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Next Gen: Meet the 2023 Young Retailer of the Year Honorees

Meet the 2023 Young Retailer of the Year class! Now in its 27th year, the North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) Young Retailer of the Year program recognizes high-achieving retailers 35 years of age and younger who represent the next generation of the independent home improvement channel.

Honorees are chosen based on criteria such as career accomplishments, community involvement, ongoing education within the industry and extracurricular activities. The honorees are selected from three categories: Under $3 million in annual sales, over $3 million in annual sales and operations with multiple locations.

This year’s class, which features a record 11 honorees, shares why community is key to a successful operation, the opportunities and challenges facing the independent channel and what excites them most about the industry. Learn more about each honoree at YourNHPA.org/yroty and save the date for the Young Retailer of the Year virtual ceremony, taking place Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. EST.

What are the keys to your success in the industry?

“For me, it’s streamlining processes and having that technology base where people can reach out. It’s being a support center so employees don’t feel like they’re out on their own. I set up remote access at every store, so if anybody has a problem, we can fix those problems on the spot. It works as a learning tool as well. Through remote access, I can show them what they need to do and how the processes work, and they have the information they need at their fingertips.”
Ryan Clouse, owner, Clouse Family Ace Hardwares

“I focus on getting buy-in from employees on the many changes we go through because we need employees to get behind any changes to be successful. I achieve this through employee-first leadership—working with employees and getting to know them to figure out ways we can be flexible and offer a better work-life balance. Employees who are happy tend to work harder and show up consistently, which is important to developing a culture.”
Austin Diehl, director of retail operations, Randy’s Hardware

“One of the biggest benefits along the way was going to local hardware stores in my area and tapping into the staff’s knowledge. Talking to them and gathering ideas was beneficial because when I came into this industry, I knew nothing about hardware. When I started, I also had an employee who had more years of hardware experience than I had been alive who was able to provide invaluable knowledge.”
John Luhring, owner, Parkersburg Hardware and Garden Center and Allison Hardware and Floral Center

“For me, my parents have been huge supporters, but my success has also come down to me being willing to embrace opportunity and taking that leap of faith. You have to be willing to learn new things, jump in with both feet and take a chance.”
Jessica Talerico, owner, Old Lyme Hardware

Who or what has helped you achieve what you have so far?

“Thinking outside the box and trying new things has led to our success. Being independent gives us more flexibility regarding what we can do in our stores—that flexibility and personal touch allow us to better serve our customers and the community. My parents and our employees have helped a lot with these goals and implementing all these changes we’ve done. Without them, I couldn’t do any of this.”
Dalton Meny, head of operations, Meny’s True Value

“My family first and foremost has led to my success. If we didn’t support one another, none of us would be where we are. We also have the best customers and employees who help us continually grow and get better each year. I spend a lot of time taking part in ongoing education, so I’m also grateful for the opportunities for education through NHPA and other organizations.”
Travis Hellvig, operations manager, Hartford Building Center

“The team at Gleco has always pushed me; I hold myself to a very high standard because of them. They’ve encouraged me to always be moving forward and not be complacent, which has led me to always look for efficiencies and bring value to the team. My dad’s been my mentor in this industry, showing me the ropes, answering all the questions I have and challenging me at times when I need it.”
Michael Gleason Jr., assistant general manager and head purchaser, Gleco Paint

“I’m grateful for my dad. He’s definitely worked hard to take our business from one store to four. It was not an easy road for him, but he really paved the road for me. He never forced the business on me but always made it available to me. My restaurant background has also been helpful in the paint industry, teaching me customer service and how to handle sometimes emotionally charged investments.”
Katie Prus, manager and part owner, Abbotsford Paint and Decorating

What are the biggest challenges facing independent retailers this year?

“So many homeowners took on so many projects during the pandemic that I think the biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to still bring customers through the door now that their projects are done. We need to get into a different groove and promote new projects they didn’t do during the pandemic and share new products to supplement this potential slow phase we might see.”
Katie Prus, manager and part owner, Abbotsford Paint and Decorating

“Supply chain issues are still a challenge for us, so we work with the customer to find other product selections that are similar. We also started pulling from two warehouses; we have our main supplier and we picked up a secondary one to backfill some of those shortages. And as long as you make customers aware that you’re doing everything you can to get a product, they are generally willing to wait for it. They appreciate you taking the effort to find it for them.”
John Luhring, owner, Parkersburg Hardware and Garden Center and Allison Hardware and Floral Center

“We’re returning to a more traditional purchasing volume and average pricing, so every retailer is fighting for market share and margin opportunities are getting stricter every day. The return to normalcy after the pandemic also means reducing payroll and inventory levels to more normal levels, which can be a challenge with the tighter margins.”
Matt Lambert, regional vice president, Nation’s Best

“I think competing against the big-box stores and online retailers is a challenge for the independent channel right now. But these challenges can also be opportunities for our industry to offer something those other retailers can’t personalized service. People want to connect with others again, they want to walk into a store and know they are not just some number. As independents, we can provide that service.”
Jessica Talerico, owner, Old Lyme Hardware

What are the biggest opportunities for the independent channel?

“One of the things that really interests me is this evolution of brick-and-mortar retail. In the retail industry it used to be you had brick-and-mortar stores and then you had online retailers, and now they’re both drifting towards each other. It is really important to not only operate in our communities in the physical space, but also the digital space. Just having a website is becoming the bare minimum; we have to ask what the next steps look like.”
Austin Diehl, director of retail operations, Randy’s Hardware

“During the pandemic we were so focused on the sheer number of customers, we let our service slack. Now, we have the opportunity to focus on what we should be focusing on, which is service. The number of people walking through the door might be a little less, but that gives us a chance to get back to our roots and focus on what we want to be known for offering a high level of customer service. ”
Scott Fines, owner, Fines Home Hardware Building Centre

“Consumers are spending more time trying to make decisions, especially large purchase decisions, and as a small independent retailer we have the opportunity to provide that knowledge and service they’re maybe not going to get elsewhere. Being able to make a more personal connection and provide resources and information allows us to pick up some sales we maybe weren’t getting an opportunity at before.”
Travis Hellvig, operations manager, Hartford Building Center

“Embracing technology will be key for our industry, especially e-commerce. Even here in my small town, being online is connecting us with customers hundreds of miles away who we never would have guessed would be a target market for us. It’s about changing my mindset and embracing what’s next while still offering the in-store personal service customers also want.”
Zane Watkins, general manager and co-owner, Village Hardware

Why is being involved in the local community important to you?

“As business owners we have a responsibility to influence the type of community we want to live, work and raise our kids in through the ways we give back. Sometimes we’re able to give back financially, but sometimes it’s time you’re giving. We try to lead by example and let our local organizations know that we’re in it with them.”
Scott Fines, owner, Fines Home Hardware Building Centre

“Our community is our family. The same way we take care of our immediate family, we also take care of our co-workers and watch out for each other. When people see you supporting your community, it becomes like a ripple in water—easily seen and easily felt. What started with just you helping out expands to others joining in, and that can really make its mark.”
Ryan Clouse, owner, Clouse Family Ace Hardwares

“I have no home improvement background or experience in owning a business, so going into this adventure, my community has been everything. We’re here for the community, and they’re what keeps us going. As long as they’re coming in, we’re able to stay in business. So it’s a priority for us to be there for the community and support them in whatever way we can.”
Jessica Talerico, owner, Old Lyme Hardware

“Our president and co-owner Randy has always talked about how the hardware store is the hub of the community where people come to talk and figure out what’s going on. If you have a question, you can go there for answers. Being a centralized location where people can come together is very important. It’s our kids and our families and our livelihoods growing up in this community, so I want them to grow up in as good of a community as they can. ”
Austin Diehl, director of retail operations, Randy’s Hardware

What excites you the most about our industry?

“It’s really cool to be able to be here for others, living life positively and making a difference in people’s lives. I love being able to help customers with their projects big or small, answering their questions or simply making their day better. It’s not always about what I can do for them; often it’s what they do for us to make our days better too.”
Zane Watkins, general manager and co-owner, Village Hardware

“For me, as part of an independent business, it’s the ability to have full control over my day. There’s always curveballs, but having control over what we do as a company is empowering. The networking opportunities in our industry also energize me. It’s comforting to know there are other people going through the same struggles, and everybody’s working toward a common goal.”
Michael Gleason Jr., assistant general manager and head purchaser, Gleco Paint

“I am excited that we’re modernizing as an industry and adapting and applying new technologies. Technology is changing how we do business every day, from customer service to operations. It’s fun to see that shift as a younger, tech savvy person in the industry.”
Matt Lambert, regional vice president, Nation’s Best

“I think all the new technology being introduced is really exciting. Hardware stores are not always the first adopters of new technology, but I think technology is starting to be more accessible to the independent channel. Especially over the next few years, it’s going to be really interesting to see how technology changes our industry and propels us forward.”
Dalton Meny, head of operations, Meny’s True Value

Thank you to the sponsors of the Young Retailer of the Year awards program:

  • American Hardware & Lumber Insurance (AHLI)
  • Arrow Fastener
  • Intertape Polymer Group (IPG)
  • Midwest Fastener
  • Pony Jorgensen
  • PPG
  • STIHL
  • Wooster Brush

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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