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A dashboard adjusts to the times

BY HBSDEALER Staff

There was finally some significant movement on the HCN Industry Dashboard housing starts dials. Unfortunately, the movement was almost entirely the result of a recalibration. 


When introduced in August 2009, the original Dashboard’s starts-dial spanned from 200,000 to 2.6 million. But the needle has languished on the low end of the scale.


The new dials span from 300,000 to 1.1 million. The editors have also introduced a second needle, pointing to the pace of the prior month’s activity. Both moves are designed to make the dials easier to read.


But not even the friendlier display could sweeten the results of Februrary. Total housing starts fell to a SAAR of 479,000, while single-family starts slipped to a pace of 375,000 — both near record lows. 


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The ABCs of a Hall of Fame

BY Ken Clark

Lowe’s chairman emeritus Robert Strickland was inducted into the Home Channel Hall of Fame four years ago. As he approached the podium, he seemed as relaxed as you or I might be approaching the office microwave at lunchtime.


“I would like tonight to talk about A, B, C,” he began. And with those three first initials, he launched into a discourse that summed up the lessons learned from a career of successful retailing — or as close a summation as three words can get to a 41-year career.


He might have pulled notes out of his suit pocket, but I don’t remember it. I also don’t remember what A, B or C stood for. It might have been “Attitude, Business and Communication.” Or it might have been “Ambition, Belief and Competitors.” 


It doesn’t really matter now. What continues to matter is his message, his tone and his impact. He skillfully turned those three words (whatever they were) into a celebration of togetherness — suppliers, vendors, retailers, consumers and competitors. We were all one — an industry of teammates on the cusp of giving a standing ovation to a deserving Hall of Fame inductee. 


That’s the way I remember it.


In the audience and sitting at a table reserved for Lowe’s guests, Lowe’s president and COO Larry Stone was soaking it all in. “During that dinner, Mr. Strickland and his wife told stories of the early days at Lowe’s, and I was fascinated by those stories,” he told Home Channel News. “It’s just unbelievable. Wow. Wouldn’t it have been fun to work through that?”


Fast forward four years, and Stone will follow Strickland’s footsteps into the Home Channel Hall of Fame as the 2011 honoree after his own four-decade-plus career at Lowe’s. (See Stepping down: Larry Stone, p. 20.)


If Stone’s career had an “ABC” — the “A” would probably stand for “Authenticity.” He started in 1969 as a $1.60-per-hour Lowe’s associate, and hasn’t let success change him. “I’ve had a great career, but I’m still the same person,” he said. 


Or the “A” might stand for “America.” Because when he looks back at his career, Stone says he’s reminded of the song from his teenage days called “Only in America” by Jay and the Americans. “It’s only in America where things like this happen,” Stone said. 


There’s an outside chance “A” would stand for “Apprehension” — as it relates to taking on new jobs and new responsibilities. “To sit here and tell you I was not apprehensive about some of them would not be the truth. Sometimes you’re apprehensive. Do I have the knowledge? Do I have the skill? But I would take a job and study and ask questions and learn and read until I mastered it.”


Stone will be inducted in the Home Channel Hall of Fame during a special Golden Hammer breakfast May 11, an event held in conjunction with the National Hardware Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.


And somebody will be taking notes.


— Ken Clark

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D.C. Hotline: Debit Dollars

BY Jeremy Stine

“It is one of the most active lobbying efforts I have ever seen,” quipped Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.) when asked about the fight over debit card swipe fees. And he’s been on Capitol Hill for 28 years. 


The “Swipe Fee Fix,” which was passed as part of the sweeping financial overhaul legislation last year, caps the debit card fees that banks may charge retailers, requiring such charges to be “reasonable and proportional” to underlying costs. Retailers had long sought limits on these “interchange fees,” which represent billions in revenue for banks — $14 billion in fact. 


The Federal Reserve is considering a proposal due to be finalized in April that would force banks to reduce their debit interchange fees to 12 cents per transaction from roughly 44 cents, or about $14 billion annually. This is why the banks are spending heavily on misleading ad campaigns, for instance: “Washington is about to hand giant retailers a $14 billion pay day funded by you — and your debit card.” 


It’s part of the banks’ scare tactics. Unfortunately for them, however, thousands of local businesses, from restaurants to florists, convenience stores to lumberyards, like the newly passed law just the way it is. 


Jeremy Stine is manager of government and public affairs for the NLBMDA (dealer.org).

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