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Huttig sees loss in first quarter

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Huttig, the St. Louis-based building products distributor, saw a net loss of $9.8 million in the first quarter, a deeper loss than the $3.4 million recorded in the same period last year.

Sales fell 25 percent to $166.8 million from $222.4 million in last year’s first quarter.

To offset declines in the housing market, the company said it continued a program to help improve operating efficiencies and reduce cost structure during the quarter.

“While seasonally one of our slowest quarters, the 2008 first quarter was also significantly impacted by the 29 percent year-over-year decline in annualized housing starts,” explained Jon Vrabely, Huttig president and CEO. “Although we incurred an operating loss in the quarter, our year-over-year sales decreased less than the overall decline in housing starts, suggesting that we have continued to increase our overall market share despite having fewer physical locations.”

In the first quarter, the company completed consolidations of distribution facilities in Kansas City and Greensburg, Pa., into adjacent facilities in Springfield, Mo., and Columbus, Ohio. The company is also implementing a “LEAN” manufacturing initiative to help further offset the decline in demand.

Currently, Huttig distributes its products through 36 distribution centers serving 44 states.

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Hardware Technology Forum focuses on EDI, data synch

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Memphis, Tenn. While data synchronization has become the new reality for many manufacturers, this year’s Hardlines Technology Forum (HTF) did not overlook Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), the backbone of ordering and billing between retailers and their suppliers. Sessions looked at EDI’s increased use in transportation, the roles played by various EDI documents, and in today’s final presentation, the changing nature of the EDI coordinator’s job.

EDI also surfaced during the Retail Panel, a conference highlight where retailers and distributors discuss their upcoming IT initiatives. There were no major announcements this year, however, as the buyers in the home channel seem to have their hands full with projects they’ve already started.

Approximately 225 people attended the four-day conference, held April 21 to 24 at the Peabody Hotel. Technology vendors peddled everything from EDI outsourcing to data encryption to help with U.S. Customs requirements.

During the two-hour Retail Panel, representatives from Orgill, Lowe’s, Do it Best and True Value answered pre-submitted questions from the audience. Some of the inquiries sounded like repeats from the previous day’s “Seller’s Forum,” where vendors complained about fines and “scorecards” that give them little feedback on what they’re doing wrong.

Brett Hammers, vp-marketing for Orgill, said his organization prefers to works one-on-one with problem vendors. “We don’t just put information out there,” he said. “It’s in our best interest to handle [feedback] strategically rather than globally.”

Greg Linder, director of supply chain operations for True Value, spoke of a visible supply chain solution the co-op is rolling out, through Sterling Commerce, that will result in more consistent lead times for incoming products. True Value is not planning to implement data synchronization anytime soon, he said, adding: “You can synch all the data in the world, but it’s [data] accuracy that keeps us up at night.”

Lowe’s, on the other hand, implemented data synchronization with most of its vendors and has moved on to a marketing data pool initiative. Last year the North Carolina retailer began collecting images and data for Lowes.com and in-store use through Big Hammer, a division of EdgeNet. The retailer is doing the project in phases, with the three categories, lumber, rough electrical and rough plumbing, set to be completed by the end of 2008.

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Sales down at Lennox International

BY HBSDEALER Staff

HVAC manufacturer Lennox International said earnings fell 26.7 percent in the first quarter, to $6.3 million from $8.6 million in the same period last year. Sales also fell, down 3 percent to $767.1 million from $791.5 million in the first quarter of 2007.

Like many other manufacturers of building materials and other large purchase items, Lennox’s earnings suffered from softness in the housing sector.

“As expected, difficult residential new construction and replacement markets challenged our first-quarter results,” said Todd Bluedorn, CEO of Lennox International. “Disciplined cost reductions, combined with strong performance in our North America Commercial and Refrigeration businesses, helped offset the headwinds.

Bluedorn also said the company is revising its projected full-year revenue expectations because of the downturn in the housing market. The company expects revenue to stay flat compared with last year or rise by up to 2 percent. Initial projections pegged year-end revenue growth of 2 percent to 5 percent.

Of its four business segments, the company saw revenue growth in commercial heating and cooling — up 2 percent — and refrigeration. Revenue from installed services and residential heating and cooling fell in the quarter.

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