Bart Raser has continually found ways to improve and grow Carr Hardware since coming back to the family business in 1990.
Like a symphony conductor, Carr Hardware President Bart Raser has an innate sense of timing, rhythms and harmonies within the communities his stores serve.
For more than 95 years, Carr Hardware has been a mainstay of Pittsfield, Mass. Bart’s father, Marshall Raser, purchased Carr Hardware in 1962. At 95 years old, Marshall still shares retailing advice with Bart.
Like many multi-generation hardware store owners, Bart worked at the store as a teen, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping floors and learning business the hard way. While earning his MBA in St. Louis, he also worked in hardware stores. After college, Bart returned to work at Carr Hardware in 1990 and became company president in 2015. Since then, the company has steadily grown from a single location to six stores throughout western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut.
Bart’s 95-year-old father, Marshall Raser, still drops in to share his insights.
Very active in the day-to-day management of the company, Bart continually looks for ways to expand the business through acquisitions, new product lines and finding untapped customer bases. For 25 straight years, Carr Hardware was named “Best in the Berkshires” by the Berkshire Eagle newspaper.
Carr Hardware stores vary from a 7,500-square-foot location in Avon, Conn., to the 25,000-square-foot Pittsfield flagship store. Overall, the company’s customer base is evenly split between pro and do-it-yourselfers, but each location is dialed in to its specific customer base.
Carr’s Hardware focus on customer service has led to the business being named “Best in the Berkshires” for 25 straight years.
Nearing membership in the Century Club, Bart firmly believes the company’s longevity comes from giving back to the community. Each year, the company hosts more than 10 community events for local charities such as the Berkshire Humane Society.
Bart devotes a lot of time to the community and has served on many boards including Downtown Pittsfield Inc., Boys & Girls Club, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Health Systems and Berkshire Bank.
Carr Hardware’s flagship store has been serving the Pittsfield, Mass., community since 1928.
“I grew up with dad believing in volunteerism and community involvement,” Bart says. “It’s in our DNA to give back. We give employees time off for volunteerism, and what’s good for the community is good for business.”
In 2017, Carr Hardware received recognition as the National Independent Business of the Year. Bart donated the money from the award so that Pittsfield could build a splash park for kids.
“Ultimately, the hardware store is the nuts and bolts of a local community,” Bart says. “With so much sprawl, what defines a community is the local hardware store.”
Many of Carr Hardware’s employees have worked with the company for decades.
NEW NICHE SAVVY
Bart keenly listens to feedback from customers. About two years ago, when customers commented about scarcity of paint and the desire for higher-quality options, he seized the opportunity. Carr Hardware introduced its own line of paint, Shades of Shire, a high-quality 100-percent acrylic, architectural-grade paint. Sales of this store-brand paint have continually grown. Other Carr-branded products include polyurethane, five-gallon buckets and sprayers.
Housewares is another niche poised to take off. With an entrepreneurial eye to the future, Bart looks to expand that department in the coming months. When a local chef supply store recently closed, Bart purchased the stock and will soon add higher-end brands such as Le Creuset to the housewares assortment.
Through Bart’s philosophy of giving back, Carr Hardware’s community involvement runs deep. Each year, his stores host many events for charities such as the Berkshire Humane Society.
Rentals are another niche where Bart has found success. The Pittsfield location rents everything from heavy equipment such as backhoes to power tools and party supplies. Two other Carr Hardware stores also feature rental departments.
Carr Hardware has developed a strong commercial-industrial niche with two outside and two inside sales representatives, along with two drivers devoted to commercial-industrial deliveries. Bart estimates that the commercial-industrial niche accounts for about 25 percent of the company’s total revenue.
The Lenox, Mass., store serves a more upscale market with a ground-up 10,000-square-foot store built in 2019.
In addition to customer-centric assortment planning and deeply committed community involvement, the company connects to its customers through innovative marketing campaigns. Along with lively social media feeds, Carr Hardware produces commercials featuring the Dewitts, the world’s worst do-it-yourselfers. Highlighting products and solutions available from Carr, these humorous videos have racked up thousands of YouTube views.
Customers are excited to see the next do-it-yourself adventures of the Dewitts and often ask when the next video will be released. In addition to television ads, the couple have taken their home improvement misadventures into radio spots and digital ads.
“We have a multi-layered approach to hit the most amount of people,” says Amy Goddard, director of marketing for Carr Hardware.
When customers commented about scarcity of paint and the desire for higher-quality options, Bart seized the opportunity and introduced his own line of paint, Shades of Shire.
Carr Hardware employs 125 people throughout its six locations, and many employees have worked with the company for decades.
“Ultimately, our business is our people. We’re blessed with wonderful people who live and breathe the culture and are deeply involved in our community and the relationships we build every day,” Bart says.
When hiring, Carr Hardware will first look at aptitude and friendliness, instead of hiring solely for product knowledge. The company conducts frequent training to reinforce customer service and provide product knowledge. Another customer-centric detail Bart points out: There are no numbers on the aisle signage. Instead, employees walk customers to products.
As Bart pays specific attention to each store, he constantly examines the overall business. With six locations, Bart says he can take a cumulative approach to buying at Do it Best markets, saving money and increasing margins.
A Do it Best member for four years, Bart values the distributor’s candid feedback about his store operations along with providing eye-catching merchandising and planograms.
Four years ago, Carr Hardware opened its Lenox location, relying heavily on Do it Best for most of the store design, including layout, endcaps, assortment planning and merchandising. The ground-up 10,000-square-foot store was Bart’s first store project with Do it Best. With the distributor’s help, that location was up and running within six months, just in time for Black Friday sales.
Bart says he is honored and humbled to receive the Beacon Award. “This award makes me appreciate our staff more than I already do,” Bart says. “This honor only happens because of the great team in each store. It’s wonderful to be recognized.”
He is not content to rest on his laurels and says the company isn’t done growing. In the near future, he’s planning a big initiative to expand into janitorial supplies. After expanding into more ecommerce during the pandemic, the company will continue to expand its digital footprint, looking to reach different generations.
This year, Bart is doing his second major remodel in Great Barrington with Do it Best’s new store design format. The exterior is being renovated and new layouts and adjacencies are being incorporated, and Bart is looking forward to seeing that store’s sales boosted from the remodel.
“It’s great when I wake up and look forward to going to work because I love what I do,” Bart says. “I love interacting with customers and building culture and teams.”