The dawn of a new HCN

On Jan. 13, 1975, National Home Center News published its very first issue, which was described on the masthead as “A newspaper for retailers serving homeowners and contractors.”

Competing for attention on page one were a handful of stories of varying degrees of historical value — from the activities of 84 Lumber’s most recent corporate Christmas party (logrolling, tobacco spitting) to a profile of Dart Home Center’s help-yourself warehouse approach in Charlottesville, Va.

Also on page one, a reader roundup of retailer strategies: “Home centers plan new slump tactics.” Companies were getting lean, and it turns out they were right to do so. Residential construction in 1975 would produce a mere 1.165 million housing starts, the lowest figure up to that time since the government began keeping track in 1959.

Ladies and gentlemen, there was no such thing as Home Depot. Lowe’s was a chain of contractor-focused lumberyards. ProBuild was decades from climbing to the top of the pro dealer list.

Times have changed. And HCN has changed with them.

For example, in 1996, recognizing the power of the World Wide Web, we launched NHCN online. In 2004, we changed our title to Home Channel News, a response to the massive consolidation of the home center business. In 2010, we stepped up our news mission with HCN Daily, bringing industry news and views to the inbox of an industry clamoring for timely information. Earlier this year, we launched, a professional, high-tech industry forum for hardware store owners and operators.

Our next evolutionary step will take its place at the front of the line with all the others. We’re calling it, “Extreme makeover: HCN edition.” Beginning in December, you’ll notice the following:

• New look and feel: Our art directors went to town on the design of the logo, the cover, the sections. They’ve created bigger pages to better display the products that generate traffic, sales and margin opportunities.

• New structure: We took a hard look at the publishing business and realized we can’t keep doing the same old thing. Future issues will rely on three components: news analysis fit for a monthly magazine and a busy readership, product reports for retailers looking for an edge on the shelves, and market intelligence for business people to make better decisions.

• New name: HCN.

Today our research tells us that our print readers want the information to help them grow their businesses. We intend to deliver.

Our hands itch to get started.

For almost 40 years, the editors of the information delivery system that is now HCN and HCN Daily have had a front-row seat to some of the most amazing innovations in retail, and some equally amazing housing industry stories. They saw the rise of the warehouse home centers, the entry and retreat of established retailers into home improvement space, the explosion of spending on the house and home, and — of course — the housing bust that makes 1975 look like a walk in the park.

Here’s a prediction: Businesses that sell products to homeowners and contractors haven’t seen the last shift of their paradigms. We will be there to cover it online, as well as in print.

— Ken Clark

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