Incremental sales in the city
At trade shows, at industry events or even over the phone, I like to promise retailers two things.
1) Our news products are guaranteed accurate or your money back; and
2) Someday I’m going to visit your store and buy something.
At the Orgill Fall Market in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year, I exchanged a few pleasant words with Jason Kearns of Mensch Lumber of New York City. I didn’t know where he was located until he gave me his card, and I blurted “Hey, we’re neighbors!” Of course, I promised to visit and buy something, someday.
Someday came last week.
Five subway stops and a couple of long blocks on foot through East Harlem, I arrived at the Manhattan branch of Mensch Lumber, a roll-up-your sleeves, high-volume distributor of building products to Gotham City’s heavy-duty contractors.
On the sidewalk, piles of Quikrete, stacks of drywall and rows of wheelbarrows gave the entire block a hard-at-work flavor. And so did forklift operators carrying loads to and from trucks parked on 106th Street.
Visiting a yard like Mensch (which is headquartered in Flushing, N.Y., across the East River), always instills an appreciation for the skill sets of the urban dealer. The traffic, the parking, the space constraints, the competition — they all combine to raise the degree of difficulty for the operator.
“This is where it all happens,” Kearns said. “It doesn’t get more urban than this. We’re in the middle of East Harlem. This location is busy all the time. We’re the first stop into the city for a lot of our guys coming from Queens.”
Mensch looks like it’s been operating on 106th Street since the Harlem Renaissance, but the dealer actually has only recently set up shop here — pushed out of its original location in a case of eminent domain involving the Second Avenue subway, still under construction nearby.
In Orlando, it would have been impossible to guess that Kearns was the manager of a busy, inner-city lumberyard. But here on 106th Street, in the middle of the Mensch Lumber showroom with phones ringing and product moving, Kearns, a former brick layer, looked and played the part completely — taking phone calls, encouraging staff and remaining calm at the helm.
During our conversation, a kid in a bright green Mensch shirt passes us. Kearns asks him where he’s going. The answer is unsatisfactory.
“You should always have an answer for where you’re going,” Kearns advised, and it looked like the advice was received in exactly the right spirit.
No nonsense is tolerated here on 106th Street. So I figure it’s time to settle up and get out of the way.
“What do you need?” he asks.
Kearns leads me to the aisle. “These are the Cadillacs,” he says.
Tile Shop sees sales pick up the pace
New store activity pushed Tile Shop Holdings net sales growth up into double digits in the first quarter, even though comp-store sales declined.
Minneapolis-based Tile Shop Holdings, a specialty retailer of manufactured and natural stone tiles, setting and maintenance materials, saw net sales grow 13.3% to $64.4 million for the period ended March 31. Comparable-store sales declined 2.3%.
Sales results were impacted by harsh winter weather conditions in important Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and East Coast markets, where the majority of its stores are located.
The company said comparable-store sales improved sequentially throughout the quarter as weather challenges subsided, including positive comparable-store sales growth in March. Additionally, stores located in more southern geographies delivered high single-digit comparable-store sales growth for the quarter.
“We were very encouraged by the meaningful improvement in sales that our stores delivered as the quarter progressed and we worked to overcome customer traffic and sales levels that were below our expectations given the extremely harsh winter weather conditions in our critical markets,” said Robert Rucker, CEO. “We continue to focus on the execution of our growth strategy and the implementation of operational improvements to the business. In that regard, we are pleased with the pace of new store openings, the sequential improvement in gross profit margins in the quarter and the meaningful reduction in inventory levels. As we move forward and the large number of stores that were opened over the past two years mature, we firmly expect a return to our prior levels of profitability.”
The company opened five new stores in the first quarter, four in new markets (Austin and Southlake, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Scottsdale, Arizona) and one store in an existing market (Lincoln Park, Illinois). With the opening of the Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Tempe, Arizona, stores in April, the company now has 95 locations in 30 states.