84 Lumber, Nemacolin founder Joe Hardy stays curious, engaged and always puts people first

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Joseph “Joe” Hardy, founder of 84 Lumber and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, isn’t a fan of slowing down.

Even though he turned the reins of the day-to-day operations over to his daughter in the 1990s, the 91-year-old businessman spends hours calling 84 Lumber locations.

“Each day, I call at least 50 84 Lumbers. I call them up; tell them how they’re doing,” Hardy says. “It is very much grass roots. It’s not too much sophistication. People are everything.

“I’ll say ‘How are you doing, Ralph? Boy, that was a hell of a day you had yesterday. You better watch yourself, you’re going to hit the super quota this month.’”

Hardy says he likes to travel, but even if he is on a boat in the Mediterranean, or anywhere else in the world, he still calls 50 stores.

“You need to have total interest in your people,” he says. “Recognize accomplishments and give them a pat on the back with specifics. It’s not phony or anything.”

Hardy’s interest and focus is what made him successful in the first place, creating two multimillion-dollar companies from a $5,000 initial investment.

 

Staying engaged

Curiosity and an ability to look beyond the accepted norm is what set Hardy on the road to business success when he seized an opportunity in the 1950s.

After serving in World War II, Hardy returned to Pittsburgh to finish his college education. He also worked in his grandfather’s jewelry store, Hardy & Hayes, outselling all of the other salesmen.

His aggressive style rubbed some the wrong way, so Hardy left the family business to start selling building materials through Green Hills Lumber.

Hardy noticed something strange during his four years there — customers were asked if they were do-it-yourselfers, remodelers, builders, etc., and then quoted different prices based on the answer.

“And I thought, ‘Hey, this is crazy. Why is that happening — the discrimination here?’” he says.
Hardy set out to change that model with 84 Lumber, located in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania.

He and his two brothers only had enough money in credit to build a store, leaving no funds for inventory.

So Hardy had a friend purchase the building from him and then leased it back. The contract specifically stated that 84 Lumber could buy the real estate back in 20 years for a set price, after everything was fully depreciated.

This successful formula was multiplied over hundreds of stores as 84 Lumber grew into a chain. It also was helpful during the recent recession because the company owned its stores outright without mortgages.

But again it was Hardy’s curiosity that led him down the right path.

“When I worked at Hardy & Hayes, I snuck in and saw their books,” he says. “I found out that the Oliver estate that owned the Hardy & Hayes building made more than my grandfather did in the jewelry business.

“So, I thought, ‘Whatever I end up doing — I don’t know what — I’m going to have control over the real estate.’”
Hardy says that success starts with curiosity about seeing another method or way of doing something.

“The reason I travel is I go to steal something,” he says. “I go there to steal an idea, a method.”