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Busy Beaver

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Busy Beaver’s CEO has led a successful turnaround for the retailer.

At a time when many competitors are closing their doors, Busy Beaver is going the opposite direction, CEO Joe Kallen says. “We’ve been able to remodel and expand our stores, develop our staff and provide opportunities,” he says.

Kallen credits this to the work of the company’s employees, who have rallied behind Busy Beaver’s culture and mission. “We have an energetic group of people who truly believe in what we’re doing,” he says.

Based in Pittsburgh, the home improvement retailer operates 24 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia that sell high-quality tools, materials and supplies. Kallen explains that the company started operations in 1962 with three lumber yards in Clairton, Verona and Carnegie, Pa.

In 1975, Busy Beaver opened its first home improvement center in Pittsburgh and was a chain of 14 stores when Kallen bought the company in 2013. A veteran of the franchising industry, Kallen saw an opportunity to perform a needed turnaround.

At the time, “Busy Beaver was stagnant,” he recalls, adding that the firm needed brand recognition outside of western Pennsylvania. “They really didn’t have a 10-year or even a five-year plan.”

Making Changes
Busy Beaver has enjoyed strong growth under Kallen’s leadership. Over the last six years, the company has opened eight stores and acquired two more locations. In addition, “We’ve remodeled 10 of our 14 [original] stores,” he reports.

The renovations, Kallen notes, have been conducted on a store-by-store basis, and have included changes to building systems and parking lots, as well as the addition of new signage and counters. “We’re looking at everything that could be replaced in the stores,” he says. “Some have gone under more extensive remodels, depending on their age.”

Kallen also implemented a long-term plan for the company that not only includes the renovations, but also expansion into new markets. Previously, “A lot of things were done off the cuff,” he admits.

The company has made changes to its staff as well. “From a cultural perspective, and we have brought in some wonderful people,” he says.

Through implementation of the Epicor Eagle enterprise system, Busy Beaver redeveloped its entire IT infrastructure, which extends from its back-end accounting to its front-end point-of-sale systems. This has made the company “far more efficient than we used to be,” Kallen says. “The system provides a lot of algorithms that make the decisions to assure that we have the right products at the right time for the consumer.”

In addition, Busy Beaver has developed and implemented its own corporate-wide onboarding/training system. Five years ago, each store trained employees in its own way. In order to provide the highest level of customer service, the company feels it is imperative to have uniformity across all its stores.

In Alignment
Busy Beaver has encountered obstacles during the turnaround process, including communication difficulties between some departments. “Our challenge is making sure everyone is singing from the same choir book,” Kallen says.

Although it may be easy to align everyone in a middle management team, it can become more fragmented “when you get down to the stores,” he admits. “We’ve made a lot of progress to improve that and there’s still a ways to go.”

But Kallen praises the work of his team at Busy Beaver. “They’re excited about the opportunity to turn around what is truly the forgotten brand,” he says.

Vice President of Administration and Chief Financial Officer Nick DeMao praises the work of Kallen, as well. “I’ve been here a long time, and what Joe brought was an energy that got the company more forward-thinking and energized,” he says.

A Special Place
Today, Busy Beaver caters largely to the blue-collar do-it-yourselfers market. “We are 95 percent DIY driven,” Kallen says, noting that it often drives customers through its stores with ads that feature competitive prices.

“We also do a lot of local store marketing where we are the sponsor of teams,” he says, adding that the company also works with local community organizations, including chambers of commerce. “We tend to do a really good job working with the local community.”

The firm has boosted its social media presence through the work of Marketing Coordinator Amanda Nestor. Before she came to Busy Beaver, the retailer had around 4,000 Facebook followers. “Now it’s over 11,000,” she reports, noting that the company also has Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram accounts. Busy Beaver plans to continue to grow its social media presence, as it builds towards a national chain of 1,000 stores.

However, the company does not want to lose its employee-driven culture as it expands. “We have done a great job going from 220 people to 550 people,” Kallen says, noting that employees are known by their names at the company and not as numbers. “[It is] a special thing to create such a tight-knit culture.”