View from the C-Suite: Home Hardware sticks to its strengths

Rob Wallace explains how leadership changes will help the retailer stay the course as it continues to build its brand.

RobWallace

Home Hardware is in the midst of a significant building project.

The retailers’ co-operative, now counting more than 1,100 independently owned member stores (with more than $6 billion in annual retail sales), has fresh blood at the helm and recently rejigged the marketing department with the addition of several new hires.

The changes began with the arrival of Kevin Macnab in October, with the former Toys ‘R’ Us exec taking over from a Home Hardware veteran of four decades, Terry Davis, as president and CEO of the company. Around that time, Rick McNabb, the retailer’s former VP of marketing and sales, announced his retirement.

Today, Rob Wallace (pictured) leads the marketing department as senior director of marketing. He, in turn, has hired four new marketing directors in recent months (including two within the last two weeks) to help support Home Hardware’s transition into what Wallace calls a more “fully-integrated retailer.” Their responsibilities include overseeing the marketing in four priority areas: print and promotion, content and media, ecommerce, and loyalty and CRM.

Home Hardware was originally “heavily wholesale-based, supporting independent retailers across the country,” Wallace says. “Kevin wanted to make sure he had a structure in place with the leadership team that really supported our quest to be a top Canadian integrated retailer.”

In a recent interview with strategy, Wallace shared what that looks like for the 55-year-old home repair and renovations chain.

HomeHardware

What is your new mandate under Kevin Macnab?

[The leadership team is] here to ensure the success of our independent dealer-owners, and in order for our dealers to be successful, we’ve always had to compete against world-class retailers. When I think about our early days, our undeniable strength has always been the entrepreneurial spirit of our independent store owners. They’re the ones who are building that relationship with their customers. They’re the ones taking the time to understand their customers’ needs, their problems, and how we can help solve them.

Fast-forward to 2019, one of the big differences is that competition is no longer simply in your backyard. It can be anywhere in Canada or around the world. And customers are increasingly more tech savvy. We know that they’re interacting with brands digitally. And we need to make sure that we stay true to our brand stance about helping customers with their projects big and small, but doing that across all channels.

Home Hardware jumped 18 spots this year in the Gustavson Brand Trust Index, which measures brand trust among Canadians. Why do you think that is?

It comes back to authenticity. For 50 years, our brand has been built on a reputation for helping. Think of our early days with “Home of the Handyman,” “Help is Close to Home,” and “Homeowners helping Homeowners.” Two years ago, we launched “Here’s How,” and as we start to extend “Here’s How,” our go-to-market strategies have always been focused on the same thing. We’re not doing anything different in how we operate at the store level. But I think we’ve started to look at strategies that allow us to speak to new customers or in new marketing channels that allow us to emphasize that we are a trusted partner.

One example would be the evolution of our marketing campaigns to include a more robust digital and social strategy. Connecting with new home owners or young families in the digital space where they spend their time, developing content that reinforces our brand proposition of “helping,” and delivering it in a format and style that is relevant. We work closely with our agency partners, John St. and PHD Canada, to develop the content and carefully plan the media, targeting these new customers.

What differentiates Home Hardware from other market players?

There are so many great retailers, and individually they might be doing certain things right. What’s unique for us is we’re not a corporate-owned chain store. So what works for other organizations isn’t necessarily going to work for us. That’s certainly one of the things that Kevin acknowledged when he came into the organization. He’s got exciting ideas, but he also recognizes that our independent dealer-owned model is the key to our success. [The owners] have the flexibility to build within the niche market of their communities, to fill voids and to build a shopping experience that isn’t cookie cutter.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up here to receive the latest stories.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.