In the limelight: Orchard Supply
In his company’s first earnings call since its spinoff from Sears, Orchard Supply Hardware CEO Mark Baker introduced his company to analysts as a unique player, operating, at about 44,000 sq. ft., between the big boxes and the small independents. He described his newly public company’s focus on three high-margin categories: repair and maintenance, backyard, and paint. He also explained Orchard Supply was in transition mode — an 80-year-old company turning around several years of negative comps, with upgraded merchandising and stores.
The fourth quarter saw comp-store sales rise 2.3%.
Walmart flexes DIY muscle
The world’s largest retailer is taking steps to display its home improvement prowess through a digital marketing campaign centered on a “Projects Made Simple” area on Walmart.com.
The area is organized by home improvement project. For instance: how to stain a deck, install a water filter system, caulk a window or install a towel bar. In the deck video, an unidentified handyman narrator explains, “All the tools are available at Walmart to get you going.”
The website also lets users download a project sheet with tips and instructions.
Walmart has long dealt in home improvement products, but the latest effort e-blasted to customers with the invitation to “Explore Walmart’s complete solution to make home do-it-yourself projects simple” marks an aggressive push to DIY. The e-blast listed the three key features of the online tool: checklists, instructions and how-to videos.
According to preliminary data from the Home Improvement Research Institute, 40.6% of homeowners bought one or more home improvement product at a discount store (including Walmart, Big Lots and Target) during the calendar year 2011. That figure is up slightly from 40.5% in 2009, but down from 42.3% in 2007.
Home improvement specialists of all sizes have long felt insulated from competition from the mass retail channel due to specialized training and product knowledge of employees on the sales floor — a sophistication that they feel stores such as Walmart cannot match. But even if a more focused campaign from Walmart moves the perception needle even slightly, the results could be dramatic, given Walmart’s sheer size.
In 2011, Walmart’s sales in the United States were $264.2 billion. The company operates 3,804 Walmart stores in the United States.
D.C. Hotline: Ruling voids ambush elections
The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) applauded the Federal Court decision voiding the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) move to curb employer and employee rights by speeding up union elections. The rule change had gone into effect on April 30 and cut in half the amount of time permitted for voting on unionization. With as few as 15 days notice, employers would have insufficient time to seek counsel and freely speak and negotiate with employees ahead of a vote. A February report by Bloomberg Government found that unions win 87% of elections held within 15 days of a request, while only 58% of workplaces stand by their decision to unionize when they have the time to debate and vote after 36 to 40 days.
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., found that the NLRB’s December 2011 vote on the “ambush-election” rule was null and void because a quorum of three was not present. The union election rules in force before April 30 will be restored until NLRB takes further action. The court case was brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. The NLRB is now expected to revote and re-implement rules that have long been pushed for by large labor unions as they face dwindling membership.