Accepting the Beacon Award for Lee Hardware from presenter Chris Jensen (far right) are (from left) Paul Dupont, Heather Bruner, Denise Lee and Richard Lee.

Staff Report Lee Hardware and Building Supply was one of five retailers honored as Beacon Award winners for 2019 during the 2019 Hardware Conference held in August at the J.W. Marriott in Marco Island, Fla.
The Beacon Awards are a premier national industry awards program developed by The Hardware Connection magazine and The Hardware Conference to recognize the “best of the best” independent hardware-home improvement retailers.
The 2019 Beacon Awards are sponsored by Apex Tool Group, Epicor Software Corporation, Rust-Oleum and Ettore Products Company, with wholesaler sponsorship support from Orgill Inc. and other wholesalers.
The Beacon Awards, now in their seventh year, honored the Retail Beacon Award winner for each of the three participating wholesalers, plus the Best New Stores in two categories — under 20,000 square feet and over 20,000 square feet.
“This year’s Beacon Award winners are an outstanding group of retailers. They all share similar traits of operating well-merchandised stores with unique niches and strong community involvement,” said Chris Jensen, founder, editor and principal owner of The Hardware Connection, the industry’s leading digital publication.
Richard Lee grew up working in the store that was started by his parents in 1957, and now he and his wife, Denise, and their daughter, Heather Bruner, are proud to see the fruits of their labor pay off. Lee Hardware and Building Supply was nominated by its wholesaler, Orgill Inc., for an award that is viewed as somewhat of a lifetime achievement award.
For 31 years, Lee Hardware and Building Supply operated with a small 4,800-square-foot store with only three employees to serve the Waycross community. The business expanded in a big way with a new location in 2015 that covers 18,000 square feet across multiple buildings and requires 27 employees to keep things running.
When a big box retailer came to town, Denise Lee said they knew they’d have to take a closer look at their business and find ways to compete, and bringing in additional inventory with a larger store was one of the solutions. The company now sells industrial, janitorial and safety supplies in addition to the hardware and LBM materials it’s always carried.
“The fact that we’ve competed against the big boxes and are still thriving is another achievement of which we’re quite proud,” she said.
Lee said they work hard to keep their inventory selection fresh and to keep up with local trends.
“We listen to our customers when they request a particular item,” she said. “We see what the community needs. We can adjust our product selection based on that feedback.”
Lee Hardware and Building Supply has been recognized by the Waycross-Ware County Chamber of Commerce with its “Helping Hands” award and has also received the Valspar Platinum Award and the Orgill Pinnacle Award. The company serves on Orgill’s advisory council.
Employees at Lee Hardware are like family.
“We treat, them not just as employees but as part of our family. We’re there to support them, both professionally and personally,” Lee said. “I think that personal treatment is one of the reasons so many of our employees have chosen to stay with our company for so many years.”
Lee Hardware and Building Supply is well-known throughout the community, sponsoring school activities, sports programs and projects with the local recreation department. They support the local Southeast Cancer Society and are members of the local chamber of commerce. Every two years they host a trade show that attracts as many as 2,000 people.
“We’re honored and privileged to win the Beacon Award,” said Lee said. “It takes all of working together as a team and a lot of community support to make this possible.”
She said she was first contacted about being chosen for the award, she thought it was a telemarketer and almost hung up the phone.
“I said, ‘are you for real?’ We are very proud of this accomplishment,” she related.