(Editor's note: This story is drawn from a Nov. 16 BUSINESS JOURNAL conference
that focused on how Friedman's Home Improvement positioned itself to successfully
compete with national retailers. The conference included Friedman's President
Bill Friedman; Friedman's CFO David Proctor; Jim Andersen, Friedman's board
member and partner at Andersen & Co. CPAs; Richard Abbey of the law firm
of Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery; and Barrie Graham, chief executive
officer of Exchange Bank, all Santa Rosa companies.)
NORTH BAY ? If you've lived in the North Bay long, you probably still call
it Friedman Bros. Hardware. But the independent, family-owned Friedman's
Home Improvement, as it has been renamed, has survived increasing competition
from big box hardware stores by refusing to live in the past.
Instead, the company, poised to make its fourth generational transfer when
son Barry Friedman someday takes over from current President Bill Friedman,
has transformed from the inside out, adopting proven business practices of
larger corporations while maintaining the heart of the Friedman family's
first hardware store back in 1946.
Bill Friedman's father and uncle Benny and the late Joe Friedman opened the
first Friedman Bros. in Petaluma in 1946 and were "committed to hard work,
always treating the customer with respect and doing business ethically,"
values their successors have long sought to maintain.
The original Santa Rosa store opened in 1970 and grew to become the largest
single hardware store in the country when it was expanded to 100,000 square
feet in the days before Home Depot and Lowe's reached national dominance.
Friedman Bros. was passed onto now president and CEO Bill Friedman and his
uncle Harry Friedman in the 1980s. Bill bought out Harry's shares in the
company in 1999 ? transfer number three ? after opening the second and third
Friedman Bros. stores in Sonoma and Ukiah.
When Bill Friedman took over as sole owner, it became apparent that Friedman's
had outgrown its existing business practices ? there was inconsistency among
the three stores, employees weren't clear on procedures and some management
changes needed to be made.
But Bill Friedman felt there was one thing missing that was most important.
"It became apparent to me that we needed to rebuild the company from the
inside out, but first we needed to put heart back in the company," Mr. Friedman
said. "Without heart, our company would not survive."
For the last seven years, Friedman's has embarked on a broad overhaul that
has led to a new brand identity, store renovations, focused employee training,
management changes, new comprehensive operating procedures and a host of
The company believes the changes will allow it to continue to compete with
the larger chains surrounding the homegrown store, even though another independently
owned hardware store sold to a national chain this year.
Home Depot purchased Yardbirds, the Petaluma-born hardware store with 10
locations, last year after 30 years of independent ownership. Home Depot
already has locations less than two miles south of Friedman's Santa Rosa
location and 10 miles north in Windsor.
With Yardbirds' purchase, the nation's largest retailer could have four more
stores potentially surrounding Friedman's. The nation's second-largest hardware
retailer, Lowe's Home Improvement, has a location 3.5 miles to the south
of Friedman's in Cotati and has proposed another store a couple miles north.
Friedman's said competition is inevitable, and what it has to do is use its
small size to its advantage.
"We wanted to be a smaller PT boat among larger aircraft carriers," Bill
Friedman said. "We wanted to make smart, quick moves around our competition."
The jumping off point
In 1999, Bill Friedman assembled the executive team that would bring the
company to its next level.
Included were Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing Tony Corsburg,
who has 30 years with the company; Vice President of Contractor Sales Bobby
Senften, a 37-year Friedman's veteran; and Vice President and Chief Financial
Officer David Proctor, who has directed accounting for the past 21 years.
As a jumping off point, Friedman's solicited market research in 2000 that
helped it define its customer, improve product selection and discover its
"We received that information which not only told us how the market viewed
us, but how they viewed us measured against our national competition," Mr.
With the market research results, the company was able to define its core
values, including respecting the customer, the employees and the vendors.
Friedman's knew it had to compete on price with the larger big box retailers