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  • Small Business Success Story

    Published on Sunday, June 10, 2012

    In My Own Backyard:

    Small businesses are often cited as the backbone of communities, providing local jobs, supporting local events, and integrating themselves into the fabric of people’s lives. They also have their share of struggles as many small businesses are family owned with limited resources and access to capital. Many of us shop at community-based stores and a growing ‘shop local’ movement has raised the profile of many of these businesses.

    One small business success story, Cole Hardware, exists in my own backyard in San Francisco. Founder Dave Karp was profiled today in the San Francisco Chronicle as part of Cole Hardware’s celebration of his 96th birthday. Dave and his son Rick, (now President) often have wise advice to offer small business owners just starting out, and those who’d like to see their business become as successful as this one. Both of them are trustworthy leaders who communicate the honor of leadership through their business operations.

    Cole Hardware was founded in 1961 and one of the first things Dave Karp did was put a sign up on the cash register that said, “There are no strangers here, only friends we haven’t met.” The sign was prompted by Dave Karp’s early lessons in leadership – lessons about what not to do. He took those early negative experiences and turned them around once he had the chance to make his own choices.

    Dave Karp’s decisiveness about how he wanted to run his business, represented in this initial act to insure that all customers felt welcomed, was likely a significant starting point for the company’s long-term success. Small actions like this define the leadership stance that one will follow. In this case Dave Karp’s leadership stance started his process of becoming a trustworthy leader, bringing with it all the benefits that come to people who are trustworthy.

    Cole Hardware has four stores in San Francisco. They are always bustling with customers. Employees are involved in community events, and the stores themselves run rebate and donation programs to help schools and other non-profit groups. Employees are regularly featured in company newsletters and promotional materials and are sought out by customers with all kinds of questions about how to fix something, create something or solve a dilemma. They are trusted.

    They’ve had their bumps, like any business, yet have gone forward – moving through the uncertainty of business life with an eye clearly on the greater good – seeking to run a successful community based business that provides great service and brings out the best in people.

    The contributions that Cole Hardware has made to the neighborhoods where its stores are located and to the San Francisco community are tremendous. Besides steady employment, support for community events, environmental education programs and lots of support for non-profits, they are a wonderful small business success story. Facing all the ups and downs of business life, Dave and Rick Karp go forward, leading from their trustworthy stance, and insuring that people go with them and enjoy the benefits of what they have all created.

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