Why is this store SO HAPPY?

Why is this store SO HAPPY?

A retail store where EVERYONE is happy (including me as a customer)? How is this possible?

On a busy Saturday in November (just when the Holiday shoppers are out-and-about), I encountered an assortment of Home Hardware Associates. ALL were happy, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. They all took initiative, and seemed to genuinely take pride in their work. I was intrigued to find out what the leaders were doing to create such a dynamic team–they obviously were doing something right.

Why is this store SO HAPPY? 7 ways to copy their leadership success!

INSPIRED! Interview with Tim Ciolfi – Home Hardware Manager (Appleby – Burlington, ON)

Lesson #1: Put your employees on a pedestal, and have a dash of humility

I started the interview by thanking Tim for my great customer experience in his store. In response, Tim passionately talked about their great staff. I could hear in his voice how much he cared for his staff, and I also believed him when he told me that the Associates really get along with each other.

My first impression of Tim was that he was humble, genuine, and authentic. I knew right away that I was dealing with a great leader, and I easily settled into the conversation.

Lesson #2: Tell your employees NOW! DON’T wait!

Too often we get caught up in the yearly or semi-annual performance appraisal. However, Tim and the Home Hardware Leaders give feedback IN THE MOMENT.

“We notice and remember their effort.”

He gave an example, “What you did last night at the store was amazing! Because you took that extra shift it allowed us to help 45 more customers! Instead of making customers angry (by being short-staffed), we made customers happy.”

Lesson #3: Take care of your employees with COMPASSION, and they will take care of you.

Tim has worked for Home Hardware for 14 years. Why has he been so dedicated? Tim explains, “The owners (Tony and Chris Flanagan) are really, really great guys to work for, they know the business, they are very smart with retail, they react, and they take care of their employees”.

 “To put it in one word – compassion” Tim stated with sincerity.

Tim continued, “The owners Tony and Chris look after their employees. They are in here every day, they know their employees, they say ‘Hello’, and they pay more than a fair wage.”

Lesson #4: Work needs to be more than just a place to collect a pay-check.

“We are not a faceless corporation” Tim said to me. We really want employees to feel that their store is more than a place to pick up a pay-check.

Employees are told on a regular basis: “The work that you do here, helps put food on the plates of everyone that works in this store.”

Lesson #5: Small town atmosphere in a big city.

Even though there are over 180,000 people that live in Burlington, Ontario, and the store is 18,000 sq. ft., I really felt the “small town” friendly culture from Tim.

“We try to separate ourselves from the retail giants by giving the BEST possible customer service. Sometimes it means taking a customer physically to a product (almost holding their hand). We want customers to know that we DO care.”

Lesson #6: Don’t expect perfection – take your time training.

Tim said a beautiful thing: “We have a comprehensive training program that is 6-8 months.” He continued, You can’t expect somebody to know everything. You can’t expect someone to work exactly the way you want them to without showing them how. During the training period we are hands-on, we are showing them the ropes, and guiding them without being overly demanding”.

I was impressed! I can’t tell you how many retail jobs I have had over the years, where I was thrown into a position with about 10 minutes of training. 

Lesson #7: Empower with knowledge, and responsibility.

“We empower employees by giving them a lot of knowledge” Tim explained. “We have plumbing, hardware, paint, flooring, and housewares. There is a lot of product knowledge to learn in the store. This is why 6-8 months of hands-on training is so important.”

Along with training, Management gives responsibility. They take Associates into departments and say, “This is YOUR department. Treat this place as if it were your own.” Management wants staff to feel that the store is a part of them.

We all can learn from this store!

The leadership methods that this store uses, is a foundation that generates TRUST. The foundation is based on three specific principles. These values are the reason why there is so much happiness in their store. To learn more about these principles and how to reinvent work, click HERE.

  • Strategic Alignment: Associates are told frequently what is required of them to reach overall store and company goals, and there is a focus on results with continuous feedback.
  • Authentic Humanity: Management has created a culture where employees are recognized as people first, and not just as assets in work. They have created something greater than just day-to-day tasks – they have created a community. The great thing is that these connections translate into similar connections with their customers.
  • Individual Leadership: The owners and managers of the store have created a work environment with autonomy and initiative. This enthusiasm creates a powerful dynamic, and organizations see high levels of performance as a result.

A fragment of my actual customer experience at HH, Burlington:

  • When I walked in the large BUSY store, I was welcomed by a friendly Associate who was behind the cash.
  • I asked the Associate on cash, where my small obscure item would be. I was happily told the exact aisle.
  • As I started to walk, a smiling Associate approached me and said “I can take you there!” She took me directly to the product.
  • As I browsed the store, I remembered I needed “Command Strips”. I easily found another smiling Associate who easily took me to the product. He then ASKED ME what I would be using the product for, and then he found the right item for my needs.
  • When I got to the cash desk, there was someone checking out a large purchase in front of me. Immediately another happy Associate called me over to her cash desk.
From L to R: Kyle Flanagan,  Chris Flanagan,  Walter Hackborn (Founder), Tony Flanagan,  Teresa Flanagan.

From L to R: Kyle Flanagan, Chris Flanagan, Walter Hackborn (Founder), Tony Flanagan, Teresa Flanagan.

Home Hardware is a chain with over 1000 stores across Canada. The Burlington store is 18,000 sq. ft. and is owned by Tony Flanagan, and Chris Flanagan who have had the location for 10 years. The family also has another store in Oakville, ON which they opened over 25 years ago.


If you liked this post, check out these:

Ikea I am WOWed! New President! New Customer Experience!
Let’s Stop Giving Jerks Power!
How to Create a Disengaged Employee in 4 Easy Steps!
How I Stopped Sucking at Networking – using Twitter.

Need a little more inspiration? Get Pam’s eBook: How Social Media is Changing Business… and what to do about it. It’s free for email subscribers – and don’t worry, we promise not to spam your inbox!


  1. J. Richmond
    December 11, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I have shopped at a Home Hardware for 30 hrs. in Mississauga and this has always been my experience here too. I love Home Hardware and prefer them over big box stores. Always friendly helpful service and greeted with a smile no matter how large or small the purchase.

    Reply »
    • Michelle Kuss (Author)
      December 11, 2014 at 10:46 am

      30 years is a long time! Yes, I hear wonderful things about the chain as a whole. Great you have found friendly & helpful customer service at the Mississauga store!

      Reply »
  2. February 5, 2015 at 7:21 am

    […] Why is this store so happy? Authentic Humanity in the Workplace #reinventwork You’re Wrong About What Engages Employees   […]

    Reply »
  3. March 19, 2015 at 7:19 am

    […] Why is this store SO HAPPY?Recruiting? Watch your red flags, especially with Gen Y How to Participate in a Twitter Chat […]

    Reply »

Leave a Comment

We would be glad to get your feedback. Take a moment to comment and tell us what you think.

Join our community for exclusive access to:

  • Free electronic copy of the Blueprint for Workplace Reinvention
  • Facts, stories and tactics from cutting edge organizations
  • Insider early access to Reinvent Work events

Together we will Make Work Awesome!