    Joe Burks says a complete remodel in 2018 has made his store better equipped to serve the community during a pandemic.
    Joe Burks says a complete remodel in 2018 has made his store better equipped to serve the community during a pandemic.»

    ADJUSTING TO THE NEW NORM

    Burks began working in the family business at the age of 10, and he is proud to carry on his father’s legacy. He is also trying to live up to the high standards set in the Clint store by his sister, Tina Bearden, who used to run that store before she passed away in March 2017 after a long illness. “She never met a stranger and brought out the good in everyone she met,” Joe says.

    Joe enlisted the help of Do it Best to give the Clint store a major facelift, spending 2018 remodeling the 45,000-square-foot facility. The space devoted to hardware doubled to 18,000 square feet, which proved fortuitous when the pandemic created previously unseen demand for products.

    “The remodel has put us in a much better position,” says Joe. “It widened aisles and gives a better flow of traffic. We’re getting ready to remodel the Fabens store and we may rethink a few things based on what’s happened during the pandemic.”

    According to Joe, business is absolutely exploding—up 57 percent in the second quarter. “It’s terrible to not want more business, but we’re at capacity now. Things are finally starting to calm down, but we had some growing pains,” he says.

    Now, the biggest challenge is finding enough lumber. “We’re in a low-income area and have people building their own house,” he explains.

    Do it Best has never been more of an asset to his business, Joe says, giving the Clint store the right upgrade and keeping his stores supplied during a pandemic.

    Burks says they are honored and humbled to win the Beacon Award for Community Service. “We’ve always been community-oriented. It’s really nice to be noticed that I was on the ball and started early while others were in denial about the virus,” he says.

    The staff at Wholesale Lumber has stepped up to keep the store clean and sanitized.
    The staff at Wholesale Lumber has stepped up to keep the store clean and sanitized.»
  • Beacon Award for Community Service — Mazo Hardware—Mazomanie, Wis.

    By Chris Jensen

    As owner of Mazo Hardware in Mazomanie, Wis., Renee Zaman has found new ways to serve her community.
    As owner of Mazo Hardware in Mazomanie, Wis., Renee Zaman has found new ways to serve her community.»

    “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.

    The team at Mazo Hardware follows Owner Renee Zaman’s lead with a positive, can-do attitude about operating during a pandemic.
    The team at Mazo Hardware follows Owner Renee Zaman’s lead with a positive, can-do attitude about operating during a pandemic.»

    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.

    Renee Zaman embraces her role as “The Hardware Queen” of Mazomanie, Wis.
    Renee Zaman embraces her role as “The Hardware Queen” of Mazomanie, Wis.»

    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.

    Drawing on her background as a pre-school teacher, Renee Zaman has forced herself to become more knowledgeable about the hardware business every day.
    Drawing on her background as a pre-school teacher, Renee Zaman has forced herself to become more knowledgeable about the hardware business every day.»

    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.

    Renee Zaman goes over new safety protocols with Assistant Manager Justine Myers (left) and Manager Yvette Peterson (center).
    Renee Zaman goes over new safety protocols with Assistant Manager Justine Myers (left) and Manager Yvette Peterson (center).»
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