Home Hardware Lumber and Building Supply is a cooperative owned by over 1,000 independent small business operators across Canada. Individual stores operate under the following four banners: Home Hardware, Home Hardware Building Centre, Home Building Centre and Home Furniture.
As part of their annual convention for 250 Building Centre owners, the parent company had been doing several well-loved teambuilding activities such as beach volleyball, build-a-raft etc. It was time, however, to add another layer to the programming, something that would compliment and reinforce Home Hardware’s corporate values.
Meridican team members, Brett and Murray, suggested a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) component. Having worked with Home Hardware for 16 years, the Meridican team knew that giving back was strongly aligned with the company culture; Home Hardware has long supported Sick Kids Hospital, the Special Olympics and Tree Canada. In addition, Brett and Murray identified an opportunity to leverage Home Hardware’s expertise (building and supplies) to benefit the ongoing global need for new schools. Lastly, as one of Canada’s pioneers in CSR programming, Meridican had the experience needed to manage the complexities of a program like this.
Brett and Murray proposed a school building component for the next convention, which was going to be held in Mexico. Home Hardware responded with a unanimous “yes!”
Finding a school was not the problem. Rather, the biggest hurdle for the Meridican team was the logistics. Where would the money come from to pay for the materials? How would they find a skilled general contractor in Mexico? Much of the work needed to be done ahead of time, except for final touches like painting, tiling, installing washroom fixtures, all of which would be handled by the Home Hardware group. How would Brett and Murray keep the project on target (budget and time-wise) while they themselves were based in Canada? And then there were the language and cultural barriers to consider, plus Mexican building codes and permits.
Beginning one year out, Brett and Murray started strategizing, researching and tapping into their extensive supplier network.
Here’s what followed:
Funding—Home Hardware’s convention sponsors and vendors, who were made up of building material manufacturers and distributors, offered to foot the bill for the building of a new school.
Local Manpower—Working closely with their Mexican supplier partners, Meridican found and hired skilled workers.
Canadian/Mexican Liaison—To bridge the cultural and language barrier, Meridican also hired a Toronto-based Spanish-speaking general contractor, who flew to Mexico to work along side the local general contractor.
Regular Site Inspections—Murray and Brett made several trips to the build sites to ensure they were being executed according to plan. Most pressing was the timing: the project had to be at just the right stage (all but done) for Home Hardware’s arrival.
Since 2006, Home Hardware has renovated and rebuilt five schools across Mexico: Playa del Carmen, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta (twice) and Cancun. Close to US$500,000 in products and materials have been donated, along with over 4000 physical work hours.
The Home Hardware team expanded a two-room school into four. On another trip, they transformed a one-room clapboard schoolhouse into a cheery white stucco building with cherry and sunshine coloured doors. An indoor washroom with flush toilets replaced the school’s twin concrete outhouses, which were strung with shower curtains for privacy. The team worked rocky, barren playgrounds into smooth emerald soccer fields, and built a jungle gym complete with slides and swings.
On the last day of each build the school children arrived, dancing, singing and handing out homemade cards. Inevitably, tears of joy would accompany the merriment. The emotional impact flooded through all levels, from the CEO to the students, from the business owners to the teachers and the sponsors— it was a shared experience that tore down barriers while building forever feel-good memories, and solidifying business ties.