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Politically incorrect?

BY Brae Canlen

A triumph for the “light bulb freedom” movement, which opposed the phaseout of traditional incandescent bulbs starting Jan. 1, 2012, may turn out to be a hollow victory. Supporters had hoped to delay the implementation of the new energy-efficient light bulb standards with a rider on the 2012 Omnibus funding bill. Congress passed the bill right before Christmas, along with the light bulb rider, which bars the Department of Energy (DOE) from enforcing the planned phaseout of 100-watt energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs. So no citations, no fines, no government agents swooping into hardware stores in search of illegal light bulbs.

Good thing, too. They might have trouble finding any. Most lighting manufacturers retooled their factories long ago to produce energy-efficient halogens, LEDs and incandescent bulbs. Retailers big and small have been selling these products for at least two years. Few were waiting for the last week in December to put their old 100-watt bulbs on clearance.

Depending on how you look at it, the light bulb rider is either a well-deserved slap back at the federal government’s overreach or an ill-conceived and illogical fight against energy conservation. Either way, the measure is temporary. The funding bill expires on Sept. 30, and so does the provision that forbids the DOE from spending any funds on enforcement.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), which represents more than 95% of the U.S. lighting manufacturing industry, was not happy about the reprieve. Its members — companies like Osram Sylvania, GE Lighting and Philips Lighting — have poured millions into research, development and promotion of new lighting options to replace the energy-inefficient pear-shaped bulb. In fact, many of them are producing incandescent bulbs that meet the new federal standards and look exactly like the old bulbs.

Joseph Higbee, director of communication and marketing for NEMA, points out that the rider on the Omnibus bill did nothing to change the standards or the timetable outlined in the Energy Independence and Security Act, signed into law by President George Bush in 2007. It was a bipartisan bill, and the mandates were clear: Manufacturers had until January 2012 to make 100-watt light bulbs that used 30% less energy. For 75-watt, the deadline was January 2013. The 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs had until January 2014 for their makeover.

The ink was barely dry before squiggly CFLs began appearing, and soon after, the LEDs. Energy-saving incandescents also went into development. “In 2007, the manufacturers [already] knew they could make a product that could meet the requirements,” Higbee said. “It was not a shot in the dark.”

But the newer bulbs were more expensive, not everyone liked the way they performed, and as the 2012 deadline approached, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party both held up the regulations as emblematic of government interference in citizens’ everyday lives. Light bulbs became a lighting rod for freedom of choice.

While it’s unlikely that a U.S. manufacturer would go back to producing an energy-inefficient 100-watt bulb — which would still be illegal, despite the lack of enforcement — off-shore suppliers may see an opportunity. “This could create a competitive disadvantage for compliant manufacturers,” Higbee stated.

Further complicating matters is the fact that state attorney generals are empowered by the 2007 law to uphold its standards. Whether or not they choose to do so — in the absence of DOE action — could create some controversy, not to mention a patchwork of enforcement.

And then there’s the issue of what will happen in September. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has been attempting to roll back parts of the 2007 law signed by President Bush, specifically those dealing with lighting efficiency standards. He introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act (initially called the BULB Act) but it failed a House of Representatives vote last July. Barton continued to lobby his colleagues on the Hill, and after the Omnibus bill passed with the light bulb rider, he issued the following statement:

“This is an early Christmas present for all Americans. It restores the freedom, at least temporarily, for you to choose the light bulbs you want to illuminate your home. This means Americans (especially low- and middle-income people) can continue to flip the switch on an affordable and reliable product, instead of turning to one that costs five times more and may not live up to manufacturers’ promises.

“I am gratified that my fellow members of Congress recognized that the ideas I laid out in the BULB Act (H.R. 91), along with Reps. Blackburn and Burgess, were based on the principles of a free market. This was a blatant case of government interference and over-regulation. Allowing people freedom of choice on something as basic as a light bulb is a no-brainer. Today’s vote only repeals the de facto ban for a year, but I will continue to work to make sure it becomes permanent.”

While opponents of the standards continue their battle, manufacturers claim that their new products — which save consumers money because they use less energy — are becoming cheaper. Silvie Casanova, a spokesperson for Philips Lighting, pointed out that the Philips EcoVantage line put out a traditional-looking incandescent bulb that retails for $2.99 for a two-pack. Philips has also dropped the price on its AmbientLED 60-watt-equivalent LED bulb from $39.97 to $24.97, due to technological advances that allow greater production in quantity. With a utility company rebate, the price can come down to $14.97 in some areas. That’s for a bulb that will last 20 years.

“Manufacturers have spent the last four years working toward this [new standard],” Casanova said. “It still remains a law, one which Philips is certainly going to abide by. I suspect retailers will likely abide by the law as well, stocking shelves with higher-efficiency products.” 

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May-02-2012 02:43 pm

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Growing up with Orgill

BY Brae Canlen

Billy Plyler remembers when Orgill was a one-warehouse operation that sold furniture and flooring as well as hardware, plumbing and electrical. “I was little when my daddy used to buy from them,” recalled Plyler, whose father founded John Plyler Home Center in Glenwood, Ark., shortly after World War II. Located 97 miles from Little Rock, Plyler Home Center splits its business 60/40 between DIY and pro customers in this town of approximately 1,700 residents.

Both companies have grown considerably since then: Orgill has expanded into a number of product categories (but dropped furniture and floor covering) and operates five distribution centers across the country; and Plyler Home Center has acquired local businesses or incorporated buildings to form a 20,000-sq.-ft. showroom, hardware store, lumberyard and warehouse. Billy and his brother Johnny run the operation, with Billy’s wife Diane working as the bookkeeper and daughter Brandie in charge of accounts receivable, circulars and appliances.

Dealers who have decades-long affiliations with distributors and co-ops can often become disgruntled; they complain about an erosion in quality or they don’t approve of other changes they’ve seen. This is clearly not the case with Plyler, who applauds — and participates in — many of the programs Orgill has added over the years. He pays close attention to the “Priced Right Every Day” matrix and adjusts his prices accordingly. Most importantly, Orgill helps him keep a close eye on the prices at Home Depot and Walmart, his closest competitors.

“If we find something that’s not priced right, [Orgill] will send somebody out there to check it out and adjust it,” Plyler said. His favorite program, however, seems to be the Memphis-based distributor’s circulars. The Plylers like the “build your own” template, which gives them the freedom to choose as many of Orgill’s promotional items as they want.

“Sometimes we’ll change a few items, and sometimes we’ll change every item,” Plyler said. The store has also used the circular template for special events of its own, such as an anniversary sale.

These days, with new construction at a virtual standstill in his area, John Plyler Home Center uses its circulars to promote the kind of projects its customers are tackling: new decks, bathroom upgrades and, above all else, repainting. “We’re seeing a lot of little projects,” Plyler said. “Like the little girl who has grown from a 6-year-old to a 16-year-old, and she wants her bedroom redone. That’s 4 gallons of paint and the trim to go with it.”

Among single stores that buy from Orgill, John Plyler Home Center is the distributor’s largest seller of Valspar paint. Between Lumbermens Merchandising Corp. (LMC) and Orgill, Plyler supplies his entire home center. One exception is major appliances, which come from another distributor.

It’s the appliance circulars that underscore the attributes in Orgill’s program. “They come premade,” explained Brandie Killian, who puts together all the advertising inserts. It doesn’t matter what the home center typically carries; dealers must also pay to use photos of the products.

In comparison, any item sold at an Orgill show lends its photo for free in the circulars. And preparing a circular does not have to involve bulked-up orders unless the dealer wants to promote a particular set of products. “We can make them accordingly to what we have in the store,” Killian said. 

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D.Heritage says:
Mar-30-2012 04:21 am

When a company like Orgil
When a company like Orgil grows up together with a town, many of the people will definitely have an attachment and added loyalty to it. I think when it comes to service, Orgil can be touted to have one of the best. Derek - Heritagegardens

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Orgill grows on Woodstock

BY Brae Canlen

Woodstock Home & Hardware prides itself on the fact that you can buy animal feed and Brazilian cherry patio furniture. Its assortment is so wide that one of its mottos is: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” The home center keeps refreshing its other axioms, as evidenced by the ever-changing advice on the sign out front. A recent offering: “Avoid the crowds, the riots and the pepper spray. Shop local!”

Ironically, a large percentage of owner Larry Perry’s customers are not full-time residents of Woodstock, Vt.; more than 50% of homes in the community are vacation homes, according to the dealer. Yet 2011, measured by sales, was the second-best year ever for Woodstock Home & Hardware. “We were up in every category but one,” Perry said. “The second homeowners are starting to open their wallets. People are starting to spend again.”

Woodstock Home & Hardware began using Orgill as a secondary supplier in 2000 for locally popular items that Perry’s Ace warehouse didn’t carry. But over the past decade, his business with the Memphis distributor has grown. By 2005, Orgill was the source of 20% of his inventory, and now it’s about half, Perry estimated. (A third wholesaler, a small New Hampshire-based co-op named Standard Hardware, also supplies some items to the Vermont store.)

“Over the years, Orgill has become more and more important to us,” Perry said. “Their pricing on most stuff is competitive, and they carry some things that others don’t. It helps us round out our inventory. And [Orgill’s] inventory mix has expanded tremendously in the past few years.”

While assortment is important to Perry, having the ability to purchase items in small quantities is just as crucial, he said. “At 9,000 sq. ft., we’re a bit larger than the average Northeast [hardware] store,” he explained. His 60/40 split between DIYers and pros means serving a wide audience. Orgill’s liberal policy of breaking case on most items means that Perry can order a single plumbing elbow in different sizes, and offer three different SKUs of Titebond glue to his woodworking customers.

“We try to have a broad selection,” Perry explained. “It’s a space issue, not a dollar value issue.”

Perry likes getting two deliveries a week, one from Ace and one from Orgill. He also believes in sending his employees (his staff totals 15, including six buyers) to visit spring and fall markets, and four shows a year give him plenty of opportunity.

“[Orgill’s] shows have become as big as the [co-op] shows,” Perry said. “They’re doing pallet alley, and their drop-ship orders don’t have any adders (freight charges) on them.”

This past winter, when New England got clobbered by snow, Perry used both his wholesalers to stay on top of demand for shovels, ice melt, snow blowers and the usual defense mechanisms against Mother Nature’s wrath. He has nothing but praise for the distribution centers of both his main suppliers, who arranged special deliveries of merchandise to keep his shelves full and his cash registers humming. Even Standard Hardware came through. “They had roof rakes,” Perry said. 

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I think why they are so
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