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283: Gina Schaefer on Business, Community & EO

Bret Keisling is joined by Gina Schaefer, founder, board chair, and retired CEO of A Few Cool Hardware Stores, which was founded in 2003 in Washington D.C. It has since expanded to 15 locations in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore, MD metro areas. In 2021 it became a partial ESOP with plans to eventually become majority and then 100% employee owned.


Gina shares the origin story of A Few Cool Hardware Stores and its journey to employee ownership.  Starting with her EO A-ha Moment, which is directly related to the civil protests that took place in Washington D.C. in 2020, Gina discusses how small businesses can support their employees and communities.  She touches on the challenges and rewards of transitioning to employee ownership, emphasizing the importance of community and connection.


Gina shares the inspiring story of how her neighborhood hardware store hired a number of people who were in treatment at a nearby addiction center, and how the hardware store came to be known in the community as "Recovery Hardware," which became the title of her book.  You can buy Recovery Hardware online while also supporting independent booksellers here at

... or watch the video below.


Episode 283 Show Notes

About Gina Schaefer

"When she moved into a forlorn neighborhood that needed a hardware store, she built one. When she thought the recovery community needed businesses to believe in them, she became one, and when she suggested that inequality could be helped with business ownership, she began selling hers to her team.

Gina Schaefer is the Founder and Co-Owner of 15 hardware stores located in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, and their suburbs. She and her team of 300 have helped millions of customers shop right where they live, in their urban communities, despite continuous pressure from bigger, stronger competitors.

Gina is a professional speaker and storyteller, engaging audiences on topics that include competing in a male dominated field, building a strong corporate culture, business succession planning, and all things small business.


In her book, Recovery Hardware, Gina chronicles her experiences building a business while learning from non-traditional teachers like folks from the recovery community and returning citizens. She serves as an advocate and spokesperson for causes directly related to raising wages, anti-monopoly legislation and small business development.


She draws her inspiration from fellow entrepreneurs who strive to be creative, think differently and help make a difference. People like Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia who inspired her to use her voice as a force for good; Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, founders of gourmet food group Zingerman's Community of Businesses in Michigan, from whom Schaefer learned innovative business strategies and Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, who taught her that nonprofit organizations need to think beyond simple charity.

Gina serves as board chair for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and is a member of CCA Global Partners’ Board of Directors. She spent 9 years on the corporate board of Ace Hardware and 12 with the House of Ruth. She relaxes by making greeting cards (she's a big believer in the power of the written note), kayaking, traveling, and reading.


Gina’s guiding principle comes from a treasured quote, 'I always wondered when somebody would do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.'"

About Recovery Hardware

Determined to bring her neglected neighborhood back to life, Gina Schaefer opened her first hardware store near Whitman-Walker's Addiction Services program. What began as an effort to help her community recover evolved into a safe space for countless people in recovery to rebuild their lives.

Recovery Hardware shares A Few Cool Hardware Stores' CEO Gina Schaefer's path to building a business that revitalized her neglected urban community and provided opportunities for everyone to thrive, no matter their past.

You'll discover:

  • Lessons from resilient employees who struggled with substance abuse.

  • Surprising skills from unconventional backgrounds that you won't find on a résumé.

  • How to put bravery into the backbone of your business.

  • Humorous insights into retail ownership, like how to choose the right store dog.

  • Workforce solutions to remove obstacles for people in recovery.

Second chances transform communities and change lives - and it starts with one store at a time. Read Recovery Hardware and start building a better business where growth gives back.


We'd love to hear from you! You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter [X] @EsOpPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network. Original music composed by Max Keisling. Branding and marketing by BitsyPlus Design.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.


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