Crowning Connections: Grab the Opportunity with Hewitt Harned

Live from the Myrtle Beach Home Show, Rob Clemons interviews Hewitt Harned, Owner of AAA Blind & Shutter Factory. Hewitt discusses taking the opportunity to purchase the business in 2011 and tripling its growth strategically. Opening your own business is not for the faint of heart, but a great way to give back to the community. Listen in!

Podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1829238/10625906
YouTube: https://youtu.be/XHbFGnmezOM

Rob Clemons
Welcome to Crowning Connections with Rob Clemons. We’re still at the Home Show here. And I’ve got the pleasure of meeting with Hewitt from triple A Blind and Shutter Factory. Hewitt, welcome.

Hewitt Harned
Thank you. It’s good to be here. I appreciate the invitation.

Rob Clemons
Absolutely. How’s the show going for you so far?

Hewitt Harned
This show is great. years ago, we’ve come to it well, several years. And this crowd is the best we’ve seen in several years.

Rob Clemons
And it’s like, people are coming back. And we’re officially all the way back from COVID. Now, I’m gonna tell you, I’m like you. I’ve been coming to these things for years. And we’ve been through the periods where it was not quite as busy. But it was about like this. And then COVID Hit did its thing. And but I think people were really shocked again.

Hewitt Harned
Well, we watched I was right across from your booth last September, I think. Yeah. And there were a lot of twiddling thumbs, a lot of thumb. So there just weren’t people here.

Rob Clemons
Absolutely. And of course, I bring 25 people to man my booth at every show. So people say, Well, you’re having fun. We’re having fun. Hey, we got to have some fun with this always well, well, look, I appreciate you being here. Tell me a little bit about you know, what got you into this business?

Hewitt Harned
Well, I purchased the company in 2011. The reason I did that was I was in a really kind of related business on the south end, it was related to homebuilding. And in 2006, we had our best year ever in 2010, we’re out of business. And because the banks just came in and called our line of credit and just said, you’re done. And I couldn’t finance it. So we just closed the doors. And that company had been open 24 years at the time. So a lot of people lost their job. And that was the great recession. Yeah, absolutely. What I noticed about this company, was that sales were down like 20%, while everybody else was falling like flies. There was some resiliency there that caught my attention. And I said, well, that’s kind of business I want to be in that’s, that is resilient. Yeah. And it was just good timing. It’s just really good timing. And I enjoy it. I really do.

Rob Clemons
So you looked at triple A blind and shutter and this for you. This was like more of a you went out. You saw what the market needed. You saw an opportunity. You bought the company from there, right? All right. Got you. What did the company look like then versus today? I’m sure you kind of put your own mark on it. And things. I mean, have you? Did you change anything or keep building the culture? What?

Hewitt Harned
I’m not going to diss who owned it. Before that? I’d like to say I did have made some good changes, like the office personnel were part time they they never worked on the same day. So how do you get some done when your office personnel was never there at the same time? Gosh, yeah. So it was a smaller companies about a third size it was now it is now so I’ve tripled the size over my tenure. And that it’s been in business since it’s been open since 1996. Okay, so I purchased it in 2011.

Rob Clemons
Now, tell me, let’s go back to we have a lot of business owners, people who listen to the show. How do you go about triple on a business? I mean, what did you do that made that that that difference? I mean, was it just natural growth of the business? Or did you do something new with marketing?

Hewitt Harned
Well, there are a couple of ways to go about business, you can go like, I’m sure your owners have done and gone big with a lot of employees. On my end, when I had a failure, when I got this opportunity, I decided I was not going to fail again. So I worked as hard as I could to make sure that didn’t happen. So I was not going to over leverage myself again, because I did it once. And I learned from that. Because if it’s not happened to you, it’s very difficult to when you’ve got a business Slow Down you go, this is just a temporary slowdown. But if it’s gone one day, and it never comes back, that it’s like happy that depression maybe you just never forget that. Okay, so that just worked too hard, actually.

Rob Clemons
Yeah, yeah, no. Well, I was gonna say, you know, one of the things is that when you talk about business 2007 2008 The market really hit a lot of people at this home show today probably remember that, you know, it wasn’t that long ago, realistically. And I think it adjusted the way a lot of people did business, right, you know, because beforehand, you’re out here you’re spending money like crazy, investing in everything. And then it was the companies that were so deep in that that really a lot of great businesses did go under at that point. It was just nothing like we’ve seen.

Hewitt Harned
All the builders did.

Rob Clemons
Absolutely.

Hewitt Harned
Whether they were building 20 homes or one home.

Rob Clemons
Well, absolutely.

Hewitt Harned
Financing just disappeared.

Rob Clemons
Well, you remember at Grand Dunes.

Hewitt Harned
I was in there all the time.

Rob Clemons
You were in Grand Dunes. So Grand Dunes had this thing that happened and anybody who’s been in this business probably remembers these people are basically pre purchasing million dollar homes, and they’re putting down deposit. So you know, let’s say $20,000 – $50,000. And at the time of that depression, I remember all of a sudden, you know, these million dollar homes We’re turning the $500,000 homes. These people would rather walk away with from the deposit.

Hewitt Harned
They did.

Rob Clemons
Then to be stuck with it. And a lot of good builders went under with that. So what did that teach you about business? You know, as far as seeing that happen.

Hewitt Harned
It was eye opening. It was eye opening that banks can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like a necessary evil. And it exposed me to a lot of aspects of business that I was not accompanied, not not not familiar with. It was just an eye opening experience for me. I don’t have changed a lot of things. It’s the whole list of the way I ran a business. And I’ve been in business for myself since I was 22 in various industries, and never experienced anything like that.

Rob Clemons
While I was I was gonna say being a business owner for life. How do you stay in tune with your employees? And here’s what I mean by that. A lot of people, you know, maybe you were an employee for a long time you decide to buy your own business, you kind of know what it feels like to be the worker bee. You as an owner, you’ve been a proprietor so long and I always feel like there’s a disconnect between employees and owners. From this one reason, the owner knows the true pressure, that every single customer that you have, is ultimately going to be your boss. Right? As the owner every time you go on vacation, you know, there’s a stress to it.

Hewitt Harned
Vacation, what is that? I have no idea. No idea. Not familiar with it.

Rob Clemons
When you go on your three hour vacation.

Hewitt Harned
Lunch break?

Rob Clemons
Lunch break, somewhere around there, and even then you’re sitting there thinking, Oh, my gosh, I hope Mr. Jones, okay, Mrs. Johnson’s, okay. That’s something that typical employee can’t, can’t understand perfectly. But then again, maybe the owners have a hard time understand for the employees that it’s hard for them to totally embrace the business like you do, because it’s harder to internalize. How do you connect that disconnect? Is it through team building? Your leadership? I mean, how do you get get to that point?

Hewitt Harned
I’ll back up real quick and say that you don’t have to be crazy to do this. But it helps. To be in business for yourself. We are really close family knit organization with our employees. We’ve got an open door policy all the time. When someone’s hired and trained and a position. I tell him, run it like you own it. I don’t micromanage, that doesn’t work. Let people go make them feel important if you want them. And we do.

Rob Clemons
Yeah.

Hewitt Harned
I mean, that’s that comes from the heart. So it depends on I think your personal mindset and how you treat people. And how you treat your employees. And if they feel important, and they are, you get a it’s a great mindset, it’s a great, it’s a great corporate culture.

Rob Clemons
You know, one of the most underrated part of running a good business, in my opinion, as a general manager of a company that, you know, we did around 25 million last year here in Myrtle Beach alone. And the thing is that employee retention is as important as anything we have to do as a business.

Hewitt Harned
Exactly.

Rob Clemons
And it’s like, how do you get to that point? So, but a lot of it comes down to, especially 2022, communication, making people feel a part of the thing. So I can appreciate that, as owner, you had to do that. What tips would you have for people, they are thinking about being business owners? What would you… other than being crazy.

That’s number one.

That’s number one on the list. Now number two… is the financial discipline or something?

Hewitt Harned
Wow, what now, asked me that question again.

Rob Clemons
Right? No, it’s like, what would you tell somebody who’s thinking about I want to be a business owner? What would you tell them that they you think they will want to know?

Hewitt Harned
Well, there, you’ve got to come up with a checklist of what you want to do. Is there a market for it? How are you going to finance it? Take that number and multiply it by three, just to be prepared, because you think you’ve covered all the bases and you really haven’t. There are certain ways to set up a business. Like I don’t agree with partnerships. I think you should incorporate for liability reasons and tax reasons. So there’s, there’s a litany of things that that you need. It’s not just “I love this, I want to do it as a business.” It’s not that easy.

Rob Clemons
Yeah.

Hewitt Harned
I would not recommend that.

Rob Clemons
Yeah, I got you. Well, no, I mean, that’s good to know, from from my perspective, I think that something that a lot of people need to know is just the idea that as a business owner, you have to know that you have to chart a course. You have to have a plan. A lot of these people getting just because they saw an opportunity with the business.

Hewitt Harned
That’s right.

Rob Clemons
They thought, well, I could go make some money, but you really got to care about your customers. And you got to see, there’s a reason I’m doing this. And then you have to plot your course accordingly. Did you get a business loan when you first started or was there anything like that? Or did you just you know, had you build up enough funds to be able to do that?

Hewitt Harned
Well on my first company that was self financed. On my second one that went through a bank. And we talked about to come up with… when we went out of business, I still owed money on that.

Rob Clemons
Yeah.

Hewitt Harned
So imagine making payments on a company that doesn’t exist.

Rob Clemons
Holy cow.

Hewitt Harned
There’s no revenue.

Rob Clemons
That’s a little stressful, right?

Hewitt Harned
Yeah, you don’t sleep well at night?

Rob Clemons
Yeah.

Hewitt Harned
So, in order to avoid that kind of situation, you need to be very careful on how how leveraged, you become. How far extended out you are.

Rob Clemons
Yeah.

Hewitt Harned
On this particular company, I was just very fortunate to land it from within. And that counted. I mean, I’m just lucky.

Rob Clemons
Yeah. I mean, you’ve done a great job with the business. Talking about growing by triple.

Hewitt Harned
I haven’t done what you guys have done. But I’ve decided to stay a little smaller.

Rob Clemons
Well, you know, a lot of people ask, and honestly, that comes down to that business decision you talked about. You know, the owner of Monarch Roofing, you know, I know, he’s always been an enterprising type of person. He decided he wanted to grow the business really fast. And, you know, I think each business has its own opportunities, and you have to look at do I want to make more profit? Or do I want to, you know, grow faster, or whatever may be the course. So I think that’s kind of what we were talking about. Well, being an owner, and I know you were telling me a couple of things earlier, you have any good stories for me about, you know, customer story, or anything that you want to share with us just something fun.

Hewitt Harned
That’s every day. That’s almost every day? Um, you never know who’s gonna walk through the front door. Never judge a book by its cover.

Rob Clemons
Sure.

Hewitt Harned
I’ve dealt with customers that have come through the front door with no makeup on. Who are members of the Springs family of South Carolina? Are you familiar with the Springs?

Rob Clemons
No, I haven’t.

Hewitt Harned
From like Fort Mill.

Rob Clemons
Okay.

Hewitt Harned
They’re build million dollar houses. But you don’t know who you’re dealing with.

Rob Clemons
That’s true.

Hewitt Harned
Just don’t judge a book by its cover. There are all kinds of stories like that, that are fascinating. People who are working for government contracts and how they do that, and different walks of life that you see through retail, is fascinating, really.

Rob Clemons
Absolutely

Hewitt Harned
It’s interesting.

Rob Clemons
Well, you know…

Hewitt Harned
And then their are those that drive you crazy.

Rob Clemons
Well, you know, what you have to have is you have to know, when you’re talking to people who’s gonna be a little higher maintenance and others. And those are one of those little things you have to do but but we love all our customers the same. That’s all I’d say.

Hewitt Harned
We have to have them, don’t we.

Rob Clemons
You do need to make a buck or two in this to make it work.

Hewitt Harned
We aren’t in it for our health.

Rob Clemons
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So well, if you were going to look at your next five years, what do you see in your business? Are you looking at opening new locations or are just continuous improvement?

Hewitt Harned
Well, coming out of the pandemic right now, I don’t know what experience you’re having. But it’s become extremely hard to hire people. Oh, yeah. That, in and of itself keeps us like, we’re treading water. Now we can’t really expand because we do. We install our own product. And I can only install it so fast. Yeah, unless I find more installers and more trucks and that kind of thing. And right now, it’s hard to do. So I don’t know if that’s going to change this year. Next year. We do plan on growing because you have to be going backwards. Absolutely. So that’s the game plan is to grow it but at what pace? I’m not sure yet because we’ve got to be able to staff to do it.

Rob Clemons
What what kind of material supply problems we run into, if any, you know, I know. And the shingle business, I used to say, “Hey, look, I’ve got one of these, you know, five lines of shingles with the six colors.” Now I’m like, “Hey, I got three colors. Which one do you want?” Have you any of that kind of stock?

Hewitt Harned
I tell everybody, I’ll build any color shutter you want as long as it’s white. I just put all the colors down like you just keep it simple.

Rob Clemons
Yeah

Hewitt Harned
We import all of our shutter components from China by the container load. Okay, so logistics have been troublesome. What initially took 10 to 12 weeks to get now takes 28. The freight charge alone went from $7000 to $28,000. Just freight! Not what’s in it.

Rob Clemons
Sure.

Hewitt Harned
And for no reason. Yeah, for no reason. So I know the talking heads on the radio and TV said inflation might be coming back. It’s been here.

Rob Clemons
Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s coming.

Hewitt Harned
We saw it coming from a mile it was already coming back now.

Rob Clemons
It’s coming back with a vengeance. So what do you have any options? I know you’re a business owner. So your chief hobby is probably your shutters. Okay, gotcha.

Hewitt Harned
I tried golf. I didn’t…. the bug didn’t bite. So I like the boat.

Rob Clemons
Boat. Okay. Motorboat or sailboat. What do you do?

Hewitt Harned
Motorboat, often called a stink pot.

Rob Clemons
A stink pot? Okay.

Hewitt Harned
Sailors call them stink pots.

Rob Clemons
Why would it be called a stink pot?

Hewitt Harned
Because it smells like gas.

Rob Clemons
Oh, so so I’ve got people who have introduced me into the sailing world you know? And I gotta tell you that’s hard work.

Hewitt Harned
I’ve ever done ever worked so hard to go so slow and my life.

Rob Clemons
Oh my gosh, and in my case, I’ve never been yelled at so hard on a hobby. Obviously you’re you gotta get the shield!

Hewitt Harned
You’re going slow!

Rob Clemons
If you’re, if you’re doing eight miles an hour on on a boat, on a sailboat, it feels like you’re flying.

Hewitt Harned
It’s exilerating and I’m not knocking sailors. You’re on one side or another.

Rob Clemons
But you give you your stink pot and you’re happy?

Hewitt Harned
That’s all I need.

Rob Clemons
Absolutely. So. What? Where are you from originally?

Hewitt Harned
North Carolina.

Rob Clemons
North Carolina. Okay, gotcha. Charlotte?

Hewitt Harned
Reedsville, just north of Greensboro. Okay, Greensboro, just south of Danville, north of Greensboro.

Rob Clemons
Gotcha. Got you. And are you a longtime are here? Are you gonna be in Myrtle Beach 10 years from now? 13 years from now?

Hewitt Harned
Yes.

Rob Clemons
Well, this is what the customers need to know. I’ll tell you what, it’s been good getting to know you today. Is there anything you want to say about your company or anything else that you want the customer to know about you or your company?

Hewitt Harned
Well, I’m not going to toot my own horn. I appreciate what you guys are doing and incorporating other companies here in the your podcast. And I really appreciate that and appreciate being given this opportunity. I’ve talked about our company to our customers all the time, and I enjoy that. And I don’t I don’t I’m not gonna do it now.

Rob Clemons
Oh, well, hey, look, I tell you what my whole goal with this was to get the people… give the people a chance to get to know the people behind the business. At the end of the day. You know, we care about what we do. I can see that you are a man of your word for sure on that. Thank you for being on with us today. And we’ll look forward to seeing in the future.

Hewitt Harned
Appreciate it. Good to talk to you too.

Rob Clemons
Hewitt with Triple A Blind and Shutter Factory. Thanks for being on and we’ll see you guys next time on Crowning Connections.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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