Remembering Frank Denny
Credited for nurturing the warehouse home center business during its emergence in the 1980s, Frank Denny died last month. He was 79.
Denny was president of W.R. Grace and Co.’s home center division. When Kmart bought Home Centers of America in 1984, Denny was tapped to oversee its expansion under the brand name Builders Square.
The pages of National Home Center News (the forerunner of HCN) from the 1980s provide ample evidence of Denny’s influence on the industry. In a Dec. 7, 1981, NHCN editorial, Denny was described as an influential executive who worked at a torrid pace. "What Denny has developed for Grace is a modern, clean, fairly priced, basically self-service merchandising concept for the novice and not-so-novice DIYer," wrote NHCN.
A 1987 article about Denny’s leadership at Builders Square included an illustration portraying the veteran executive as a circus performer attempting to tame the industry’s fastest-growing home center chain. The article’s headline: "Taming the Beast."
Denny graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey, and in 1958 moved to California, where he bought close-out lots of lumber for a discount outlet called Angels. Three years later, he became a partner of the company.
He later helped convert an El Paso lumberyard into what became the Cashway Home Improvement chain.
A message from Denny’s family said he died July 2, "after the usual tough fight he was known for throughout his career."
A crisis in confidence? Not really
On July 16, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index posted its strongest reading since January 2006.
On the following day came the Commerce Department’s residential construction numbers — a disappointing 9.9% decline in the pace of housing starts nationwide.
Is this a serving of humble pie for the overconfident? Maybe. But it’s more likely a case of normal ups and downs of a recovering housing market, according to the NAHB.
Commenting on the drop in total starts, the NAHB’s chief economist David Crowe explained: “The large dip in multi-family production in June follows a boost of activity in May, and is consistent with the volatility that has come to characterize that sector as well as the uneven pace of the housing recovery.”
When you look at single-family starts, the story was far less disappointing. Crowe points to gains in both single-family starts and single-family building permits in three out of four regions in June (see chart). That, he said, “is a positive sign that’s in keeping with our forecast as well as recent surveys.”
Net gains across the industry
HCN editors have looked over a lot of lumberyard websites in the past several months. The professional surfing was part of the quality-control process that helped create the 2013 Top 200 Pro Dealer Scoreboard.
Much of what we saw helped us confirm or adjust our estimates. But there was a lot of information we gathered that didn’t fit into the special section that begins on page 29 — but it was too good for the cutting room floor.
For instance. Did you know that 84 Lumber runs 84 Travel, described as "your business and pleasure full-service travel agency?" There’s a link at 84Lumber.com. How about the fact that two Parr Lumber employees are the stars of "Weekend Warriors Home Improvement Show," with Tony and Cory. You can access the archive at Parr.com.
A lot of people have heard of My Lowe’s, the digital effort put forth by the Mooresville, N.C., retail giant. But how about My McCoy’s, a similar sign-up-and-maintain-a-record-of-your-past purchases by our Texas-based 2009 Pro Dealer of the Year McCoy’s Building Supply. Details at Mccoys.com.
A different spin on interactivity is on tap at Meeks.com, where a Meeks Lumber expert responds to builder and DIY questions through an Ask the Expert page. (We asked for caulking tips. You can read the reply at homechannelnews.com.)
All kinds of dealers are promoting all kinds of causes. At YBConline, the loud-and-clear message is Your Building Centers’ 100% employee ownership. It starts with the slogan: "We care, because we own it." And it extends to a Web page explaining, "the person you are dealing with is part owner."
A quick look at srsicorp.com shows SRS Distribution’s emphasis on the SRS Raise the Roof Foundation. Less than a year old, the foundation carries a three-word mission, according to the website: "and give back." A blog tells the story of the foundation’s $25,000 gift to the devastated city of West, Texas. Another blog post describes how SRS vendors, along with the Raise the Roof Foundation, contributed a $57,500 education fund to the family of injured Army veteran Travis Mills.
You can learn a lot about this industry surfing. Eerie Materials is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Gulfeagle Supply is soon to introduce its first tool catalog. Ganahl Lumber is recruiting customers to appear in its 2014 catalog, and it’s dangling $500 gift cards as a lure. An ABC Supply-sponsored racecar won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
It all shows that the power of the Web is in the details. For instance, the Stock Building Supply site links to homechannelnews.com among its "industry websites" page. (Why don’t more companies do this?)
Drop us an email, and let us know how your company is bolstering its Web presence.