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Young Retailer of the Year 2020

6 Young Retailers Who Are Reshaping the Industry

Revamping company cultures, expanding sales, adopting new retail innovations and mentoring future leaders are among the many accomplishments of the 2020 Young Retailer of the Year honorees—and they’re just getting started.

The North American Retail Hardware Association’s (NRHA) Young Retailer of the Year program annually recognizes outstanding retailers age 35 or younger who have demonstrated how they have improved their businesses, invested in their own career development through industry education and bettered their communities. Honorees are selected from three categories: stores with less than $2 million in sales, stores with more than $2 million in sales and operations with multiple stores.

The six retailers NRHA honored this year have stepped up as leaders in the businesses they operate and in the communities they serve. They also stand out as rising retail stars who are advancing the industry during unprecedented times.

“The 2020 Young Retailer of the Year honorees represent the bright future of the independent home improvement industry,” says Scott Wright, executive director of the NRHA Retail Leadership Institute. “Each one demonstrates the ambition and innovation that will continue moving our industry forward, as well as a passion for serving their communities, making them irreplaceable contributors to every market they serve.”

Click here to watch the virtual Young Retailer of the Year ceremony, listen to interviews and watch videos of the 2020 honorees.

Katie DeMaris

Owner | DeMaris Hardware

Location: St. Ansgar, Iowa
Category: Under $2 Million in Sales

Katie DeMaris first dreamed of owning a hardware store in 2014, after a visit to see her husband’s family in St. Ansgar, Iowa. On the trip, she and her husband noted that the local hardware store was for sale, and during the four-hour drive home, they discussed the possibilities the store presented.

Nearly two years later, they decided to leave their jobs at a major agricultural equipment manufacturer and move with their three children to St. Ansgar to pursue this new dream.

Their first several months weren’t easy— the family moved into the basement of the hardware store while they renovated their home. They also worked to revamp the store by themselves, replacing ceiling tiles and floors, painting the interior, overhauling the exterior and installing new LED lights.

DeMaris Hardware opened for business on April 17, 2017. They hired their first part-time employee that September. In the first year, they saw a 152 percent increase in sales from the previous owner’s final year in business.

DeMaris credits her work history and education for her success as a hardware store owner. Her high school job at a plant nursery, her undergraduate degree in art education and her MBA gave her experience with relevant products, creativity, marketing and inventory control. In their prior careers, DeMaris and her husband oversaw million-dollar department budgets and managed employees and inventory.

The family’s turn-of-the-century home has also served as a source of inspiration and experience relevant to their store. They test many products on their own home and use this firsthand knowledge and their relationships with the tradespeople they hire to work on their home to better serve customers.

“The struggle for St. Ansgar is much the same for many communities across America, but we have one thing that big-box stores and online shopping will never have—and that’s community.

DeMaris Hardware has adapted to the needs of its customers. The store boasts a profitable niche selling custom school sports apparel, local and seasonal live goods and free services, such as replacing watch batteries and bird food delivery.

The DeMarises value giving back to their community. They donate regularly to the American Legion, the local fire and rescue department, the local school district, various historical projects, multiple cancer benefits and town festivals. They also try to pick a different organization each month for which to raise or match funds. For example, on their dog Gracie’s birthday, they offer in-store specials, hand out treats and donate a percentage of their sales to the local animal shelter.

DeMaris is an active member of the local chamber of commerce and a parade organizer for the annual town festival. She also volunteers on the city’s park renovations committee, helping her establish new connections across St. Ansgar.

The business has also partnered with the local school to employ students with special needs at the store so they have the opportunity to gain real-life work experience in a safe setting.

For DeMaris and DeMaris Hardware, community comes in the form of a friendly hello, a welcoming canine and genuine customer service.

Listen to Katie on the Taking Care of Business podcast now.

Weston Jacobs

Owner-Operator | Weakley-Watson Hardware

Location: Brownwood, Texas
Category: Under $2 Million in Sales

Weston Jacobs had no retail experience when he took over his hometown hardware store in 2017 to prevent it from closing. He’s met the industry’s demands and established his business as a reliable community partner.

Weakley-Watson Hardware in Brownwood, Texas, had been family run and operated since 1876. However, the fifth generation of the Weakley family was ready to retire when they prepared to shut down the operation in 2017.

Jacobs’ parents, Tim and Kerri Jacobs, were entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity in the business, which is one of the oldest hardware stores in Texas. Jacobs embraced their vision.

He and his family purchased the store in 2017, wanting to preserve Weakley-Watson’s 140-year legacy in Brownwood, the town where Jacobs grew up.

He had left Brownwood when he went to college at Texas A&M University and then pursued a career with a large trucking company in Dallas. When he and his family bought Weakley-Watson, Jacobs and his wife moved to his beloved hometown so he could run the store.

From the start, Jacobs took full responsibility for running the operation and set out to learn about retail and the hardware industry, while also growing the business.

My dream is what’s down the road. What is the next store? What does it mean to serve other communities?

In the first year, he led the store’s change to a new wholesaler and saw sales grow 13 percent. The following year, Weakley-Watson’s sales grew 5 percent.

Jacobs looked to the store’s longtime employees for help learning about the business and understanding the industry. They were gracious teachers and Jacobs was eager to learn.

He also pursued home improvement industry training opportunities to learn about the products and projects that are important to his customers.

Jacobs considers his parents mentors who have taught him the importance of valuing relationships, no matter how frustrating or stressful a business situation may be.

They operate a gift shop and pharmacy and never worked in home improvement, but they have shown Jacobs how to serve customers and employees well.

Jacobs has taken his role as a local business owner seriously, seeing it as an opportunity to give back to the community. When wind destroyed granite veterans’ memorials in Brownwood, he worked with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion groups to raise money to rebuild the monuments. Working together, they raised $30,000 for the repairs.

Jacobs also collects coats and cold weather gear for needy kids, donates money to an organization that advocates for abused and neglected children and works with local businesses and residents to provide bottled water for local volunteer fire departments.

Looking to the future, Jacobs plans to continue growing his business by adding sporting goods to his existing store and opening or buying additional locations.

Listen to Weston on the Taking Care of Business podcast now.

Sam Olson

Co-Owner and Manager | Buffalo Hardware

Location: Buffalo, South Dakota
Category: Over $2 Million in Sales

Sam Olson was just 24 years old when he helped negotiate the acquisition of Buffalo Hardware.

He studied business entrepreneurship in college, where he got to create his own learning experience outside the classroom by buying the Buffalo, South Dakota, store with his parents in 2014.

Born and raised in Buffalo, Olson grew up visiting Buffalo Hardware. The owner hoped a local entrepreneur would eventually buy the business from him to ensure it remained a community asset. Olson was just the man for the job as he is deeply invested in and passionate about his hometown.

Olson was also committed to growing as a retailer and pursued multiple opportunities to learn about leadership, management and retailing. He participated in a state leadership program and completed the NRHA Retail Management Certification Program.

After taking over Buffalo Hardware, Olson oversaw a store remodel and expanded the outdoor selling space and lumberyard. Sales tripled during the first year under his leadership.

Olson also spearheaded the acquisitions of three other local businesses, including a gas station, propane company and a ranch supply store. Reflecting the demographics of the county, the businesses’ customers are primarily ranchers.

Buying and running local companies is a way to keep a small community thriving, and Olson hopes his entrepreneurial efforts help improve the quality of life in Buffalo for present and future generations.

I’ve got to keep making my town better.

I want to provide opportunities for my future children and make the community a place people want to stay in and return to.

Taking care of employees, customers and the community as a whole are motivators. For Olson, helping people includes offering stellar customer service and knowing the names of all 350 people who live in his small town, volunteering with the local chamber of commerce and economic development corporation, supporting fundraisers and lending a hand when people are in trouble.He is president of the chamber, vice president of the economic development corporation and vice president of the Olson Livestock Foundation, an organization that provides calves to young ranchers.

Buffalo Hardware is a conduit for other people’s generosity, and Olson takes the role seriously. Every winter, community members give Olson cash and ask him to provide residents in need with gift cards and propane to help them get through the coldest months. The store matches the donations and identifies community members needing help, who only know that the gifts are given anonymously.

The Buffalo community has partnered with Olson wholeheartedly in giving. When Olson donated to and helped support fundraisers to assist with medical bills for two local children who needed specialized care, the fundraisers raised $80,000 each— a significant amount of money coming from a county with only about 1,200 residents.

Listen to Sam on the Taking Care of Business podcast now.

Ryan Buck

Owner | Buck’s Home Building Centre and New Germany Home Hardware Building Centre

Location: Bridgewater and New Germany, Nova Scotia, Canada
Category: Multiple Store Operations

Ryan Buck’s unofficial career in retail began 26 years ago at his parents’ store, then known as Beaver Lumber, stocking shelves on Friday nights.

Those small moments still resonate with Buck to this day, and they are what propelled him into his career as a home improvement retailer.

His career officially began at 16, working in the family’s then 5,000-square-foot store—the building would later be replaced with a 21,000-square-foot facility. Buck says starting in the smaller retail store allowed him the opportunity to grow his skills in all areas of the business.

After returning home from college in 2005, an opportunity presented itself in the installed sales department. Buck stepped up to the challenge and made the department his passion.

At the time, the installed sales department typically saw $250,000 in annual sales. But after 15 years under Buck’s leadership, adding two full-time associates and a part-time administrative assistant, the department has grown to surpass $1.5 million in annual sales.

In 2017, while still managing the installed sales department, Buck’s focus shifted to the operational side of the business. He began having more frequent conversations with his parents about succession planning.

I love this company, I love my community and I am excited to grow with this business. It is an absolute honor to be recognized for all of the accomplishments we have been able to achieve in our first year as owners.

On Jan. 1, 2019, Buck and his wife, Julie, purchased the business, now known as Buck’s Home Building Centre, from his parents. Four months later, they purchased their second location, New Germany Home Hardware Building Centre.

Since taking ownership of the New Germany store, Buck has seen store traffic increase at the location by 60 percent.

As a small business owner, Buck believes in giving back to his community. In his first year as owner, he has been able to contribute to various sports teams, auction fundraisers and other local events.

When a community outdoor pool needed a new deck and ramp, Buck donated the materials for the project. The store also donated labor to help build a playhouse for a local elementary school. And each year, the Bucks choose a charity or local organization to support through special fundraising events.

After purchasing the New Germany store, the Bucks sought to invest in the future of the community by creating a scholarship for each high school in the area. These scholarships go to deserving students who are actively involved in the community and have a financial need.

Buck also served for seven years as a member of the Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Department and is an active member of the local chamber of commerce.

At age 34, Buck has already become a multistore operator and a valued member of the community, where he has put down roots with his wife and their three daughters, Madison, Ellianna and Kenzie. As Buck looks to the future, he says he hopes to continue empowering his staff, building their knowledge and skill sets to ensure they remain the retailer of choice within the communities they serve.

Listen to Ryan on the Taking Care of Business podcast now.

Cody Goeppner

Retail Manager | Bleyhl Co-Op

Location: Grandview, Washington Category: Multiple Store Operations

Cody Goeppner has integrated a passion for community and independent retail into the latest phase of his career.

Goeppner is the retail manager for Bleyhl Co-Op and serves on the company’s senior leadership team. He oversees the co-op’s Grandview, Washington, retail store and adjacent convenience store, but also spends much of his time assessing ways to improve the company’s overall retail operations.

Goeppner began his career in the independent home improvement industry working for his family’s hardware store in Ferdinand, Indiana, first as a child and later as an adult after pursuing a career in theater. When he rejoined the family business, he sought leadership training and made plans to become the seventh generation of his family to own and operate the store.

While participating in NRHA’s Retail Management Certification Program, Goeppner connected with leaders from Bleyhl Co-Op and appreciated their passion and commitment to their business and the communities they serve.

When Goeppner’s family business closed in 2018, the team at Bleyhl Co-Op invited him to come to Washington. Goeppner was not immediately interested in working for the co-op because of his enthusiasm for family-owned operations, but Bleyhl CEO Dan Morano shared about his commitment to serving the organization’s members, piquing Goeppner’s interest.

As with the family business, my goals are always legacy driven. I don’t want the successes of the business and what I’m doing to only be good as long as I’m a part of it. I now sit with an entire team of engaged individuals who are moving mountains in retail.

The company’s executive team was ready to make significant changes to its retail operations and was eager to bring in Goeppner’s fresh ideas and desire to innovate.

Goeppner joined the co-op’s leadership team to focus on improving Bleyhl Co-Op’s retail stores. His vision was to turn the stores, which needed facility and business practice updates, into the modern face of the company.

Goeppner set to work on projects ranging from remerchandising the stores to developing a new system for hiring and onboarding employees.

Goeppner helped lead changes such as adapting the product mix to a more focused selection that serves core customers more comprehensively and having signage and marketing materials translated into Spanish to better serve the stores’ Spanish-speaking customer base.

As part of the ongoing business improvement process, Goeppner mentored peer staff members, encouraging them to expand their leadership skills and grow in their confidence to share creative ideas for improving the business.

A significant change for the operation, which has nearly eliminated turnover at the retail stores, was introducing the company’s customer service model during the interview process for new hires. Doing so enables employees to start their jobs understanding the company’s standards and values.

Mentoring other employees has become Goeppner’s passion, and he encourages staff members to innovate, develop and bring forward ideas that make the business stronger.

Goeppner has also plunged into contributing to his community, serving as president of the chamber of commerce, volunteering for the local fair and rodeo and hosting community events.

Listen to Cody on the Taking Care of Business podcast now.

Matthew Holmes

Owner | Holmes Building Materials

Location: Baton Rouge and Denham Springs,  Louisiana
Category: Multiple Store Operations

As the fourth-generation owner of Holmes Building Materials in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Matthew Holmes got his start like many others in the industry— by sweeping floors and stocking shelves in the family business.

His father, John, always wanted him to work outside the family business to get more exposure to the industry as a whole. So after majoring in construction management with a minor in business at Louisiana State University, Holmes worked for several years at a large custom home building company.

In 2011, he returned to Holmes Building Materials with the aim to eventually succeed his father in the leadership and ownership role. He worked to prove himself in outside sales before being promoted to operations manager in 2014. That year, his redesign of the contractor services warehouse space paid off with huge gains in efficiency and sales. Previously, the warehouse team produced 30 to 40 doors a day, but Holmes’ redesigned space allowed them to deliver 100 doors each day.

Holmes next turned his focus to gaining more exposure to local contractors in Baton Rouge. In 2015 and 2016, he opened two new showroom locations.

Then, in August 2016, a complex thunderstorm system flared up in southern Louisiana, resulting in constant torrential downpours in the Baton Rouge area.

The day the flooding started, Holmes sprang into action. Holmes Building Materials partnered with vendors to donate building materials to rebuild 32 homes for needy residents. The store also matched each dollar that was donated to the cause.

To keep job stability and security and be a long-term investment in our community, customers and employees, retailers need to be forward-thinking.

After rebuilding efforts in town reached a manageable level, a new, larger location for the Baton Rouge store became a priority— and a clear turning point in the leadership transition at Holmes Building Materials.

Holmes took full control of the new store, which opened in 2017. When his father retired the next year, Holmes took over as president of the company. The ownership transition is in progress and will be completed in a few years.

Holmes also devotes his time and energy toward service in his community. He and his family attend a local church, where he volunteers his time at events while helping with needed improvements at the facility.

He coordinates Holmes Building Materials’ participation in the Home Builders Association of Greater Baton Rouge’s annual Dream Home auction, which has raised more than $20 million for St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.

A few years ago, Holmes also stepped in to help save the local Salvation Army’s Angel Tree giving program, which assists families in need, by volunteering the former Baton Rouge location as a sorting and storage area for donations when the organization lost the use of its former building.

Since Holmes’ return in 2011, sales at Holmes Building Materials have doubled. Holmes has already carved out his own legacy at the family business, and he will be making his mark in the industry—and his community—for many years to come.

Listen to Matthew on the Taking Care of Business podcast now.

About Julie Leinwand

Julie Leinwand is the Special Projects Manager for NHPA. She graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism. In her spare time, she enjoys baking fanciful desserts and spending time with her puppies and husband.

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