A major reason that the 96-year-old Pleasants Hardware succeeds in a field crowded with national competitors is its employees' personal relationships with customers, who include — full disclosure here — Richmond magazine staffers who often cross the street for candy, soda and keys. James T. Hatcher III, Pleasants' president and the grandson of its founder, is an emerging community leader, serving as second vice-chair of the Retail Merchants Association and the incoming board president of Prevent Child Abuse Virginia. We sat down to ask him a few questions about the city's future and his story.
RM: You've been working at Pleasants since you were bagging items at the register at the age of 8, and now you are helping other business leaders through the RMA. What is gratifying to you as a mentor?
JH: In working with individual people, after you've been in business a long time, it's kind of like riding a bicycle, you forget that you had to learn to do it. Running a business is a skill just like any other skill. It's fun to hear people asking questions and say to yourself, "I remember asking that question myself so many years ago." It's rewarding just to be able to share of yourself in a way that you think is helpful to people. This just happens to be in the area of retail. I learn a lot from them.
RM: What is the key to Pleasants' success?
JH: One thing is the longevity of the people that work here. So we've got a lot of institutional knowledge. My grandfather and my father epitomized what I consider to be business values. They were honest. They were fair. My grandfather in particular, I remember him on the sales floor; he was a servant/leader. You know, he was the president of the company, and at 75 years old you'd see him walking out carrying two hangs of hose out to somebody's car. There was not a job that he wouldn't do. There was nothing below him. I think that work ethic has been instilled in everything we do.
RM: You are the incoming board president of Prevent Child Abuse Virginia. Why did you choose to support this particular social issue?
JH: To be perfectly blunt, this one specific [organization] wasn't one that had a strong personal draw to me. Having three kids, I think I was drawn to something related to children, but it could have been one of the myriad organizations that serve children's needs. I was good friends with a guy that was on the board at the time, Bob Wake, who really drove home for me the importance of the issue and the benefits of prevention through educating parents. Since being involved with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, I will say that it is a great cause.
I look at all the different organizations that serve children's needs, and prevention doesn't get a lot of attention and doesn't get a lot of focus from people. Any time you can stop something from happening, that's a much more effective way to treat it than treating it after the fact.
RM: You played basketball in high school. Do you still have hoop dreams, and what did you think about our local college teams' recent successes?
JH: I do not have hoop dreams. My knees and my back do not allow that. I do run a lot, so that is where my personal interests lie, but I thought [the NCAA tournament] was great! I grew up going to all the University of Richmond games because that's where my dad went. From the time I could walk, we were going to football games and basketball games. So to see them achieve at that level is great. I got as much joy seeing my dad enjoy it as I did seeing the team win. And then to have VCU just kind of come out of nowhere … I think I heard somewhere that there are only three times in history that two teams from the same city had gotten to the Sweet 16, and those were big cities. So to have a city like Richmond do it is just phenomenal!
Note: Mary Burruss was program and training coordinator for Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.