Home » Association » NHPA Top Guns Honoree Darren Tomasini Embraces Unconventional Growth

NHPA Top Guns Honoree Darren Tomasini Embraces Unconventional Growth

Breaking the stereotypes of what makes an independent home improvement retailer successful, Darren Tomasini has built a successful career and continued the legacy of his operation, Dazey’s Supply, where he serves as president and CEO. In recognition of his successes, the North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) has named Darren a 2024 Top Guns Awards honoree.

For 18 years, the Top Guns Awards program has recognized innovative, passionate retailers who are leading their operations and the independent home improvement industry at large with strategic investments focused on preserving independence and growing the channel. This award recognizes individuals as representatives of their operations who, through the work of engaged, dedicated staff, are making marks in their local communities.

While his methods may seem unorthodox to some, Darren’s leadership has led Dazey’s Supply to grow beyond northern California and has resulted in a strong company culture that draws employees in and makes them want to stay. He hasn’t done it alone, however.

“My successes would not have been possible without the support and help of my employees, customers and community,” he says.

A New Direction

Working in the lumberyard for Copeland Lumber, a regional lumber chain in the Pacific Northwest, while he attended college was Darren’s first foray into the independent home improvement channel.

“I didn’t like it at first because I was 19 years old, and that’s not what I wanted to do,” Darren says. “But over time I grew to really enjoy it.”

Darren went through Copeland Lumber’s management program, and not long after, was asked to run a store in Eureka, California.

“Again, I did not want to do it, and I said, ‘No way,’” Darren says. “Somehow they convinced me. I ended up liking it so much that when I graduated from college, I decided not to follow my original plan to go to law school and ended up staying to manage that store.”

Darren remained at Copeland Lumber until 2009 when he resigned as general manager. Not sure what he wanted to do next or where he wanted to end up, Darren received a phone call from the general manager of the Redway location of Dazey’s Supply, who was leaving and looking for a replacement.

“I drove down there and came upon this funky little place,” Darren says. “I met with the owner, Stephen Dazey, who started the company in the 70s. I really liked him and the operation. Though it felt a little crazy, it also felt right, and a week later I told my wife I was going to take the job. I have been here ever since.”

An Alternative Path

Stephen Dazey opened Dazey’s Supply in 1974 when he saw an influx of residents to Humboldt County who were looking to live out their counterculture lifestyles and needed lumber and building supplies. He started milling lumber and selling refurbished windows, and with customer input, he added hard-to-find and premium gardening tools and supplies.

The operation has grown from that one store in Redway to three additional locations in California, two stores in Oregon and a new store in Bluffton, Indiana. While the move from the West Coast to the Midwest may seem random, when approached with the opportunity to buy in Bluffton, Darren did his research and liked what he saw. The community was growing rapidly, and there was potential in the nearby Ohio market, which fit into Darren’s growth strategy of operating several stores in a central area to help with scale and provide support to one another.

“The store in Bluffton is located next to a Lowe’s and a Walmart—I love that,” Darren says. “Those are major companies that don’t put in a store unless they know the parking lots are going to be full. All I have to do is get those customers to choose to come to my store instead.”

When opening the Bluffton store, Darren turned to unconventional methods for advertising, targeting local customers with $100 in offers. The first mailer included a certificate for $25 off a purchase and a second mailer announced the grand opening and included another certificate for $25 off a purchase, plus a $50 certificate to use on opening day.

“That’s $100 of free money. It gets people in the door, and it works every time we do it,” Darren says. “The event drew thousands of attendees, and our customers even used Lowe’s parking lot to come to our event.”

Along with unconventional growth strategies, the company has been on the forefront in other areas. A forerunner in the independent channel for the employee stock ownership program (ESOP) model, Dazey’s Supply has been 100% employee-owned since 2016.

With so many home center, lumberyard and hardware store owners getting to or already at retirement age, an ESOP can be a viable exit plan option. The ESOP format has been highly successful at Dazey’s Supply, Darren says, giving employees an active interest in how the company performs because everyone has a personal stake in the business.

“We encourage and have a lot of employee involvement, and we’re very open with our staff,” Darren says. “I believe if we’re an ESOP, our employees should understand where we are financially, they should know what a profit and loss statement looks like, and they should know what happens when they make that big sale and how it positively impacts the company overall. I want them to know their effort matters.”

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Get an inside look at how Gina Schaefer turned her operation into an ESOP to assure
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A willingness to adapt to the changing retail landscape and empower employees to be leaders have also been key for Darren and Dazey’s Supply. The management team frequently reads books on leadership and has discussions with employees about what being a leader looks like.

“I feel we’re progressive as a company,” Darren says. “We believe in knowledge. We believe that everything changes all the time, and we have to be able to adapt to those changes and think in different ways than maybe we are used to thinking.”

When it comes to innovation, Darren is not afraid to make decisions that are best for the company even if those decisions don’t make him popular. A few years back, Darren decided to bring high-end dog food into the stores against the recommendations of the store managers. He saw potential with that product and now, Dazey’s Supply sells over $1 million in pet food each year. Those customers coming in for pet food often purchase other items as well, increasing overall sales.

Darren and the staff at Dazey’s also partnered with the Japanese company Chikamasa to create the molds for six models of high-quality gardening scissors made by Chikamasa. The partnership began when Dazey’s became the retailer selling the most Chikamasa scissors in the U.S. Dazey’s Supply is now the U.S. distributor of the scissors for Chikamasa, selling wholesale its six models plus about 20 additional SKUs, Darren says.

“We’re risk-takers,” Darren says. “You’re not going to get anywhere by just staying put, so we think outside the box about the way we serve our market and the way we do things.”

A Respect for Others

From the beginning, Dazey’s Supply has been committed to its employees and community, and Darren honors that relationship today by staying involved in each of the local communities—whether it’s California, Oregon or Indiana—where there are stores.

“Stephen wasn’t going to a Rotary meeting every other week. His idea of community involvement was being hands-on in the community by cutting down trees and building a community center in Redway,” Darren says. “Those ideals he established are ingrained in everything we still do as a company.”

Along with giving to smaller causes like sponsoring local youth sports teams, Darren strives to make a bigger impact and gives larger donations to build fire stations, hospitals, community parks and more.

“We have people in the Rotary Club and the chamber of commerce; we do all that,” he says. “But we try to also do things on a bigger scale, not to say we’re great but just because we want to give back in big ways.”

A Grateful Heart

Darren says he wants to make Dazey’s Supply the best place to work as possible for employees. The company offered paid sick days before the state of California made it a law, has always paid a higher-than-average wage and provides an enticing benefits package, including dollar-for-dollar matching 401k, a rare benefit for employees part of an ESOP.

“Our culture is about our communities and is about growth, but not just growing our revenue. It’s about growing our people too,” Darren says. “Our mission statement is: How we grow matters. Nobody is more important than anybody else in our organization. Whether you are down at the bottom or up at the top, we see everyone on the same level.”

Having just celebrated a milestone birthday, Darren says his favorite part of the job is working with younger employees because they keep him feeling youthful.

“I love working with people in their 20s because that is when they are just starting their careers,” Darren says. “I don’t want to call myself a mentor necessarily, but I do enjoy guiding these young people because I was in the same boat in my 20s.”

Running a company that is an ESOP, Darren is motivated to get up each day and make the business as successful as possible for the employees and their futures.

“We have made promises to these employees about their retirement,” Darren says. “It’s up to us to be as successful as possible to fulfill that obligation to them.”

Celebrate With Us!

Meet the Top Guns Awards honorees at a reception on Aug. 29 sponsored by the National Hardware Show. The reception will be part of the Independent Home Improvement Conference, taking place Aug. 27-29 at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in Marco Island, Florida.

Learn more at ihiconference.org.

Meet the Other Honorees

2024 top gunsGLEN MOROSOHK
General Manager of Ricciardi Brothers

For Glen, the paint industry is in his DNA. His grandfather started out as a paint store owner in the 1920s. His father joined that business after World War II and then opened his own paint sundry distribution company. Glen cut his teeth at his father’s company and then joined Ricciardi Brothers 30 years ago, when he was tasked with building their business. He succeeded, moving the operation’s store count from four to 47.

2024 top guns

President of Stine Home & Yard

Part of the third generation of the Stine family to lead Stine Home & Yard, Wendy has been a part of the business her entire life, working as a store associate, store manager, corporate purchasing buyer, director of merchandising and now, president. She is proud of the way Stine Home & Yard competes with big-box competitors, serving customers with high-quality products, affordable prices and exceptional service, and supports the communities where the operation’s 13 stores are located.

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

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