Partnering with local hardware stores pays off in Lake County, Illinois

When the Fuller Center for Housing Hero Project of Lake County, Illinois, played host to the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure this past weekend, it marked a few firsts.

It was the Bicycle Adventure’s first visit to Lake County, and Saturday marked the Adventure’s first work day there. The house they worked on is the first of 30 the local Fuller Center plans to rehab over the next three years in partnership with Christ Church of Lake Forest. And Lake County became the first Fuller Center covenant partner to put a new grant program from the North American Retail Hardware Association into action.

The NRHA — whose president, Bill Lee, is on The Fuller Center for Housing’s international board of directors — recently created the Save a House/Make a Home fund and immediately made funds available for Fuller Center covenant partners to draw from for Greater Blessing repairs and larger rehab projects. Covenant partners who raise $1,000 can have that total doubled with the NRHA’s matching grant provided that the money is spent at local hardware retailers that the NRHA represents.

For many Fuller Center covenant partners, this offers a gateway to an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship with independently owned hardware retailers in their communities. For Hero Project Director Yvette Ewing, it was an opportunity to strengthen relationships she had already forged with such stores.

“We’d already met with some of the local hardware stores in anticipation that we could partner in some way,” said Ewing, who put the first NRHA matching grant to use at local Ace Hardware and Crafty Beaver Do It Best stores. “They love the idea that it’s local families, and it’s in their footprint and a chance for them to really expand their market base.”

Deborah Laskowski-Meyer is vice-president of a family-owned group of eight Ace Hardware stores in Lake County, Illinois. She said the grass-roots nature of The Fuller Center makes it a perfect partner for NRHA-affiliated retailers nationwide.

“I totally get why (Millard Fuller) wanted to get back to the grass-roots side of things because that’s Ace — we’re locally owned and live in the communities in which we serve,” she said. “It’s a nice fit all the way around. I can see why NRHA wants to partner with this organization for that reason and, in turn, encourage all their members to do the same because it makes perfect sense.”

That’s something Fuller Center President David Snell pointed out in this month’s issue of Hardware Retailing magazine, a publication distributed to more than 35,000 independent retailers in the United States and Canada.

“The Fuller Center is a natural partner for independent retailers,” he told the magazine. (Click here to read Hardware Retailing’s entire Q&A with President Snell.) “We are a collaboration of locally run nonprofits, which we call Covenant Partners. They raise their own funds, select the beneficiaries and build or renovate houses, which are sold to families in need on terms they can afford, over time and with no interest charged or profit made.

“Those funds then stay in the communities to help build and renovate more houses,” he added. “We feel this model works because the beneficiary becomes part of the processes — it isn’t a handout, so self-respect is retained, and those in need, by their house payments, become donors in their own rights. This is a philosophy that’s very much in tune with that of independent retailers, who know the value of hard work. We share the mantle of ‘locally owned and operated’ and the philosophy of self-reliance.”

“It has a lot to do with that,” Laskowski-Meyer said of the local focus. “I didn’t hear about The Fuller Center until Bill Lee, the President of the North American Retail Hardware Association, asked if we would have a meeting with Yvette. We did that and got excited about the possibilities. Since we have eight stores in Lake County, it felt good to have someone local trying to make a difference. The fact that we’re a member of the North American Retail Hardware Association and they’re backing this organization, that’s a big plus on our side.”

Click here to learn more about the NRHA Save a House/Make a Home grant program.

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