Retail Beacon Award —McGuckin Hardware—Boulder, Colo.
By Chris Jensen
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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.”