Real versus surreal
While attending a meeting with the Home Improvement Research Institute, a Home Channel News editor made a side trip to another important South Florida institution that could help us all better understand our industry.
This institution is called The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg. (Note to accounting: The $10 admission ticket and $3 parking are now officially “business related.”) And it does so by preparing us for the surreal in our world.
The impressive waterfront building is home to a renowned collection of Dalí masterworks. Our tour was led by a woman who was wearing a shoe as a hat. On the surreality scale, we’ll give that a rating of two melting clocks, out of a possible five.
A painting called “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln” gets three melting clocks because, almost in defiance of reality, it becomes a portrait of Lincoln at 20 meters.
And around the corner is a hologram of Alice Cooper, as if he were miniaturized and trapped in a glass box. In reality, Cooper is playing golf somewhere in California, but there he is. Surreality rating: four melting clocks.
One can argue that the strangeness on display in the Dalí museum prepares home channel executives for the seemingly unreal nature of our own industry.
For instance: Here are some of the headlines describing June’s residential construction report: “June housing starts smash expectations,” “Home starts surge,” and “Housing starts soar.” All true. But what is surreal here is that these headlines describe a month, which in unadjusted data, produced 45,300 single-family starts, the slowest June on record. Surreality rating: four melting clocks.
In the home channel, Tractor Supply, on July 20, posted a record quarter. It beat earnings estimates. Sales grew by double digits, and comps increased 4.6%. The company made $91 million in profit, up 18% from the prior-year quarter. All without any hurricanes to boost traffic. The next day, the stock price sank more than 5%. Surreality rating: five melting clocks.
(Even after the dramatic decline, an investor who bought a share of TSCO a year ago has doubled his money. Surreality rating: two melting clocks.)
Saint-Gobain Adfors drywall tape previously made in China is now being made in the United States. Zero melting clocks, so far. But the tape in question is a product sold in Japan. It turns out the packaging and aesthetics have to be perfect, or it won’t sell in Japan. Two melting clocks.
At ProBuild Holdings, the sliding scale of surreality runs like this. Departure of former CEO Paul Hylbert: two melting clocks; the more recent departure of CEO Bill Myrick: three melting clocks; the subsequent departure of EVP operations Jim Cavanaugh, thanks to a cumulative effect: four melting clocks. Senior editor Brae Canlen looks into the company, its leadership and its challenges in a story beginning on page 12.
The Home Improvement Research Institute is doing its part to ground industry understanding in reality — pooling research spending across 80 companies. They are to be commended. (Full disclosure: the non-profit organization is managed by Lebhar-Friedman, parent company of Home Channel News.) And the Dalí museum is doing its part to brace the world for its natural strangeness.
— Ken Clark
D.C. Hotline: EPA backs off lead rule tests
There will be no more talk of dust wipe sampling and clearance testing requirements for the EPA’s Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting (LRRP) Rule. The extra requirements were pulled by the EPA after vigorous opposition from the industry, including the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA).
“This development is a major victory for NLBMDA, LBM dealers doing installed sales and their remodeler customers,” said Scott Lynch, the group’s executive VP. “It will also save home-owners in pre-1978 homes from having to absorb even more unjustified costs associated with the lead rule.”
Still, the 2010 LRRP rule remains in the crosshairs of its opponents and requires training and certification for remodelers who do work on older houses. The EPA said it wants to add to its current “lead-safe work practices,” including vertical containment systems in some cases and regular replacement of vacuum filters.
The NLBMDA said it continues to oppose expansion of the rule, as it also seeks an opt-out provision where no children are present.
Where’s the improvement? In the other room
A survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 consumers conducted by San Francisco-based research firm MarketTools suggests that their next home improvement project will most likely take place in some room other than the kitchen or bathroom.
Almost a third of future projects were described as “other room” in the study, conducted July 8 to 10 using MarketTools ZoomPanel of opted-in consumers.
According to MarketTools’ VP client development Mark Delaney, the bedroom and den projects benefit from their low-cost barriers. Declining home values probably also factor in the results, he said.
“While the timing of the study — June 2011 — favored ‘yard,’ it’s interesting to note that smaller improvments to rooms such as dens and bedrooms seem to be the most active,” Delaney said.
Improvements to the house exterior ranked fifth among the five home improvement areas in the survey.