NCA Blends Knowledge, Simplicity, and Care to Serve Canada’s Construction Industry With Accuracy, Speed, and Understanding
Call it Big Box Blur. You’re in a hardware superstore, desperate to find a specific item that will make or break your project. You’re losing a staring contest with endless rows of shelves crammed with stuff, and the staffer valiantly trying to help is right beside you, just as lost as you are.
That’s not the way National Concrete Accessories (NCA) thinks the hardware business should work. For Canada’s leading manufacturer and distributor of concrete accessories, knowledge, service, quality products, and a straightforward approach are the keys to operating a great retail operation.
“Our goal is very simple: When somebody calls us for product availability, their stuff is available,” exhorted company CEO Mike Hardman. “That’s especially crucial in the peak season because the Canadian construction season is so short.”
With a 50-year history, a manufacturing facility, and 18 retail branches across Canada, NCA equips their customers with everything they need for concrete jobs of all sizes, including form hardware, accessories, and related construction products. They distribute a complete line of construction and restoration products, including tools and equipment, decorative concrete, ceramic tile, masonry, and building envelope products.
Established in 1968 in Edmonton, Alberta, NCA rapidly became Western Canada’s leading concrete products distributor. Expansion through the west continued, and in 1985 National Concrete Accessories acquired form hardware and accessories manufacturer Acrow-Richmond, broadening their national reach. Today, NCA branches serve the construction industry from coast to coast.
Concrete work is an art that requires specialized ingredients and accessories. With 14,000 to 15,000 SKUs, NCA partners with a host of the industry’s best and brightest manufacturers, including Sika, Dow Construction Chemicals, Acro-Richmond, Makita, W.R. Meadows, Bosch, Mapei, Titebond, UCAN, Husqvarna, Xypex, Butterfield Color, Marshalltown, and Chapin to meet varying customer needs.
Service, Set in Concrete
In addition to building well-educated store management teams, Hardman believes that a real treasure trove of knowledge exists in the hardcore experience of NCA’s customers. “The foremen, the laborers, the mid-level managers are all a great source of information.
“The most important thing we do is to listen to our customers. They tell us what they want. Sometimes they don't know what they want unless we ask the right question, but I will walk into a branch, see some customers and introduce myself to them. I’ll ask what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong,” he admitted.
“I did a two-week tour of a number of our Western branches in July. I stood behind the counter in the Victoria branch, and it was great because I got to watch everyone in action. They were surprised that I helped load a truck, and that I picked up the phone and answered it. I think they were a bit concerned that I didn't know what I was doing,” he laughed.
“It was an interesting experience. If you listen, the people will tell you. You will learn tips and tricks from your employees and lots of things I didn't realize.
“We have many long-term employees with extensive knowledge, and we provide a huge amount of person to person technical support. While we know the product lines that we have we also know where to find information our customers need, and that's a really important part of our value proposition,” he continued.
“We don't just offer product. In many respects, our end product is one that’s successfully used by an end customer. We're not content just to sell stuff. We want to make sure it's used and used correctly because satisfied customers have a habit of coming back.”
Hardman views National Concrete Accessories as an antidote to massive building supply retailers that carry every SKU under the sun and offer meager guidance to end-users. “Let's say someone needs to go to a large retailer and they're lucky enough to find someone working the floor who knows the shelves. If he has to find that nut or bolt himself he's probably going to be gone for an hour.”
That hour of non-productive time is not just cost-prohibitive, but also avoidable—and reducing that wasted time is something the National Concrete Accessories team works tirelessly to achieve.
“One of our employees created a chart on every fastener that we sell. It’s mounted on a board, and we simply match the fastener to its picture. It's done in minutes. On the back of the board is the matching description, the part number, and where to find it.” That elegantly simple approach is now an organizational standard.
Cool Connector Goes Here
Hardman, an industry veteran with over 30 years of experience with Swiss construction chemical giant Sika, recently celebrated his year-one anniversary with National Concrete Accessories. While he jokingly refers to his role as akin to “turning around a supertanker,” he is laser-focused on elevating the company to new levels of service, efficiency, and brand awareness.
“We are positioning NCA to be the distributor of choice,” he noted. “In many respects, my goal is to position the company so that vendors choose us. In many cases they come to us and say, ‘You are the largest, best distributor in English-speaking Canada and we need you to be our distribution provider.’” That's one way of doing it, and it's working very well.
National Concrete Accessories adds an important level of inquiry to their vendor selection process, curating a product selection that makes the most sense for their customer base.
“We go after innovative quality products that are appropriate for our Canadian construction industry and are readily available and supported,” he said. Vendors are carefully researched to determine their national presence, as well as the availability of their sales representatives and technical support staff. They are further evaluated to ensure they are actively pursuing specifications of relevant and in-demand products.
Included in NCA’s vendor due diligence is an unflinching look at the companies themselves. “We look for our vendors to have a strong track record of growth in their financials. We don't have the time or resources to get involved with fly-by-night companies,” he reported.
Because vendors are so vital to the business, Hardman encourages all of the company’s team managers and branch managers to have solid, almost personal relationships with their vendors, and with key people in their organizations. “I personally have relationships with at least 15 to 20 of our largest competitors,” he revealed.
Hardman routinely reaches out to former associates, going the distance to nurture long-term relationships that serve as a means of support for every aspect of his management scope throughout his career. “I exchanged emails this morning with the president of the Sika organization in Switzerland. This is important to me, and I know that if I need something that I have exhausted all possibility of getting, I can go to him. In reverse, he knows he can come to me and say, ‘Hey, we've got a project and I need your help. Can you do something?’ Those old fashioned relationships are absolutely critical. They are worth their weight in gold.”
At present, NCA is enjoying a growth spurt. As a result, the company is rethinking its reach, merging branches to boost efficiency and serve customers in geographic areas experiencing their own growth trajectories. “We’re adding branches that are close to our customers,” he explained. “There are two competing branches in Calgary, and two competing branches in Edmonton, so we are in the process of taking those two branches and merging them into one larger, better facility. This way, we’ll be more strategically located in terms of proximity to our customers.”
The company is also consolidating their computer systems and implementing a new ERP system to replace the siloed systems throughout the organization.
As you might expect, Hardman is a champion of his workforce. “You must provide people with a challenging and stimulating work environment where they are recognized for their achievements, they have an opportunity to advance, and they are treated with dignity and respect,” he noted. “At the end of a busy day I'll wander down to our store in Toronto and just walk in and thank everyone.”
When NCA had their first million dollar sales day of 2018, Hardman sent each retail store a case of champagne. “Recognition doesn't cost that much at all and people love to be recognized, and not just with money. The pat on the back, the phone call, means a lot. I want my colleagues to enjoy working for NCA. I want them to look forward to coming to work.”
National Concrete Accessories provides over 50 years of experience in on-site solutions as well as being one of North America's leading manufacturers and distributors of concrete form hardware, accessories, and construction products. National Concrete Accessories is part of a global organization committed to:
- Innovation and quality products
- Technical support and design assistance
- Superior customer service and satisfaction
- A safe and positive work environment
- Standard and custom-made products to improve customer profitability