Wednesday, September 19, 2018Canada's Leading Online Business Magazine

Hart Stores

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Changing with the times

It has become a Canadian institution, and one that CBJ is happy to highlight. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Hart Inc.’s presence in communities from Ontario to Newfoundland.

Past

The story of the Hart retail organization started in 1960, when Harry Hart established a single store in the rural Québec community of Rosémere. Mr. Hart’s vision was to create local stores for smaller and rural communities, so that residents did not have to travel long distances for basic (and non-basic) needs. But the outcome of Mr. Hart’s vision was even bigger than doing just that—which he did. In many communities, the Hart Store is the economic engine that provides vital jobs and resources on which the community sustains itself. In that respect, Hart Store is a Canadian superstore!

The year 1995 saw Harry step down from his position and hand the leadership to Michael Hart. The business had established firm roots into the Atlantic Canada market by this point and had grown to include 64 stores. In recent years, the company has continued an aggressive and on-going expansion plan with an emphasis on forging further into the Ontario market, opening locations in Arnprior, Parry Sound, Kapuskasing, Port Colburne, North Bay, Simcoe, the Sault and Hamilton. The Hart Stores roster reads like a Stompin’ Tom Connors song: “They’ve been everywhere.”

Present

The store’s anniversary slogan sums up the Hart Store story. “An amazing history and an exciting future,” and everyone in the Hart employee family is getting involved.

“We are currently celebrating our 50 years of business,” beams Michael Hart.  “We are celebrating our gradual progression into a full-size promotional department store. We have stores ranging in 30,000-40,000 square feet, carrying a wide assortment of merchandise, fashion, footwear, house ware, gift ware, seasonal, linens and home improvements—the products that today’s consumers are looking for when considering their lifestyle.”

“At the same time,” continues Hart, “ We have taken the company from locations in mostly Québec and have now focused in other market in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and, in particular, Newfoundland.”

Hart will be celebrating an anniversary of his own this year. It will be his 30th year with the company. “When I joined the company, we had seven stores,” he explains. “My vision was to grow and develop new and exciting products and to grow our customer base by entering and serving more markets. To grow in this, business you have to grow strategically. We always walked before we ran, and took calculated risks.” The hard work has paid off. Currently there are 90 Hart Stores in operation across these regions. It’s an exciting time to reflect on the successes of the past and prepare the company for the next five decades.

To stay in business for as long as Hart Stores have, you must be able to predict and respond to changes in lifestyles and the economy, something the Hart’s have been good at.

“We must be extremely focused, especially during these rough economic times. We are looking at ways to be more creative to move into the future,” says Hart. The chain has adapted to the consumer of 2010, who Hart believes is “paying more attention to how they spend their dollars. Consumers are more educated and more concerned about how much and what they buy. That is where we are taking the time and energy to look at ways to be more creative and innovative to focus on ways to give product, prices and good value, where they will be enticed to shop in our stores.”

Future

Internally, Hart Inc. is making moves to modernise the business. By 2012, Hart plans to open its 100th store, and will be implementing multiple upgrades to the management system across the board. State-of-the-art Point of Sale systems are to be implemented in every store to better control and coordinate sales among and between stores and regions. These new systems will also give head office the ability to react in real time to the demands of the different markets the company serves.

“This is a major advancement for the company,” says Hart. “It is a two-year project that we will roll out next year. It will require major training and some fundamental changes in how we run our business for the purpose of becoming more professional in our field. Retail is always changing, and it changes now faster than ever before.” Despite the change, Hart Stores will still never veer from the Hart Stores tradition. “Our real focus is changing, but we will only change to make an improvement,” says Hart.

Hart Stores will be bringing its anniversary celebrations into all of the communities it serves. Festivities and promotions will be brought to locations. There are contests planned, with local winners and one $5,000 grand prize. A promotional mascot (Hartley the Bear) will be sold—for every bear sold, five dollars will be donated to a children’s hospital in the area.

There is, indeed, much to celebrate for the Hart Inc. who have a long tradition of servicing and at times, upholding the communities in which it operates. It was always Hart’s mantra ‘to give Hart a presence in smaller, underserved markets.’

Today, Hart Stores are part of the family. “We have many customers that know us in the community 30 to 40 years. The staff and customers have grown up with us, and I’m proud to say we’ve been in these communities this long,” says Hart. “I am proud to say we change with the times and are here today in a difficult retail environment.” With Hart Store’s approach to its customers and communities, the company should look forward to enjoying 50 more years!

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