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How Retailers Have Expanded Their Community Endeavors

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By Chad Husted, chusted@nrha.org

Finding the Time

It’s perfectly normal for entrepreneurs and small business owners to focus the majority of their time and efforts on their stores and business efforts. Running an independent home improvement business is hard work, and making the most of the available time during the day is already a difficult task.

But what if there was an extra hour in the day? Or maybe just an added 30 minutes that could be devoted to other areas of a retailer’s life? What small tasks or accomplishments could this small time be used for?

While the two retailers Hardware Retailing spoke with don’t have that magical extra time in their days, they have found ways of organizing their time and their businesses to allow them to devote themselves to other initiatives. Whether it’s giving one’s time and energy to community organizations or kickstarting a new program to benefit whole communities, these retailers have learned to make the most of the time they have outside of their businesses.

Hardy Tan Vy is the marketing manager at Benson Guam, but in his time away from his family’s business he is pursuing programs and ideas that could help the entire island community of Guam better feed itself. On top of this project, Vy is also active on local boards and councils while keeping Benson Guam a go-to supplier for the community.

Jillian Sexton owns three independent hardware retail businesses, including two in Nova Scotia, Canada, and another three hours away on Prince Edward Island. Despite the challenges she faces running these businesses, Sexton regularly donates her time and energy to others including the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and multiple community fundraising projects.

Still Growing

Jillian Sexton just can’t sit still.

Whether it’s handling work calls during travel time between her three stores or working with an organization to schedule a weekly lunch with a child in need of a mentor, Sexton is making her schedule work.

Even with the traditional obstacles that any multi-location business owner faces, Sexton has done what she always has in her business endeavors and her community projects: Hit the ground running. Now overseeing three retail locations (Sherwood Timber Mart is the expansion location on Prince Edward Island, Canada), Sexton still maintains a dedicated schedule on philanthropic boards and assisting organizations she feels passionate about.

“There never was a lightbulb moment when I decided I wanted to be involved in my communities as both a business owner and as a community member,” Sexton says. “I definitely believe that what you put into the world comes back to you. I work to put other people in better places in their lives, and that same energy comes back when you make your community a better place.”

Some of Sexton’s projects include serving  on the board of directors for the Tearmann Society for Abused Women, mentoring a child  through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County and organizing the mayor’s golf tournament in Charlottestown, Prince Edward Island, which raises funds for a number of charitable causes, including a food bank and a local camp for children with diabetes.

Her involvement with the Tearmann Society stems from her longstanding interest in and advocacy for women’s rights and the necessity for women to safely and successfully advance in society. As a female business owner, Sexton says her thoughts connect closely with the group’s message because she believes retailers can better their communities through involvement on many levels.

Jillian Sexton, owner of three retail locations in Canada, serves on several community boards and mentors children in her spare time.

Big Opportunities to Help

How she organizes her time also allows Sexton to donate time and energy on different levels such as with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She reached out to the organization about working with a a child as a Big Sister, but initially, the time commitment looked to be too much for her schedule. That’s when Big Brothers Big Sisters suggested its mentorship program, which asks for one hour each week for lunch with a child who needs an adult’s influence and guidance.

“We’re all busy, and you can’t be everywhere at once. But I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I find an hour a week for lunch with someone who could use help?’” Sexton says. “Through being involved in these organizations, you hear stories about how lives have been affected for the better, and sometimes through just the simple act of helping out or volunteering a bit of time. It makes you want to find more ways to act.”

Sexton manages these projects while also splitting her time between her store locations in Nova Scotia and her recent acquisition on Prince Edward Island. She spends time each week moving between the different locations and has worked to expand her community projects to her newest community on the island.

While she believes working in the community is a benefit for retailers on both a personal and professional level, Sexton also cautions enthusiastic retailers to consider their own limits and that of their business when extending responsibilities to outside groups.

“There is no magic bullet to finding time. It’s all about managing a schedule and deciding what amount of time and energy you can commit to,” Sexton says. “I recently had to step away from a board position on a group I thoroughly believe in just because I wasn’t able to give all of my efforts. If you find causes you believe in, and you aren’t taxing yourself beyond your limits, then community involvement can be done without adding stress to what every retailer already feels.”

Island Rising

With Guam lying 3,950 miles from Hawaii and nearly 6,000 from California, the U.S. territory presents a significant logistical hurdle. This has led to an abundance of obstacles for independent home improvement retailers like Hardy Tan Vy, including many that few other retailers would even consider in their day-to-day business.

Guam has little to no agricultural industry, denying a category that independent retailers can often rely on to boost sales. The large number of immigrants in the labor force and new regulations making obtaining a work visa more difficult has also eaten into the contractor market, which is key for Benson Guam’s operations.

Vy has helped develop Benson Guam into a diverse and prized hardware business on the island, despite facing stiff competition from a newly arrived big-box retailer in close proximity. Vy applies his degree in business administration and his interest in languages and world cultures to expand Benson Guam into multiple categories, like appliances and firearms.

However, Vy’s efforts aren’t only meant to enhance his family’s business and compete against other retailers. Using his experiences living abroad and among other cultures, Vy is dedicated to introducing new ideas and improvements to his home.

“From my own experience and by joining with other community and business leaders in Guam, I’ve been able to see not only how our business can affect our communities, but what difficulties every business in Guam faces,” Vy says. “By improving our communities, we’re improving the quality of life for our neighbors and allowing businesses to thrive.”

Hardy Tan Vy (right) has devoted his own time and money into projects meant to improve life for all Guam residents in addition to helping run his business.

Giving Back, Building More

Some of Vy’s community projects include making Benson Guam a central sponsor for the renovation of the local baseball and football teams’ facilities. The previous athletic fields were unusable due to their deteriorated condition, so Vy and Benson Guam funded a new commentator’s box, concession stand and restroom facility. They also donated big-ticket items like new lighting and donated paint for a new look.

Vy has also aided in charitable causes by helping form the Mikkel Tan Vy Foundation. Named after Vy’s late brother, the foundation has assisted in funding college scholarships and sponsors area youth sports teams to participate in overseas events and tournaments.

“I think travel is something everyone should have the chance to experience,” Vy says. “It’s definitely enhanced my abilities to better my community as well as our business.”

However, Vy hasn’t just made improving sports facilities a priority. Given Guam’s remote location, he has made major strides in a project dedicated to making the territory a more sustainable community in the future. In addition to his efforts at Benson Guam, Vy is also dedicating his own time and money to a vertical farming initiative that he hopes will offer the entire island community a better option for fresh produce.

The vertical farm operation would allow crops to be farmed indoors, where they could be safe from the violent storms that can strike the island, and would not use the already limited amount of land available on the island territory. While this kind of advanced farming model will not replace imports, as the energy requirements of vertical farming are costly and difficult to sustain, it offers a path forward for the island’s economic and agricultural future.

For Vy, finding time for projects dedicated to improving the livelihood of an entire community is both a personal and professional labor of love.

“This kind of project not only provides less expensive, fresher foods, it can be an economic improvement and create jobs that pay well,” Vy says. “Less expensive food improves consumer spending, which can help the economy and therefore the lives of all citizens of Guam.”

About Chad Husted

Chad is an assistant editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A Purdue University graduate, Chad has covered sports and news at the high school, college and Olympic levels as a sports writer, editor and designer for multiple newspapers. Prior to joining the NRHA, he was the sports editor for the Herald Journal in Monticello, Indiana, and a designer and copy editor for the AIM Media Indiana group in Columbus, Indiana. When not cultivating his beard, he enjoys backpacking, cooking, traveling and watching too much sports and Netflix.

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