Canadian Contractor

Steve Payne   

Walter Hachborn remembered as Canada’s home improvement icon

Canadian Contractor

As the co-founder of Home Hardware, Hachborn was a towering force in our industry for more than 60 years

Home Hardware founder Walter Hachborn died Dec. 17 at the age of 95.

Recognized as a visionary in the Canadian home improvement retail industry, Hachborn was responsible for the growth of the dealer-owned chain from its beginnings in the 1960s to the approximately 1,100-store network it enjoys today.

Born in Conestogo, Ontario, in 1921 Hachborn began his hardware career in 1938 as a 16-year-old stockboy at a small hardware store, Hollinger Hardware, in St. Jacobs, Ontario. His first job was simply sweeping the floors.

Later, under Hachborn’s guidance, this Mennonite-cultured small town an hour west of Toronto would become the headquarters and distribution centre for the vast Home Hardware operation. After merging with Western Canada’s Link Hardware in 1981, Home Hardware steadily grew into a multi-billion dollar (today, almost $6-billion) hardware co-op that was and is uniquely Canadian – from its red-jacketed dealers to its folksy, small-town flavoured TV commercials.


Home Hardware’s business model allowed independent dealers to fend off – with personal service by its individual store owners – wave after wave of American corporate chains from the 1960s to more recent times.

In the 1990s when the arrival of US-owned big box chains like Home Depot (and later in the 2000s, Lowe’s) threatened to wipe Canadian-owned dealers off the map, Home Hardware endured – even thrived. Long-time Hachborn lieutenant Paul Straus assumed the day-to-day business operations when Hachborn semi-retired in 1989, yet Hachborn remained the company’s “President Emeritus” (a founding father figurehead who continued to attend Home Hardware dealer gatherings) until the present day. A new CEO, Terry Davis, succeeded Straus in 2014. All have continued the small-town-style ethical competitiveness that Hachborn instilled.

Hachborn’s hardware career began at a time when hardware stores kept most of their goods in drawers (pre-war) and extended into our modern era of technology and sophisticated marketing techniques.

It took Hachborn almost 30 years to hatch the idea for a Canadian hardware co-op much like the ones that Ace Hardware and True Value had developed south of the border.

When it was reported that a thousand independent hardware stores had gone broke in Canada in the 1950s – devastated by the rise of corporate chains and discounters – Hachborn hammered out the idea for a dealer-owned distributor  with business partners Henry Sittler and Arthur Zilliax, a lawyer.

In 1964 the trio invited other independent dealers to The Flying Dutchman Hotel in Kitchener, where the idea for joining forces was floated, and after many further meetings, almost all of those dealers signed up. (In essence, the dealers bought out, as a co-op, Hollinger Hardware, which Hachborn and his partners had purchased in 1950 and were in the process of developing as a significant regional wholesaler as well as a store.)

From an original 122 dealers, the network grew to more than a thousand locations by 2000.

Home Hardware expanded boldly by buying Beaver Lumber in 2000. This helped make Home Building Centres (and Home Hardware Building Centres) one of the most powerful suppliers of building materials to contractors in the country – while simultaneously maintaining its local hardware offerings under the Home Hardware brand.

A key part of the co-op’s development was the launch of their own self-manufactured paint brand: BeautiTone. Home Furniture was among the many other sub-brands that Hachborn developed.

Hachborn was a highly visible icon at trade shows in the Canadian hardware and building supply industries for six decades. A man of small and trim stature with a huge personality, Hachborn always wore a trademark bow tie (he once said that that was the only kind of tie a proper hardware store operator should wear – regular ties would get covered in dirt too quickly). Revered among the dealers, the man was equal parts entrepreneur, business ethics preacher and community leader.

In addition to numerous business and community awards, Hachborn was awarded the Order of Canada. The sister magazine of Canadian Contractor, Hardware Merchandising, named Hachborn as its ‘Retailer of the Century’ and featured him on its cover in 1999.

Even into his golden years, freed from the day-to-day affairs of Home Hardware, Hachborn didn’t seem to slow down – even into his late 80s. For many years, and even recently, he was involved in construction operations in the Cayman Islands. However, he would continue to return for Home Hardware functions and maintained his residence in St. Jacobs.

Hachborn was predeceased by his wife Jean in 2014. He is survived by his children Susan Heard, Elizabeth Hachborn and Bill Hachborn.

For coverage of the memorial service held for Hachborn in St. Jacobs yesterday, please see this report from CTV Kitchener.



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