The dawn of a new HCN

BY Ken Clark

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
[email protected]


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Jan-20-2013 05:52 pm

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How concerned are you that a trade war could hurt your business?

HIRI event starts strong, raises cautions


Chicago — Before the first speaker could take the podium at the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) Fall Conference, a residential construction report for September stole the show with news of a 15.0% increase in total starts.

The tone was set. One presenter pointed to an average forecast of 924,000 starts in 2013, a figure drawn from 10 estimates ranging from a high of 1.1 million and a low of 800,000.

But home improvement retailers were also warned of various challenges — among them were the rise of the mass merchant and the move to online shopping.

A Stevenson Co. presentation pointed to the emergence of discount retailers as a source for home improvement project materials (see chart). Lurana McParland of Stevenson described the 27% shopping rate for stores such as Walmart, Target and Meijer as a possible “game changer” for home improvement retailing. And Walmart is going hard at home improvement with a Projects Made Simple that blends in store simplicity with online details.

Amazon, meanwhile, is expected to expand in home improvement. Keep an eye on Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program, according to Kantar’s Laura Kennedy. It’s an automatic-replenishment program that started in grocery and is spreading to new categories — including the hardware store staple of pet supplies — with 5% to 15% discounts. The online giant is also looking to “snag pros” with a replenishment program called Amazon Supply, she said.

Hardware stores were offered a slice of good news, also. As Kantar stats showed 11% of all shoppers said they are visiting hardware stores more often than they did in the previous year, younger customers said it more. Generation Y had 13% step up their hardware store shopping, and Generation X had 14% do the same.

Hovering over all the numbers are societal trends that are changing the way we shop. As a result, home product marketers need to adapt to a world of instant communication and online damage control, according to Winston Ledet, chief operating officer for Premium Retail Solutions and former Home Depot merchant.

Almost 40% of consumers are using social media to research home improvement, Ledet said. “If you’re not managing this part of your business, then you’re leaving a huge amount of value on the table.”


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Readers Respond


Scotts’ way forward?
The following refers to the article, “Scotts Miracle-Gro names senior VP independent channel.”

“My opinion on this topic is that Scotts needs to improve its relationship with the independent garden centers and hardware stores, many of which represent the backbone of the formative years of their great brand. Recent years have seen a great deal of realignment, repositioning, regional shuffling, employee turnover and relocation, all of which have not, in my opinion, helped solidify this relationship.

“Several years back, Scotts launched the LawnPro/GardenPro concept, designed to help the independent stores differentiate themselves from the boxes, regain some market share and improve their margins. I don’t believe this program has worked to plan for either Scotts or this segment of its customer base. Strong independent retailers, both garden centers and hardware stores, will continue to find ways to differentiate themselves and remain strong in their markets. The role of a key vendor like Scotts should be:

“1. Continuing the great branding strategy that has given them their dominant position in the marketplace.

“2. Creating purchasing programs for these retailers to help level the playing field with the boxes.

“3. Implementing marketing efforts designed to differentiate this segment helping to increase footsteps in their stores.

“4. Reallocating some marketing funds for regional- and group-level campaigns to drive market-specific awareness for the independents and, in my case, the hardware groups.

“The boxes will serve their purpose to move massive amounts of product from vendor to consumer. It is the independents that will continue to provide the knowledge in the field to support all of these products, and to do so an improved vendor/independent retailer relationship is critical. I will be cautiously optimistic that these recent changes at Scotts will prove to be positive for the independents.”
 — Greg R. Gold
Owner/General manager
Miller’s Ace Hardware

Why people steal

“Greed or a sense of entitlement is not relevant to income level.

“Poor people steal (sometimes out of real need). People making six figures steal. Bernie Madoff stole his billions. Imelda Marcos ‘acquired’ her 2,000 pair of shoes and more. Robert Mugabe helped himself to all of the resources of Zimbabwe and diamond mines in South Africa.

“In short, people of all social and economic levels steal because they want to and because they see an opportunity.

“I recall from a forum about security the rule of thumb that 10% of people will attempt theft no matter what, 10% will never steal, and 80% will not steal unless the opportunity presents itself. We can’t do anything about motive, but our task is to reduce the opportunity as much as possible, and to apprehend and prosecute when applicable.”
— Brian Hoiem
Middletown, N.Y.

More on paint and primer
The following is a response to: “Paint and Primer in One: Breakthrough? Gimmick? Who cares, as long as it sells?”

“Your article writes: ‘Independent retailers were divided on the issue’ of self-priming paint technology and messaging, and let me say the sentiment has never been more pronounced! To keep pace with this marketing trend started by the ‘big box,’ independents are forced to adopt this product. Unfortunately, this pressures them to also relay the convoluted description of its performance to customers. With the influx of countless cleverly worded paint-and-primer products, understanding the difference between ‘One-Can’ paint and a ‘One-Coat’ paint is lost at the expense of time and money for the retailer and customer.

“A true one-coat paint means exactly this: never a primer or second coat but a single application to achieve a finished result over any surface, prepared or unprepared.

“ ‘Big Paint’ companies have been manipulating independents and customers through the toughest economy in generations. Paint-and-primer products abuse misdirection through the fantasy of a true ‘one-coat’ capability but rely on multiple coats for a finished result, which is no different to conventional paint. They simply retail for more money and are quietly generating a massive material- and energy- waste system that nobody is talking about. Every paint-and-primer or self-priming paint is a ‘one-can’ product and nothing more. Don’t customers deserve a clear message?

“The true value in paint-technology advancement today must be a product that cuts labor and material costs to the absolute minimum, simultaneously preventing the maximum in wastes through raw material extraction, production and usage. Only this aligns with the economic and environmental objectives of today’s customer. When this reality is digested, there is no going back, for the unprecedented incentive is too great. It’s time to change the way the world thinks about paint by recalibrating its relationship with people.

“If we are to break this movement that carries a casual responsibility to customers and our natural resources, independents must lead the market and hold manufacturers accountable for the paint they produce and, more importantly, their messaging.”
— Tony Margani                                               
VP sales and marketing


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How concerned are you that a trade war could hurt your business?