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True Value 2023 Spring Reunion: Looking Forward to Another 75 Years

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, True Value brought together its retailers from around the world for the True Value 2023 Spring Reunion, which took place March 16-19 in Chicago at McCormick Place West.

The event kicked off with retailers touring the True Value Manufacturing facility in Cary, Illinois, and the North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) facilitating the education for the Retail Best Practices Conference. Sharing insights and best practices on retaining top talent, NHPA director of organizational development and consulting Kim Peffley and director of member services and events Katie McHone-Jones led over 250 True Value retailers through three sessions. These sessions covered retaining top talent, recruiting based on core values, the employee/employer paradigm shift and more.

Data Sharing Leads to Mutual Success

True Value CEO Chris Kempa welcomed attendees to the general session before handing the mic over to Wayne Messmer who sang the national anthem. Kempa returned to the stage, stating True Value has grown its active customers every year since 2018—reaching 5,067 in 2022.

“Our focus has always been on partnering with retailers to help grow their businesses,” Kempa says. “It’s what drives me every day, and it’s what drives our team. Everyone is solely devoted to helping retailers grow their profit.”

Eric Lane, senior vice president of sales for True Value, took the stage and focused on point of sale (POS) data and how utilizing it benefits everyone. He discussed the data tools available to help manage a business and how True Value sales teams can use POS data to better manage businesses and grow them more effectively.

“When retailers share their POS data with us our sales teams gain more insight into what products and assortments are excelling in what stores, putting them in a much better position to identify personalized opportunities, recommendations and upgrades,” Lane says.

Senior vice president of marketing Kelly Megel shared marketing focus areas during her first time speaking at Reunion since joining the leadership team at the 2022 Fall Reunion. Megel spoke on how marketing teams can use POS data to drive traffic to stores and how marketing and building a brand can boost sales.

“I’ve spent the last few months on the road traveling to get to know our retailers and their stores to optimize a growth strategy,” Megel says. “We will be providing more marketing educational opportunities—including an online quarterly session—and we are rebuilding, refreshing and simplifying the marketing programs that have proven successful.”

Jake Kalnitz, senior vice president of merchandising, inventory and pricing for True Value, touched on a few topics, including the value of True Value’s investment in planogram assortment seen in the improving fill rates and the year-end target of an over 95% fill rate.

“Retailers need the right assortments coupled with best-in-class availability to maximize growth potential,” Kalnitz says. “The more retailers drive assortment penetration, come together and center on the same products the better we can serve them.”

Kalnitz also spoke about optimizing retail prices and True Value’s successful proprietary retail price optimization pilot program, as well as True Value’s new broken-pack strategy.

“Our new broken-pack strategy will give retailers the flexibility to better optimize and manage inventory, with less than 5% of assortments requiring full-pack—one-third less than prior requirements—and over 50% more flexible than the nearest competitor,” Kalnitz says.

Lane rejoined the stage to announce a new True Value technology, Matterport, a 3D visualization tool that creates an interactive experience for assortments, allowing customers unable to attend Reunions to understand assortments better and more easily bring them to their operations.

General session closed with Jared Littmann, owner of K&B True Value in Annapolis, Maryland, and member of the company board as a co-op board representative, providing an update on his view of the health of True Value.

True Value is back to supporting the growth of its business, investing more than $100 million in new equipment, IT upgrades and facilities, Littmann says. These investments are 17% more than in the previous four years, and True Value has also increased inventory by over $80 million. He says these investments have not been funded by their customers, and True Value has also reduced its debt by $115 million.

“After almost 20 years as a True Value retailer and 10 years of board meetings and reports, I can say that I’m genuinely encouraged to see the improvements of progress being made at True Value,” Littmann says.

Read more about some of these investments here, here and here.

Ample Education Opportunities, Assortments and Products

Over 20 educational sessions were available for retailers to attend, with many focusing on marketing, new products and technology.

There were 15 spin-it-to-win-it opportunities and 18 new planograms introduced at Reunion, including new assortments of cleaning products, HVAC, pellet stoves, plumbing, ladders, mechanics tools, disc golf and more.

“We’ve created two approaches to our planograms,” Kalnitz says. “One for stores that want to make a large brand statement and compete against mass merchants with brand messaging and one that adds specialty niche brands to differentiate your stores from competitors.”

Reunion continued to provide popular buying opportunities and corporate support areas such as Assortment City, Discount City and True Value University. Assortment City tours were available, providing highlights of the area, and the Assortment City Preview Reception featured sneak peeks of key assortments, new products, demos, raffles and networking opportunities.

Rick Merchant of Dreyer’s Lumber True Value, which has locations in Chatham and Oakhurst, New Jersey, and opened in 1993, has been coming to True Value Reunions since 1990.

“It is always a great show,” Merchant says. “I do most of my purchasing beforehand, but I come to walk around, meet people, see products and work with my salesperson.”

Retailers Coming Together in Celebration

Retailers came together at the welcome reception to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day—enjoying live entertainment, food and drinks. Two more mingling opportunities—farm, ranch, auto and pet (FRAP) Happy Hour and Young Retailers Happy Hour—also took place, encouraging relationship building and knowledge sharing.

Owner of Dover True Value Hardware in Dover Foxcroft, Maine, Tim Robinson, appreciates the variety of opportunities this event offers. Dover True Value Hardware opened in 1994 and offers rentals, over 15 services and stocks a wide variety of hardware and home supplies including housewares, tools, appliances and building supplies.

“I love sitting down and talking to retailers—you just learn so much,” Robinson says. “I also love the spin-it-to-win-it opportunities.”

In continued celebration of the company’s milestone anniversary this year, the True Value 2023 Fall Reunion will take place Sept. 14-16 in Houston, Texas.

“I’m incredibly proud of True Value’s heritage of supporting the growth and success of independent retailers and doing it better than anyone else,” Kempa says. “That’s how we started, that’s how we operate now and that’s how we plan to innovate for the next 75 years.”

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