Beacon Awards 2020 — Orgill Winners

  • 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.»
  • Beacon Award for Community Service — Aubuchon Hardware—Westminster, Mass.

    By Chris Jensen

    Aubuchon Hardware, a Century Club retailer founded in 1908, operates 104 stores in New England and upstate New York.
    Aubuchon Hardware, a Century Club retailer founded in 1908, operates 104 stores in New England and upstate New York.»

    Aubuchon Hardware was founded in 1908, so this is not their first pandemic and definitely not the first crisis the Century Club retailer has faced.

    “We’re a fourth-generation, family-owned private business and there has been a remarkable tradition handed down from my great-grandfather to me,” says President Will Aubuchon IV, one of seven family members in senior roles. “We are all committed to leaving things better than we found them and it’s important to do things the right way. There is a resilient culture in the family—we are in it for the long haul.”

    The company operates 104 Aubuchon Hardware stores in five New England states plus upstate New York, so they have a lot of different communities to serve during challenging times.

    Aubuchon drafted a special message and recorded a video to explain the company’s COVID-19 response, offering encouragement through the difficult times and emphasizing their focus on helping employees and customers. He also shared many more messages internally with their 1,500 employees such as this video thanking them for their dedicated effort.

    “It was quite scary in those early days, because so much was unknown and the communities were relying on us as an essential business,” Aubuchon recalls. “Our key message was to stand behind our employees. Safety is our number one priority, because the community depended on it. We rallied around doing important work in our stores and following our core values of taking care of each other.”

    Aubuchon has seen a huge increase in BOPIS (buy online pickup in store), which is complemented by its curbside service.
    Aubuchon has seen a huge increase in BOPIS (buy online pickup in store), which is complemented by its curbside service.»

    Safety First

    Like all retailers, Aubuchon developed new safety protocols without a playbook and then had to roll those out to 104 stores. “We installed hand sanitizer stations for each store at the beginning at a huge cost. We had to get PPE, gloves, safety glasses, even face shields, making a huge investment in masks for all employees,” he explains.

    They developed procedures for social distancing and wiping down all surfaces. They invested in an outside cleaning service for all stores seven days a week, which led to deep cleaning in the stores. To simplify the challenge of operating in so many different towns and states, they followed the most stringent requirements and enforced company-wide wearing of masks and temperature checks, urging associates to stay home when sick.

    Their focus on safety has paid off, according to Aubuchon, who reports that so far they have only had one positive case.

    All Aubuchon employees were issued masks early to provide an atmosphere of safety.
    All Aubuchon employees were issued masks early to provide an atmosphere of safety.»

    Maintaining full staffing was definitely a big issue at the beginning. “We erred on the side of caution initially. We were proactive at reducing store hours and hired temp positions to support team members dealing with the extra demand,” Aubuchon says, adding that they are not at full staff yet but are back to regular hours.

    One of the first goals was to get employees to use their paid time off, recognizing that they were starting a marathon crisis. The company also more than tripled what they would normally pay out for recognition pay bonuses. “It is very difficult to be a hardware store employee this year due to the virus concerns. Our stores are a place where you feel supported. We’re in this together—that’s a core value,” Aubuchon says.

    Large signs were used to encourage social distancing.
    Large signs were used to encourage social distancing.»

    At the beginning, pandemic-driven unknowns quickly turned into a windfall for Aubuchon Hardware. “So many people and businesses are suffering—there are winners and losers—but the independent hardware channel has been on the winning side,” Aubuchon notes.

    “Sales are strong, especially lawn and garden and paint,” he adds. “We’ve had a very significant increase in average ticket size and a meaningful increase in customer count, which has been hard to come by. When you have both in a positive trend it produces significant gain.”

    Aubuchon Hardware has invested heavily in e-commerce for many years, so they were somewhat prepared for the tremendous surge in web traffic and BOPIS (buy online pickup in store). “Our web revenue is up 1,500 percent for the year,” Aubuchon says. “We’re launching contactless curbside service, so customers can just check in online when they arrive without calling.”

    Aubuchon points out that the company handled its own distribution for 90 years, getting out of operating a warehouse a few years ago. “Through this pandemic, it’s been a challenge for all distributors to keep goods flowing and we didn’t have to wrestle with that,” he says. We would’ve been lower on the totem pole with vendors.”

    He adds, “Orgill is a great partner. When we were in distribution, they were always very responsive if we had supply challenges. We grew significantly in our relationship. Orgill offers a lot of innovative and forward-looking programs.”

    The company Facebook page found fun ways to promote awareness of new services and safety protocols, like posting pictures of “hero” employees wearing capes.
    The company Facebook page found fun ways to promote awareness of new services and safety protocols, like posting pictures of “hero” employees wearing capes.»

    GIVING BACK TO COMMUNITIES

    The Aubuchon Foundation was started in 2008 by the third generation of the family. “We tip our hat to our vendors and wholesale partners for supporting us this year despite not being able to have our annual golf tournament. We can still make a meaningful difference with our support,” Aubuchon says.

    In 2019, the company started challenge grants. Each store would pick a local nonprofit to support and challenge customers to join the cause, with the Foundation matching donations up to $5,000. “Customers were very generous and we ended up donating $105,000 to local charities,” he says.

    In 2020, they made a proactive decision to support five different COVID-19 relief funds and donated over $100,000 to those relief funds throughout the various communities they serve in the Northeast.

    “Winning the Beacon Award means a lot and is a great honor for the whole team,” says Aubuchon. “The award is in recognition for all our dedicated employees who answered the call to serve the communities we operate in during challenging times. On behalf of our entire team, we want to thank The Hardware Connection and the sponsors for this award.”

  • Beacon Award for Community Service — ToshCo—Gustavus, Alaska

    By Chris Jensen

    Tosh and Cassia Parker, who own ToshCo-Icy Strait Wholesale in the remote Alaskan town of Gustavus, have put in a herculean effort to keep their community stocked with food and essential items during the pandemic.
    Tosh and Cassia Parker, who own ToshCo-Icy Strait Wholesale in the remote Alaskan town of Gustavus, have put in a herculean effort to keep their community stocked with food and essential items during the pandemic.»

    Tosh Parker, who along with his wife Cassia owns ToshCo-Icy Strait Wholesale in Gustavus, Alaska, made national news earlier this year when it was revealed the lengths he went to keep their remote small town supplied with food and other essential items when the supply ferry shut down. He simply used his own 96-foot supply boat and made the arduous 14-hour journey himself every week. Click here and here to read more about this amazing story from CNN and The Hustle. We interviewed Tosh Parker about his fiercely independent and resilient business.

    What makes your store unique in the marketplace? We are the only grocery, hardware and lumber store in our small town of 450 year-round residents. There are no roads in or out, so everything has to come in on a boat or in a plane.

    What is the history of the business? We started the store 10 years ago with $3,000 in inventory from Costco. The local grocery/hardware store at the time was charging nearly $12 for a gallon of milk when you could buy a gallon of milk 50 miles away (by air) in Juneau for $3. I figured there had to be a better way, so we built our own shipping company to bring products into town.

    How long did you have to make the 14-hour commute by boat to provide supplies? We’re still doing it, believe it or not. We were definitely surprised it struck such a cord and received so much coverage. I suppose in the midst of seemingly endless bad news it was something positive for people to latch onto and that’s why it resonated. Even though the state ferry started running again, COVID reductions, breakdowns and major budget issues have made the ferry so unreliable that we’re still having to run the landing craft every two weeks to fill in. This winter the ferry will be shutting down for a couple of months due to budget issues from COVID, so we’ll be out there yet again making sure the town stays supplied. It’s going to be another long winter.

    Every week or two throughout the pandemic, Tosh Parker has made a 14-hour boat trip to Juneau to bring back food and whatever else the community needs.
    Every week or two throughout the pandemic, Tosh Parker has made a 14-hour boat trip to Juneau to bring back food and whatever else the community needs.»

    What impact has the coronavirus had on your business? Sales are down because a major part of the local economy is tourism. While we only have about 450 year-round residents, our population normally swells to 1,000-1,200 in the summer with multiple lodges, summer residents and independent tourists. That didn’t really materialize this year. The lodges and summer residents are a big part of our annual sales.

    When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, what steps did you take to provide the community the relief they needed? Essentially, we scrambled to source scarce products from all over the U.S. to make sure we had enough for the community. When none of our suppliers had toilet paper, we started calling companies with large warehouses and buying their personal business backstock if that’s what it took.

    What measures have you adopted to keep the store sanitized and customers safe? We were one of the early adapters of Lexan dividers between our customers and staff, even before most stores down south started installing them. We also created physical barriers to help maintain separation wherever possible and of course increased our sanitation protocols. We look forward to the day when we can rip out all the obtrusive barriers and dividers and have normal interactions with our customers again.

    Making sure the store is stocked with fresh produce, meat and toilet paper requires long hours and lots of dedication, but ToshCo never lets the community down. The staff pulls phone and email orders long after the store closes and delivers to people in quarantine.
    Making sure the store is stocked with fresh produce, meat and toilet paper requires long hours and lots of dedication, but ToshCo never lets the community down. The staff pulls phone and email orders long after the store closes and delivers to people in quarantine.»

    What % of sales comes from hardware products and what are your top-selling hardware categories? The store is very small (9,000 sq. ft.) and hardware is our second-largest category after grocery. The top-selling category is plumbing. There is no city water or sewer here, so everyone has their own well and septic. That equates to a lot of plumbing to maintain between your well, pump, pressure tank, filters, softener, lift station, etc.

    How difficult has it been to source products, especially grocery and food items, from all over the U.S. during the pandemic? We are the only local place to buy food and sourcing it was difficult. That being said, the minute we caught wind of potential scarcities we went into overdrive sourcing goods from all over the U.S., even from non-wholesale companies who for one reason or another had some supply of their own. We were quick enough on the trigger to make sure we didn’t run out of most supplies during the frenzy of the pandemic. ToshCo never ran out of basics like toilet paper. Some locals were even shopping for items here and shipping them to friends and family down south who couldn’t get them in major metropolitan areas, so we honestly fared fairly well here considering.

    How have you stepped up your delivery service to provide products to people under quarantine? Alaska instigated both interstate and even intrastate travel bans early on and those who could travel were mandated to quarantine upon arrival. In addition, many residents went into self-imposed quarantine and wouldn’t leave their homes. That became incredibly challenging, because people would email orders and our already overworked staff would have to pull all of those orders, coordinate payment and coordinate delivery. If we’re out of an item the staff would have to contact the customer and try to work through a substitution. Hardware was especially difficult. It was incredibly time consuming and I remember one time looking at the email as orders were flooding in having no idea where we would get the manpower to pull them all.

    ToshCo sells groceries, hardware, lumber and other essentials in about 9,000 square feet of space. It is the only place in town to buy groceries.
    ToshCo sells groceries, hardware, lumber and other essentials in about 9,000 square feet of space. It is the only place in town to buy groceries. »

    The staff stepped up and made sure the orders got filled and between my wife Cassia (who’s really the one keeping the store going now), myself and the staff, we would run around for hours after closing making home deliveries. We also created a drop-off point on the front porch of the store, where customers could come and pick up their orders once they were pulled if they weren’t in travel-restricted quarantine. That helped alleviate some of the pressure of home deliveries of every order. We’re still doing some home deliveries today, but fewer than in the beginning.

    How have you used Facebook to keep customers informed about availability of grocery, hardware and LBM products? At times we will use Facebook to let people know when the boat will be arriving and a sampling of some of the items we were able to source. Recently, we’ve started a Facebook series to give people some insight into what’s all involved in making this work in such a remote environment, which we plan to continue for a few months.

    ToshCo employees wear face shields to stay safe.
    ToshCo employees wear face shields to stay safe.»

    Have you been able to maintain full staffing? So far there have been six positive cases in Gustavus. I took a test six days ago and am still awaiting the results of it, which makes it difficult to coordinate work when you don’t have confirmation. Thankfully, no family or staff have tested positive and we’re doing everything we can to keep our staff safe. We have been able to keep 100 percent of our staff during this period.

    What sort of community service involvement does ToshCo have in a typical year? ToshCo sponsors many local events from softball to fireworks. Some of those didn’t happen this year, but we still put on a large fireworks show for the town on July 4th to help raise spirits a little.

    Talk about the role Orgill has played in helping your business be successful. Orgill has been really fantastic to work with. Of course, they experienced many of the same shortages every supplier did, but whatever they did have was delivered on time and correctly. Of all of our vendors, Orgill is by far the best at accurately delivering exactly what we ordered if it’s in stock.

    What does it mean for your business to be honored with the Beacon Award for Community Service? It’s certainly an honor to be recognized. For us it’s just another day taking care of our community and we certainly didn’t seek any accolades for doing it. It’s just part of the job.

    Tosh Parker’s 96-foot barge, dubbed the Claim Jumper, heads to shore with its valuable cargo.
    Tosh Parker’s 96-foot barge, dubbed the Claim Jumper, heads to shore with its valuable cargo.»
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