John Harty

Business The Old-Fashioned Way


Each day, Noreen Harty takes orders, packages them up and ships them out. It may seem like a normal process — with one exception. There’s no technology at all at her family’s business, John Harty Tools in Barre, Mass. That means no email, no website and no credit card machine. Orders are processed C.O.D. the old-fashioned way - the way they’ve been done since the business started back in the late 1950s.

“Our bookkeeper is in her 80s and she doesn’t use a computer,” said Noreen, “and neither do I. The young people do, so I don’t know what the future will hold.”

Johanna Glazier, Noreen’s daughter, weighed in as the next generation. “We like the system that we’ve set up,” she said, “and I think we’ll always keep it this way.”

It’s been successful for this family-run tool business, which continues to grow without the help of technology. Of course, there was no email when Noreen’s father, John Harty, founded the business more than six decades ago. At the time, he was working with his brother in an auto wrecking yard, Brookside Auto. His interest in cars caused him to think about how to better move them and their parts.

“He had a ramp truck that he was very proud of, and he had filed a patent application,” said Noreen. “Unfortunately U-Haul got the actual patent for that.”

Then in 1958, the price of iron dropped from $60 to $15 a ton, and the brothers were forced to sell everything. “They even wanted the corn in the field but that belonged to somebody else,” joked Noreen.


Back to Basics

The future was bleak, but John was resourceful. “He had 15 tons of old rusty quarter inch chain,” said Johanna. “He took it to the foundry and they tumbled it so it would be clean. He put hooks into one end and a sleeve in the other. Then he put the chains on display in the back of his mother’s Volkswagen. That was the beginning of John Harty Tools. He peddled tools door-to-door, garage to business, somewhat like Snap-On does. He was always excited to give a new person a chance to be a salesman.”

Noreen’s son, Richard Jefferson, sold for a few years. At one time, the company had three trucks and six cars on the road, each equipped with special displays for the tools.

Like any great salesman, John Harty was always looking for that new item that would make the business better. He found it in the ram handle gas tank strap cutter, a tool that he invented. They were selling a similar tool but it lacked something important.

“Customers were always saying, wouldn’t it be great if this tool had something you could ram on the end of it?” said Johanna. “It made it easier to get underneath so you don’t rip the gas tank doing it, and you can resell the tank without nicks and cuts.”

The ram handle gas tank strap cutter has remained a best seller over the years. “One person tried to copy the ram handle but it wasn’t the same quality, and so they weren’t successful,” explained Noreen. “Ours are the best tools you can get. They’re made in a factory in Japan and imported, then customized by a local shop. You can buy them a lot cheaper but they’re not the same quality.”

In the late ’70s, John Harty Tools moved from a traveling sales enterprise to a business with a showroom. There was a cow barn on the property that had been built by Noreen’s great grandfather in the mid-1800s. John transformed it into a showroom for tools. “I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was,” remembered Noreen, who had just started working for her father a couple of years earlier. “We had displays of tools everywhere. At one time we carried more than 600 items. Now we’ve narrowed it down to six quality items.”


Beginning of Mail Order

There was a lot of traffic to the shop back then. But as the inventory became more focused, John Harty Tools transitioned more towards mail order. The mail order tool business helped John with “the most important mission of his life,” according to Johanna. He paved a 200 foot-long, 25-foot-wide cross, painted with the 10 commandments. He also planted trees to spell out “God’s Wisdom.” It’s visible on Google Earth if you look for 33 Harty Road in Barre, Mass. The tribute is open to the public, and regularly attracts visitors from all over. Since John’s passing in August 2017, the grounds have become even more beloved to the family.

John was active in the business until the week before he passed. “He had a better memory than anyone I ever met in my entire life,” said Johanna. “He’d remember people’s names from years back. It could have been 40 years and he’d know someone if he saw him. He was an amazing man.”

“We definitely miss him,” said Noreen, who has assumed the helm. “Our customers miss him too.” Fortunately, John Harty Tools continues to grow. “Business has been very good and we’re getting a lot of new customers,” said Noreen. “We’ve got an 800-number, and people call in their orders. We ship them out the same day by UPS.”

Of course, the orders are handwritten — as are the UPS labels. “We got a new UPS guy and he couldn’t believe anyone still did it this way,” said Noreen.

She is grateful for the business, and for the generations of repeat customers. “I would like to thank every one of our customers for being so faithful. That’s very important to me that they know how much they are appreciated.”

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