Before and after: Huntington Lumber & Supply Co.
Before: If David and John Huntington, owners of Huntington Lumber & Supply Co., had known that their much-needed expansion would eventually bring them daily personal thanks from their customers, they might have gotten around to it much sooner. Despite the fact that the third-generation lumberyard in Hazlehurst, Miss., was overflowing past its 2,000-sq.-ft. parameters, the two brothers were hesitant to remodel, even dodging house calls from Do it Best territory manager Roy Jones, who they thank now for pushing them to do it.
Conceived in the late 1920s, their grandfather’s store originally consisted of lumberyards and sawmills. It moved to its current location in 1962 and became part of Do it Best in 2001. Despite all the transformation, the store itself was virtually unchanged from when their father built it.
“We had a 3,000-sq.-ft. showroom, and probably some of the original dust from ’71 was in it,” John said. “Dad was really big into building materials. He didn’t really care about selling nuts and bolts. He thought that was a little ridiculous. And so we kind of realized that as the other hardware stores in town and the other lumber places closed around us, we really needed to do something to fill the void, possibly before someone else came in and did it.”
Solution: David and John made the decision to expand in the face of the recession, which had then just begun. After some planning and research, the original store and existing sheds were torn down to make way for the construction of a new building. Together with Sunbelt Racks, one of the vendors they worked with on the project, they also built an L-shed, T-shed and a drive-through lumberyard.
In consultation with Do it Best and its RetailPLUS! Team, the Huntingtons built a new 15,000-sq.-ft. store, using most of the real estate they had available to them.
After: It’s hard to deny the advantage of this particular expansion. Sales increased from the full year prior to opening in April 2011, and the following full year saw a sales increase of 82%, plus margins that were up six points.
The new store introduced an entirely new market to Huntington Lumber & Supply Co., with lots of female customers and a dramatic spike in SKUs — 24,000 new products, to be precise.
“We have shopping carts,” David said. “I never owned a shopping cart in my life.” Beyond the hard numbers, the brothers cite a happier staff, less loss, more organization and plenty of gratitude from their expanded customer base.
“I had people coming up to me almost daily for the first couple of months,” John said. “Two years in, I still have people who come in and thank us for doing that. That’s just amazing to me that someone would thank me for having this store. I’m like, ‘No, thank you for coming in.’ ”
Following up: End of the road for high-end home center
When HCN first visited Millington, Tenn.-based Cole’s Home Solutions with a cover story in our August 2009 issue, we cautioned: “Now for something completely different.”
When we first talked to co-owner Charles Cole, he expressed admirable ambition: “We knew we had to remodel the store, because Lowe’s was kicking our butts,” Cole said. “And we don’t want to be just another big box.”
The 70,000-sq.-ft. Millington store had running water in the sink and faucet displays. It had a hands-on in-store garage for tool demos. It had a Ron Johnson-designed drive-through lumberyard. When HCN toured the store in 2010, a publisher said to an editor: “This is the best hardware store I’ve ever seen.”
The only thing missing were customers.
Earlier this year, Cole’s Home Solutions entered liquidation. According to Boyden Moore, whose Central Network Retail Group purchased the Cole family’s smaller Ripley, Tenn., store in 2011, the Millington store suffered partly from a mismatched product mix and market demographics.
Cole’s deserves credit for swinging for the fences. But the store’s downfall is based on the classic location-location-and-location rule of retailing.
“There just wasn’t enough business out there [in Millington],” Moore said. “And they had a Lowe’s open on them, too, about a block away.”
Some of the store’s features continue on in the CNRG-owned store in Ripley.
“I loved it; I just didn’t see how to make it work,” Moore added.
Take that, California lumbermen!
HCN has nothing but happy memories of California.
It was here in 2007, under a sunny San Diego sky, that we recognized Augie Venezia and Fairfax Lumber as the 2007 Independent Pro Dealer of the Year.
We have followed Venezia’s subsequent career with keen interest, and have applauded his handling of regulatory storm clouds. This last one is a whopper.
Venezia is currently president of the board of the West Coast Lumber & Building Material Association (WCLBMA). Last month, he and colleagues were at a California Board of Equalization (BOE) hearing, representing the interests of lumberyards as the state bumbles through its implementation of a “lumber products assessment” — an additional 1% fee on retail sales of lumber.
A little background.
Well after midnight on the last day of the California legislature’s final session of 2012, and under the cloak of “emergency legislation,” the assessment was voted into law. And to pour salt in the wound: The law was made effective for the first day of 2013.
“There were no hearings, no opportunities for input, and the bill passed at 2:45 a.m., as the final action of the legislature,” wrote WCLBMA executive director Ken Dunham in an editorial for the California Taxpayers Association. “The bill has been described as one of the worst examples of legislative abuse in years.”
Now, how is the state going to collect? That’s been a bone of contention ever since. The state’s plan was to throw a little money at the lumber retailers so they can implement the necessary point-of-sale adjustments.
“Some of our lumber association members literally had to dump their old computer systems and invest in all new software and hardware to implement the tax,” Venezia told HCN.
What would be a fair compensation to dealers? Dunham did the math and suggested $5,500 per location.
The Board of Equalization had a different idea of an appropriate reimbursement: $735. A laughable amount, but considerably more than a previous BOE staff suggestion of $250.
Fast forward to the September hearing of the BOE, attended by Venezia and crew.
The legislators and their staffs seem to have no idea what they’ve gotten into. They’re not sure how many retailers in California sell products that should be taxed under the rule.
The meeting opened at 10 a.m., and the lumber tax agenda item concluded at 7:15 p.m., with the less-than-satisfying result of tabling the matter for a future hearing.
For fighting the good fight, for their patience and for the defense of small business, California dealers are to be commended.
“One fear out of all this is that the state could use the same ‘emergency legislation’ method to add on more fees/taxes to a wide range of products and services,” said Venezia. “Today it’s lumber. Tomorrow it could be Italian sausages.