| Nov 03, 2011

Photo: Tracy and Sandi Hook of Hook's Rona Store in Northbrook

Interviewing Tracy and Sandi Hook on the occasion of their Hook's Rona Store winning a national retail award of significant magnitude was not easy to do.

Instead of being ushered into their private offices, as befits the winners of the “Outstanding Hardware Store (any size)” Award at the 20th Outstanding Hardware Retailers Awards, which were presented last week at the Sheraton Toronto Airport Hotel, I found Tracy and Sandi working with other staff at the front counter. We climbed down to the basement where we stood by a counter with a coffee machine and a blue screen computer terminal in the basement/loading zone/storage centre of Hook's Rona – the store’s nominal office, which is shared by four people.

As we talked about the last six years, ever since Hook's expanded and became Hook's Rona, the phone and intercom kept ringing, asking Sandi or Tracy where things were, what a price was, or when a service call was scheduled.

Hook's Rona is a hands-on operation.

Last year the Outstanding Hardware Store category was won by Gow's Home Hardware of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, a 34,000 square foot family-owned store that is itself dwarfed by a 90,000 square foot Walmart and Mark's Work Wearhouse store in the same town.

At 3,200 square feet of retail space, Hook's Rona is a different type of operation. It is a rural store located in cottage country, for one thing, and it also offers a unique tie-in between retail and in-home service.

“We first heard about this award when we were informed that we had been short-listed with two other Rona stores to be the Rona nominee. The things that Rona told us they were looking at were our customer service, expanded product lines, financial performance - a lot of different things,” said Tracy Hook. “We were pretty happy when we found out we had been chosen by Rona. We never thought about winning the nation-wide competition.”

It is a sign of the commitment that Tracy and Sandi Hook have made to their business that after they jumped in the car last Thursday afternoon to go to the award presentation in Toronto, when the ceremony was over they drove back home, not even staying overnight.

“It was a long way to go for a meal,” said Sandi, “but we really had to get back for work the next morning.”

Part of what distinguishes Hook's Rona from all of the hardware stores across Canada, of all sizes, comes from the history of the business.

Richard (Dick) Hook, Tracy's father, started a plumbing, heating and electrical business in 1970, and Tracy and Sandi took over the business in 1982. It was only in 1990, with a strong background in residential and commercial installations and maintenance, that the Hooks opened up a retail location out of the basement of their home.

They subsequently opened Hook's Home Improvement as a separate building with 2,000 square feet of retail space and 4400 square feet of warehouse and contractor sales space.

Then, in 2004, they took a leap of faith and signed on as a RONA franchisee, all the while keeping their contracting business going full tilt.

“It was a good decision,” said Tracy, “from the start our sales increased; our ability to source products increased; and we have kept building the business.”

The store was expanded to its current size in 2005, and more improvements have followed and are planned for 2012. Sandi and Tracy's daughter Erin now works with them on kitchen designs. Older daughters Stacie and Ellen are working part time in the store and son-in-law Brian Snider has joined the team along with Ken, Elizabeth, Lacey, Angie and Cathy.

“It has really helped us to be affiliated with a larger company like Rona. A lot of our customers are seasonal and even locals travel to larger centres. They can go into one of the larger Rona stores and look at all the product lines that are available there, and phone or email us. We order it and deliver for them. The large stores are a good showroom for us, and we don't have to pay the maintenance,” said Tracy Hook.

Hook's Rona will be featured in an upcoming issue of Hardware Merchandising magazine. In 2007 the business won the Land O'Lakes Vision award for Addington Highlands, and it has been nominated for one of the Lennox and Addington Economic Development awards (which are being handed out on November 17) in the Small Firm of the Year category.



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