NAHB urges Congress to pass housing stimulus bill
Trying to spur Congress into action on housing stimulus legislation before its July 4 recess, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has placed “An Open Letter to Congress” ad in The Washington Post and USA Today, as well as two of the most widely read publications on Capitol Hill, Roll Call and Politico.
Under the headline “A Time for Leadership,” NAHB president and West Virginia home builder Sandra Dunn writes, “The landmark housing stimulus legislation now before both the House and Senate would help end the downward housing spiral that is the biggest threat to the health of our economy.”
Acentral component of this legislation is a temporary home buyer tax credit to stimulate home purchases by qualified first-time buyers, which the NAHB believes would help reduce excess supply in housing markets.
“Housing is in the grips of the most crippling downturn since the Great Depression, consumer confidence has plunged, economic growth has slowed to a crawl and unemployment lines are growing longer,” the letter continues. “This is not the time for demagoguery or partisanship. It is the time for flexibility and compromise. It is the time for action.”
NAHB executive vp and CEO Jerry Howard called the temporary home buyer tax credit “the best stimulative measure — it will get buyers off the fence, shore up home prices and halt the downward spiral in the housing market.”
This legislation also includes several other provisions to help revive housing and the economy, including the following: FHA modernization; reform of housing government sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; expansion of the mortgage revenue bond program; and enhancement of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to help spur production of much needed affordable rental housing.
Hardware stores roam in greener pastures
There’s no doubt that “green” is red hot. In the last year, Ace, True Value and Do it Best have all introduced their own green programs — called Helpful Earth Choices, Greener Options and enviroLINK, respectively — and Orgill, the Memphis, Tenn.-based distributor, recently kicked off a green program that concentrates on energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, recycling and sustainable forestry.
Many co-op members and independent hardware stores are picking up on this trend, carrying more sustainable products and, in some cases, creating separate green departments. “The majority of members definitely see that the green trend must be taken seriously,” said Jennifer Zerwer, merchandising communications specialist for True Value, whose program offers 2,200-plus products. “There is more of a consumer driven desire for products that are kinder to the earth and result in less of a negative impact.”
Bob Taylor, president and CEO of Do it Best, agrees that green is no longer a passing fad but that many consumers are adopting it as part of their lifestyle. “Our enviroLINK is just a way of highlighting that idea at retail, especially in areas like electrical and cleaning products,” he said. “If the products can work as well and be better for the environment, the demand will grow.”
Allendale True Value in Allendale, Mich., kicked off its green program in April to coincide with Earth Week, sponsoring in-store presentations in hazardous waste, rain gardens, green fertilizing and gardening, green cleaning, compact fluorescent lighting and geothermal energy. Allendale now stocks almost 900 green products — calling them out with Greener Options signage and shelf tags — and is partnering with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council to bring green living awareness to area residents.
“A lot of people are curious about the full impact of using these products,” said Craig Emenaker, the store’s marketing/web development coordinator. “It’s tough to say how many people fully get into green products, but we’re going to continue to carry them and do an even bigger event during Earth Week next year.”
Ben F. Wilson III, owner of Wilson True Value Hardware in Kingsville, Texas, was impressed with True Value’s green program when he saw it at the spring market in Orlando in March. He now has a Greener Options endcap with 25 to 30 products like cleansers, fertilizer and insecticides, as well as a large selection of CFLs in his lighting department. In addition, Wilson sells Greener Options reusable bags to his customers for a nominal fee and gives them 25 cents off their order if they bring them back in.
“For a long time, I’ve carried push mowers, can crushers and other products that would be considered green, but this put it under the Greener Options banner,” he said. “We recognize this is a direction we want to go in and have even put on the marquee in the front: ‘We are a destination for green products through Greener Options.’ ”
Wilson also sends out e-mails to about 600 of his True Value Rewards customers to alert them to specials on these products. As for customer reaction to the green category? “At this point, we do have some who are cognizant of eco products, but we still have to lead a lot of people to water on these products.”
Wagner Hardware, a Do it Best store located near Rice University in Houston, has also embraced the green concept. About six months ago, the 70-year-old store partnered with a Houston real estate broker to set up a “green living” section within its store.
Called “New Living: Healthy Home Essentials,” this department — which takes up about a quarter of the 4,000-square-foot store — features everything from no-VOC paint to all-wool carpeting to a complete line of household cleaning products. Also included are IceStone countertops, which are made from recycled glass and concrete, bamboo flooring, organic cotton bedding and a variety of lawn care products. The products come from Do it Best’s enviroLINK program as well as other sources.
“We get new merchandise in every week, and people come from all over because there’s no place like this in Houston,” said store owner Nancy Wagner Abernathy. “We’re just a basic hardware store, so it’s a good fit. It adds to our appeal.”
Ex-Sears CEO takes top spot at sandwich chain
Aylwin B. Lewis, former CEO of Sears Holdings, will take on the role of president and CEO of Potbelly Sandwich Works, a nationwide chain of sandwich restaurants.
Lewis has an extensive background in the food service business. Prior to his role at Sears, he served as president and chief multi-branding and operating officer of Yum Brands, parent of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. He also formerly served as chief operating officer of Pizza Hut, and he currently is a member of the board of directors for Walt Disney.
Lewis left Sears Holdings in February amid tumult at the retailer, which still is seeking a new CEO. W. Bruce Johnson has been serving as interim CEO of Sears Holdings since that time.
Most recently, Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears swung to a net loss of $56 million in the first quarter, compared with net earnings of $223 million in the first quarter last year.
Sales for the quarter fell 5.3 percent to $11.07 billion from $11.7 billion in the same period last year.