How a Solid Company Culture Can Create Career Paths for Retailers
Our Chief Operating Officer, Josiah Gates, was featured in North American Hardware and Paint Association's April, 2023 cover story!
From part-time employee to executive, Gates showcases the true meaning of family-oriented company culture! Below is the full article by Jess Tillman.
Growing up in a small community, Josiah Gates became friends with the staff members at his local Aubuchon Company store in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Every Sunday after church, his family would go to the hardware store to get the items they needed to make repairs on their family farm, allowing Gates to develop relationships with employees and the store manager, Pat Hussey. In 1995, Gates began working for the store shortly after his high school graduation.
"I became friends with the store manager and took a part-time position at the store," Gates says. "I went to Lyndon State College nearby, so I was able to continue working while earning my degree."
As time went on, Gates says he grew comfortable in the store and the community and really enjoyed taking care of customers and working with a great team who were like family, calling the store his second home.
"Right out of college, I was at a crossroad as to whether to continue in the hardware industry or choose an alternative path," Gates says. "I received several offers, and I almost took a position at Orvis as the control buyer. Ultimately, I stayed with Aubuchon because I really enjoyed the hardware industry and the family culture that is still alive today."
Turning down the position at Orvis was a great decision, Gates says. It allowed him to grow into a store manager for the Aubuchon store in Barre, Vermont, where he stayed for 10 years.
During his last four years of being a store manager, Aubuchon was preparing to transition from its third-generation leaders, William E. Aubuchon III, and M. Marcus Moran Jr., to fourth-generation leaders. Bill and Marcus took an interest in Gates as more than a store leader and began to train him on leadership style, communication and internetwork development. In 2012, Gates made the transition from store leader to the Aubuchon corporate office as a member of the executive team. Now, 27 years after starting as a part-time team employee, Gates is Chief Operating Officer of retail for the 115-year-old company.
“Aubuchon invests in its people by recognizing talent and nurturing further development, it becomes worthwhile to invest your time and energy back into the company that has given you so much,” Gates says. The Aubuchon Company added Jillian Montmarquet, Chief People Officer in August 2022 to the company with continued focus on people, culture, and training as we continue to grow in the future.
Working in home improvement retail can mean working long hours and on evenings and weekends, so retailers need to show how it can be a rewarding career, especially for those who love to help others solve their problems and have an eye for detail.
For Gates, sharing stories of how other employees turned their jobs into a career is a great way to show potential employees how they can do the same.
"We have a career tab on our website that shows potential employees the position they are applying for isn’t just a job for us to fill," Gates says. "We say from the start: A job with us can be a career."
Gates says offering a stable, ethical and inclusive workplace is the foundation of a good company culture. For example, Aubuchon offers a grant fund that employees can contribute to or pull from if they are experiencing a rough time.
"We are all about people and do not think of an employee as a number," Gates says. "They are more than that to us; they are family. We treat them like family and work together to advance their careers with us."
In order to help an employee establish a career within the home improvement industry, Gates suggests paying attention to an applicant’s personality and how it aligns with your company culture.
"We look for team members who have a mindset that aligns with our family-like company culture and business strategy," Gates says. "People can forget what you say or do, but they will never forget how you make them feel. Be polite, go the extra mile, and never treat others in a way you wouldn’t want to be treated. That is what we call the Aubuchon Difference and is referenced in our one page strategic plan.”
The way employees interact with and treat one another is another part of the Aubuchon culture, Gates says. This leads to how employees make customers feel when they are in a store or interacting with employees.
The Aubuchon Company makes sure employees are trained through North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) training programs. These training programs—including everything from retail basics to management principles—helps each individual employee be the best they can be.
Gates does more than just put employees through NHPA training programs; he has also taught various courses in NHPA’s Retail Management Certification Program (RMCP). He teaches a class on financial budgeting but also focuses on encouraging each student to go above and beyond what they thought was possible by sharing his real-life retail experiences and journey of growing in the industry.
Showing employees a career path for them in your operation takes time and investment but can pay off in the long run with retention and future hiring. Offering various training programs, even just the basics of merchandising, selling hardline categories and customer service, show employees they matter to the business. If they matter, then they are more likely to invest in the operation.