Economic signals still mixed at HIRI conference
Arlington, Va. — The data was flying fast and furious here at the Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI’s) Spring Conference.
The series of seminars carried the theme "Understanding Today’s Home Improvement Industry" and kicked off Wednesday morning with a detailed examination of some unpleasant and lingering macroeconomic trends. Other charts presented by the day’s seven presenters picked up where last year’s conference left off by establishing a worst-is-behind-us view of the home improvement industry.
"I think the main message we heard is the market is improving," said Fred Miller, managing director of HIRI. "And it’s often the smaller projects or the spontaneous emergency projects that are helping to boost home improvement spending."
Michael Fratantoni, VP research and economics for the Mortgage Bankers Association, pointed to the slightly improving picture of employment — predicting the unemployment rate would slip to 8.5% by the end of 2011, and dip under 8% by the end of 2012. Still, a return to employment normalcy will probably have to wait until 2015, he said.
"We have seen an improvement in the job market above what I had expected six months ago," he added.
With starts slumping at 585,000 in 2010, the MBA’s housing starts forecast calls for a slight improvement to 595,000 in 2011, and a more significant jump to 850,000 in 2012.
Mary Myers, director of custom research in the home industry sector for The NPD Group, presented research from NPD’s active panel of 750,000 consumers that showed the percentage of people planning projects in March 2011 is at 49.0% — that’s up from 48.3% last year and unchanged from the figure two years ago.
The NPD Group’s Economic Perception Indicator showed mixed results in its recent March reading. "While we are in a better position than we were in March 2009, consumers are still concerned," she said.
And what would a research conference be without mention of social media? Jim Longo, VP client development and marketing for iTracks, asked that question, and then addressed it. He described social media as a tool that’s here to stay and an effective method of identifying influencers. He added: "It’s important to understand how your brand is being viewed on Facebook and Twitter."
The daylong HIRI event attracted about 70 research professionals — members as well as non-members — from a wide variety of home improvement companies. HIRI is a non-profit organization that pools resources to provide high-quality industry research for members.
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HD Foundation pledges $30 million to veteran housing
The Home Depot Foundation has announced a $30 million pledge, stretching over three years, to address veterans’ housing issues. The Foundation’s financial commitment will be supported by associates from The Home Depot, who will volunteer their time and home improvement know-how skills to projects across the country.
"Our nation’s veterans have made great sacrifices for our country, yet the statistics show that many of them face severe housing needs due to disability, lack of affordable housing and unemployment," said Frank Blake, the company’s chairman and CEO. "Their plight is very personal to all Home Depot associates because we have more than 35,000 veterans who work for us and an estimated 1,500 associates serving on active duty at any given time."
The Foundation’s initiative will kick off immediately by providing a total of $3.1 million to Fisher House Foundation, The Mission Continues and Volunteers of America to repair and rehabilitate facilities and homes serving veterans of all ages. In addition to funding, each of these partnerships will be supported by Team Depot, the company’s associate-led volunteer force.
Fisher House Foundation provides comfort houses for the families of veteran and active duty military patients receiving medical care at major military and Veterans Affairs medical centers. The Home Depot Foundation is providing a one-year $500,000 grant to repair and enhance many of the organization’s 54 existing houses. Where possible, Team Depot volunteers will complete the work, ranging from making bathrooms handicapped accessible, to painting and landscaping.
Volunteers of America is one of the largest nonprofit providers of affordable housing in the U.S., with a focus specifically on veterans, low-income families with children, the disabled and senior citizens. The Home Depot Foundation is providing a three-year, $1.8 million grant to repair and rehab properties where veterans and their families live. First-year projects include the rehabilitation of residential facilities in Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami, serving approximately 275 disabled and/or homeless veterans and their families at any given time. Each project will include numerous opportunities for Team Depot volunteers to get involved as well.
The Mission Continues provides opportunities for returning veterans to lead volunteer projects in their communities or complete fellowships with nonprofit organizations. Along with a $1.05 million grant from The Home Depot Foundation, Team Depot will work with volunteers from The Mission Continues to complete more than 100 community projects during 2011. In addition, a disabled veteran will be placed at The Home Depot Foundation for a six-month fellowship to assist with project management for all volunteer projects.
Since its formation in 2002, The Home Depot Foundation has granted more than $270 million to nonprofit organizations improving homes and lives in local communities.
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HD Supply exploring sale of HVAC business
HD Supply is exploring “strategic alternatives” with respect to its plumbing and HVAC business, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The April 8 filing did not elaborate on the possibilities, except to say that it notified its employees on April 5.
Quiana Pinckney, a company spokeswoman, told HCN that a possible sale of the division “is just being evaluated” because “companies came to our plumbing/HVAC Supply and said they were interested.”
The business is one of the nation’s largest distributors of plumbing and HVAC supplies, including faucets, fixtures, pipe, valves and fittings, pumps and tanks, and water heaters. It has locations in 17 states.
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