Renewing the business to ensure it is viable for future generations of family takes a conscious effort and plenty of moxie. The AFBP checked in with Kyle Chown, fifth-generation family member and recently appointed president of Portland's iconic Chown Hardware, on how his 139 year-old family business keeps things fresh.
Can you give a short summary of what your business looks like today, and how Chown family members are involved?
Chown Hardware is a 5th generation family owned and operated company. We are approaching the 140th anniversary, beginning our story as a sporting good and general tool store in 1879. We sold some of the first hunting
and fishing licenses in the State of Oregon. Currently, we are the oldest family owned architectural hardware store in North America. There are eight Chown’s working at the store, covering both the Portland and Bellevue locations. Chown has two divisions: residential and commercial sales. Within those divisions we have a beautiful showroom that features carefully crafted and curated, high end residential hardware, lighting, and plumbing fixtures for every room in your home. In commercial we support our community with an exceptional architectural contract division that furnishes some of Portland’s most prominent buildings with doors, frames and all hardware needed to secure an opening. Chown’s commercial division also features a business-to-business and business-o-consumer sales department, a key systems engineering department as well as a full service locksmith and installation team. In residential we work with builders, plumbers, designers, architects and home owners. In commercial we partner with schools, hospitals, local and stave government municipalities, manufacturers, commercial property management firms and large campus facilities like Nike and Intel.
Chown Hardware has been in business since 1879. Can you tell us a little about how the business has evolved over the past 139 years?
Our ability to see both macro and micro trends in the retail industry have allowed us to adapt and thrive when others have not. Chown Inc. has experienced many moments of adaption during our 140 year existence. Seeing the big box stores begin to dominate over the craftsman tool business we sold the entire tool division in the early 1990’s, investing heavily in residential high end fixtures. This was a huge leap of faith but one we studied well and was a risk we felt good about. Today, our residential showcase department is responsible for half of our company’s revenue.
How do you balance a long-standing family and business legacy with the need to innovate and stay ahead of trends in your industry? Are the two ideas complimentary to one another in some way?
Our brand is our story. We are humbled by our long history in Portland and appreciate how kind the community has been to us over the years. We constantly are looking for ways to celebrate our longevity and tell our story. With that in mind, we can not remain living in the past and must be forward thinkers. Tends change from generation to generation and we are excited about where things are headed. At Chown we empower our staff to be deigners and innovators, always looking for the next wow moment. Hopefully, our showroom reflects our all in approach to exploring the latest trends and taking chances on leading the way of discovering new trends.
What do you think is the most important factor for your family business when it comes to “business renewal,” or ensuring the business will be viable for the next generation and beyond?.
The love, dedication and passion to lead Chown must come naturally from ones heart and soul. Exposing the next generation to what we do, our core values and guiding principals and an early age allow for them to find places within the business they gravitate towards.
How do active members of the family reach agreement about the best direction or strategy for future growth? Is there a process that you follow?
We have a fabulous board that includes all active family members, giving a platform for everyone to call meetings, discuss topics of importance and give a voice and vote to each member.
You went through the process for the Excellence in Family Business Awards last year. Can you comment on your experience in completing the application; did you find it beneficial or educational?
The application process was good because it gave me the time to truly reflect on our current state of business: What are we doing well, what have previous leaders at Chown done that I can learn from and build upon. What needs improvement and what are our goals for the future.
About Chown Hardware
Chown Hardware was established in Portland in 1879 and is the oldest family-owned architectural hardware company in North America. Chown has two divisions; residential hardware which specializes in plumbing, hardware and lighting for the home, and commercial which focuses on door hardware, security systems and locksmithing for business clients.
Visit Chown Hardware online at https://chown.com/ or at one of their two showroom locations in Portland or Bellevue.