By Chris Jensen
Bob Vereen, retired editor of Hardware Retailing and the hardware industry’s most prolific and longest-serving journalist, passed away in his sleep May 28 at the age of 96. No one has ever visited more hardware stores or written more stories about the hardware industry than Bob, whose career spanned more than 70 years and continued right up until his death.
Bob joined the National Retail Hardware Association (now the North American Hardware and Paint Association) in January 1963. He served as editor/publication manager of Hardware Retailing until 1980, when he was promoted to associate publisher. Then in 1984 Bob was promoted to senior vice president and head of the Home Center Institute, retiring in May 1987.
In 1970, he hired a former Navy journalist, John Hammond, as an entry-level editor and then spent the next two decades teaching him the ropes about the wonderful world of hardware retailing, which Bob was enthralled with. Says Hammond, who was named editor of Hardware Retailing in 1980, “If Bob Vereen is remembered for anything, it would be his passion for the hardware industry and its his thirst for knowledge about it. He passed that knowledge and passion down to those who worked for him.”
Adds Hammond, “He had signs in our editorial offices that read: ‘Who am I writing for and how have I helped them?” It was vintage Bob and one unknown editor used a felt-tip marker to edit it to read ‘For whom am I writing and how have I helped them?’ Bob was a mentor to all on his staff.”
I was hired on as an assistant editor at Hardware Retailing in 1988 (a year after Bob’s retirement), and Bob’s signs were still up on the wall. They helped me focus on what was important with my articles for the magazine, and I quickly was introduced to Bob, who would drop by the office every few months with some story ideas he hoped to write for the magazine. I was blown away by how passionate he was and how the thirst for knowledge had not dried up once retirement kicked in.
Bob was a driving force in establishing the Worldwide DIY Council to help U.S. manufacturers sell more products overseas. In January 2011, Bob finally retired from the Worldwide DIY Council, an association of active US and Canadian exporters, after more than 30 years. Bob joined the group as executive secretary when it consisted of a dozen members and built it up to a membership of nearly 150 at its peak.
Under his direction, the Worldwide DIY Council began sponsoring group pavilions at trade shows in emerging markets such as Poland’s BUDMA and Mexico’s Expo Nacional Ferretera, as well as in established DIY markets such as the U.K. and France. In 2010, the council had a group pavilion at the International Hardware Fair in Cologne for the first time.
After nearly 20 years as executive secretary, Bob continued to serve the organization as director emeritus, and his final role was as director of communications.
While at Hardware Retailing, Bob was responsible for starting the Product Knowledge Handbook, which was the basis of the Advanced Course in Hardware Retailing taken by so many hardware/home center employees over the past five decades.
He also started the “Bird-Dog” awards, which later were renamed “The Retailers’ Choice” awards. He had a panel of retailers shop the National Hardware Show (and for a while the Home Center Show) for new products. The dealers then presented their findings to Hardware Retailing’s editors at a luncheon, explaining why they selected each product and how they might promote and sell it.
While at NRHA, Bob started a number of magazines over the years, including Hardware Show News, a daily show newspaper at the National Hardware Show. He also launched an international magazine named Worldwide Hardware that published for more than a decade.
As Hammond explains, “Bob was an early proponent of the use of computers in hardware/home center stores and devoted an entire issue to the subject in the early 1970s. He required all our editors to attend a computer class when desktop computers were first introduced. He then introduced an early version of in-house computer typesetting to our operation. He later added one of the first in-house computers capable of doing page layout using typed codes.”
Bob was a frequent speaker and seminar presenter at industry trade shows and conventions throughout North America, as well as many other international venues.
In addition to his work with the Worldwide DIY Council, in retirement Bob launched Vereen & Associates in 1987, which entailed serving as a marketing consultant for industry firms and working as an international journalist writing about the hardware/home center industry.
Bob contributed hundreds of articles to overseas magazines including Australian Hardware Journal and DIY International in Germany and BRICO in Italy. He would write an article or two every month and send it to the overseas magazines, hoping they would occasionally publish something. He contributed over a dozen articles to The Hardware Connection over the years, always insisting on remaining anonymous as the author.
Bob had a cancerous tumor behind his vocal cords surgically removed in 2016, yet kept plugging away with his writing.
Bob authored two books that both came out in 2010: “SURVIVING…in spite of everything: A postwar history of the hardware industry;” and with co-author, Dennis Stillwell, wrote “Successful Web Retailing.” That book was a how-to manual to help retailers improve their web sites and make more web sales.
In his late 80s, Bob began offering an email marketing service for hardware and home center retailers at a website. He finally stopped driving a car three weeks before his death, and until the pandemic hit was known to jump in his car and drive hundreds of miles to visit a nice hardware store he was interested in seeing.
A proud World War II veteran, Bob was an Army sergeant in the signal corps.
Bob was predeceased by his wife, Rose, who passed away in January 2017 at the age of 90. They had been married for 71 years. He is survived by three daughters: Stacy Griffin, Kim Cole and Robin Vereen; and grandchildren Casey and Carly Cole.
The Hardware Connection salutes the unmatched legacy of Bob Vereen, and passes on our condolences to his family. He will be missed by his many friends in the hardware industry.