There is something paradoxical about the Home Hardware brand. It is a retail behemoth, with hundreds of locations across Canada generating untold millions, and a level of visibility on par with any major American chain; and yet, key to its appeal is that it is a “homegrown” success story. Despite its ubiquity, the company’s homespun catchphrase “Home Owners helping homeowners” somehow doesn’t come across as disingenuous.For Terry Davis, the company’s newly appointed chief executive officer, being based in St. Jacobs has been key to the company’s identity.
“If we’d been founded in a major centre like Toronto or Montreal, I really don’t think we would be the same tight family atmosphere that you get at this company,” said Davis at the company’s Woolwich headquarters.
“Because of how this farming community is, and especially the Mennonite culture here, there’s this ‘I’m self-sufficient; I can build the stuff that I need to’ sense. There’s a great manufacturing culture here, a mentality of innovation in this area. It’s a big part of our culture.”
Home Hardware began as a rural co-op in 1964 when 122 independent hardware stores joined forces to counter a slump in the industry. Today, its down-home brand is successful even in Canada’s biggest cities. “In Toronto, you’re going to be shopping for different things. Because our inventory is so broad and we stock so many things, they can pick and choose for an urban centre those products that are well-suited to urban life,” said Davis.
“We have such high brand recognition across Canada – it doesn’t matter if you’re in a major centre, just on the outskirts of a major centre, or you’re in a rural centre – fact is, you know Home Hardware.”
Davis, who will succeed Paul Straus as CEO, has watched the company evolve across 40 years. He first joined the company in 1970 after graduating high school, and worked his way from the factory to the IT department to marketing. “I learned the business,” he remembered. “I didn’t just go in, say ‘What do you want?’ and write the code and move on. I really tried to learn the business.”
He became a marketing vice-president in the early ’90s, and in 2010 became executive vice-president and chief operating officer, serving alongside the man who first interviewed him in 1970, Paul Straus. “Paul was with the company right from the start – he soaked it up,” said Davis.
“In a large organization, you can sort of forget what the roots of the company are. You don’t know those early travails that forged the company. But Paul was there in the start; because he was there and he saw how this company was formed, and that it was formed for this one purpose of looking after the dealers, he just lives and breathes that culture.”
Davis takes over as CEO on May 1, in time for the company’s fiftieth anniversary (Straus will remain onboard as president). He says he is committed to building on the company’s success, but his future plans are uncertain.
“I was asked what will be the biggest change I’ll see in my new role. You almost want to say, ‘I’m not sure there will be that much of a change.’ I was hired back in 1970 as a picker in the warehouse to help the dealers; every job I’ve had in between is to help the dealers; so on May 1, I’ll still be helping the dealers. You could say I’ve done the same thing since I started here.”
It is often said that in the world of business, if a company doesn’t adapt, it dies. Is Home Hardware’s brand fundamentally different than it was in 1964?
“I think as long as you’re on that straight and narrow path of being focused on what your mission is, then you adapt as things change in the environment, but you don’t lose that focus,” said Davis. “I think we’ve got such a strong foundation that the basics of our business – of looking after the dealer, of giving great service to them so that they can give service to customers.
“The focus is unchanging, but of course you adapt as you go along. The company has grown, and now you’ve got thousands of people out there helping the dealers, and it would be easy to lose sight of the idea, ‘Why am I doing the job that I’m doing? It’s to help the dealers.’”