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On the front lines of retail experience innovation

December 5, 2023

Author: Nienke Hinton

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Over the course of 100 years in business, through four generations, Barrington Passage, NS-based Wilson's Home Hardware Building Centre has consistently pursued a high standard of retailing to meet rapidly rising customer and team expectations. Beyond the reference of any local example, the owner, Mike Wilson, and his team set out in 2020 to create their own standard of experience by completely renovating the 35,000-square-foot store.


“After two years, lots of lessons learned, and many ups and downs, we proudly consider our retail store experience as high as anyone's in the industry,” says Wilson. “Not to rest on this achievement, we continuously look ahead to improve and show that Home Hardware dealers are on the front lines of innovating the retail experience.


“At Wilson's, we're constantly asking, ‘what's next?’ I love the independence of crafting the future vision for this organization, and knowing that, for better or worse, the outcomes rest with how well we run our stores and lead our teams. I think this is the competitive fire that lives in all entrepreneurs. I do not envy Home Hardware Stores Limited when it comes time to select one store out of almost 1,100 to represent the group as ‘Store of the Year’ – this seems like an impossible task. Our entire organization at Wilson’s Group is extremely grateful for this recognition and which was reinforced by our company's leaders that we're getting a few things right.”


Home Hardware’s ‘Walter J. Hachborn Store of the Year’ award is the company’s most prestigious award and selects one store from close to 1,100 stores across Canada for achieving the highest standards in retailing, merchandising, staff performance, and overall quality and service. Wilson's Home Hardware Building Centre was honoured with the ‘Store of the Year’ award and was named ‘Best Home Hardware Building Centre – Atlantic Region’ at Home Hardware’s ‘2023 Homecoming’ event held in Toronto, ON, on September 13, 2023. Interestingly, this is Wilson’s Home Hardware Building Centre’s second time being recognized as a top store. The retailer was also awarded the ‘Walter J. Hachborn Store of the Year’ award in 2005.

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A general store approach

“At Wilson's, our roots come from a general store serving the local community, evolved into a grocery business under the IGA banner, to the modern building centre you experience today,” says Wilson. “This general store approach lives on in our business today as we are able to provide our customers with everything from the most current building materials to electronics, furniture, large and small appliances, and anything else that our customers are looking for and we can help provide.

“I have an immense amount of respect for all of my colleagues in southwest Nova Scotia who take on the daily challenge of running a retail business. Aside from one, these are independent retailers just like myself and I think of them as worthy rivals if not friends, more than competition. We are all just trying to do the best we can to serve the communities we're fortunate enough to live and work in. I believe a rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes.”

Wilson runs the business with an attitude that decentralized leadership is the most rewarding and galvanizing method to operate. “This strategy doesn't come without risk but as we continue to scale and grow, I attempt to arm the people in the stores with the right tools to make decisions that are within their appropriate reach.

“I care deeply about cultivating meaningful work and relationships between everyone involved in the experience of doing business with our company. I care deeply about attracting the right candidates to work with us, with whom there are aligned values between what they're looking for and what we can provide. We are constantly evaluating the match between the work we're asking folks to do and the level of fulfillment they retain from their work. As my father has graciously taught me, getting our folks in the right seats on the bus is the most critical decision we can make as leaders, and the process is never ending as both the business and people are constantly changing.”

Wilson joined the company in 2008 and took over as the fourth generational owner in 2015. In 2021, he renovated the store to provide a more modern shopping experience. Then, in 2022, he purchased two additional stores, Liverpool Home Hardware & Furniture and Brady Home Building Centre, both located in Liverpool, NS. In 2023, Del's Home Building Centre in West Pubnico, NS, was added to the group.

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Dealer remains strategic focus

“In the 15 years I've been in this business, the leadership at Home Hardware Stores has changed a few times and the overall structure has changed substantially. The constant is that no matter who has been steering the ship, the dealer has remained the centre of the organizational strategic focus. I'm biased, but firmly believe the success of the organization rests with the quality of the outcomes the dealers are achieving in their stores everyday. At the corporate level, we have to evolve, we have to innovate. This is a ‘critical must’ not a ‘should.’ No matter the investment in infrastructure, each dealer needs to create and maintain an individual high standard at the store level for the future sustained success of the overall organization.”

He adds, “The biggest compliment we can receive is when our customers refer us to the people they care about. We hope they'll do this because we've been able to meet their needs with a high level of professionalism and genuine care for their project or whatever it is bringing them into our store.

“At the granular level, leadership is simply working hard to make the things around us a little bit better everyday. This is what we focus on. I try to keep things simple even though business and life is changing expeditiously.

“Wilson's as a group has experienced a tremendous level of growth in the past three years spreading from one store to four locations. I love the challenge of bringing together this larger organization as we work as a group to form the community between the stores with one central focus: to serve our neighbours of southwest Nova Scotia to the highest level of our energy and ability and provide them the products and services they need at the prices they expect.

“Managing the organization through change is our greatest challenge yet. We've all been fortunate or unfortunate to have learned lessons from extreme change over the last number of years and try to keep the focus on quality communication and bringing the entire team along through the process. No matter to what scale future opportunities will take the organization, I am committed to stay authentic to the foundation of the business that has led to success over 100 years and counting. I am extremely optimistic for the future and am sure that no matter what it holds, people will be at the centre of it. If you don't understand people, you don't understand business.”

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