Reporter’s notebook: Eisenwarenmesse means business
Cologne, Germany — In the hallway connecting the multiple levels of show floors here at the sprawling Koelnmesse exhibition center, Manfred Maus, the famous pioneer of German home center retailing and founder of OBI, is pacing while talking on his cell phone. He later tells a reporter that home centers maybe should rethink their model.
On an escalator going up, John Herbert, the secretary of the European DIY-Retail Association, is promoting European retailing in a general way to a reporter going down. Stores on the continent are getting better, he said, but they still can learn a lot from U.S. retailers’ commitment to customer service.
And elsewhere on the show floor, Frank Blake is spotted. Not in person, but on a magazine cover, proclaiming in German: “Den Turnaround Geschafft.” Translated: “The turnaround is finished.” It’s not something that Blake or anyone else in Atlanta would say, but we’re not in Atlanta. We’re in Cologne, Germany.
This ancient city on the Rhine hosted some 53,500 trade visitors from 130 countries for the 2012 Internationale Eisenwarenmesse, or International Hardware Fair. The four-day event also attracted 2,665 suppliers from 50 countries.
Those numbers are up from 2010 but down from 2008, when the every-other-year-show co-located with a DIY-focused Practical World event. And even with an occasional language barrier, there is no shortage of notebook entries for the English-speaking reporter.
• Maus is easy to identify with his mane of white hair, especially as he gestures while speaking on his cell phone between halls. When he hangs up, he is ambushed for an interview.
On the need for a new business model: “My children and my grandchildren will buy completely different than we buy. After 40 years of a retail concept, somebody has to sit down and find out what has to be done. “
On store size: “The question is, do we need a 15,000-square-meter or 25,000-square-meter store. I think it’s just too much.”
On the shifting power of retail merchandising: “Years ago I was always impressed about retail merchandising in the U.S. Today, I feel we in Europe have more know-how in presenting the merchandise in specialty stores.”
• There were 83 companies on the show floor here promoting their products. One of them is M.K. Morse, based in Canton, Ohio, with warehouses here in Europe. “The European market puts a lot of weight on ‘Made in the USA,’ ” said Alan Peterson, general product manager. “They like to see it and they like to promote it.”
• American companies aren’t the only ones with product pride. At the DeWit booth, a Dutch manufacturer of wooden handled-garden tools and shovels, S. de Wit explained, “Germans like tools made in Holland.”
What about made-in-the-USA products? “They’re OK,” he said. “I drive a Cadillac and a Buick.”
• Also at the DeWit booth, and a handful of other booths, attendees openly smoke cigarettes with no fear of rebuke or stigma. You don’t see that at trade shows in the United States.
• The Eisenwarenmesse encourages its reputation as a showcase of product innovation. To that end, three products were celebrated at a reception during the show.
From Gedore, the Dremaster DMK 200, the adjustable tubular torque wrench with square box profile and integrated ratchet for controlled right and left tightening, has a selectable scale for torque units — in both English and metric.
From Knipex, the Twin Force power-side cutter tool uses a double joint that pushes the fulcrum closer to the cut, generating more mechanical advantage for the user.
From Rhodius, the diamond-coated triple blades of the Braintools All-in-one, cuts a groove through cement and removes the rubble, making a quick job out of laying a drain or conduit through a hard material.
• At the Arrow Fastener Co. booth, there’s a feeling that Europe is the next frontier of expansion. Roberto Izaguirre, VP international sales, told Home Channel News that international growth is one of Arrow’s priorities.
“What Americans are very good at is understanding the consumer better than the European companies,” Izaguirre said.
On display were some of the new products in the Arrow quiver, including a Forward Action stapler and products designed with the female user in mind — smaller, more user-friendly staple guns.
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Hall of Fame distinction
In 1999, Bob Taylor achieved a feat accomplished by no other home improvement executive in the annals of business journalism.
He was compared with “Bonanza” character Adam Cartwright and U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush — in the same article.
We’ll explain later.
First things first: Do it Best Corp. CEO Bob Taylor is to be congratulated for his selection as the 2012 inductee of the Home Channel Hall of Fame.
Taylor began his hardware-retailing career in his family business, Taylor’s Do it Center in the Virginia Beach, Va., area. After serving on the Do it Best Corp. board of directors, he joined the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based co-op in 2001 and was named president and CEO in 2002. Ten years, including eight straight years of $100 million-or-more member rebates, finds him poised to enter the Home Channel Hall of Fame.
He’ll join previous honorees Larry Stone of Lowe’s Cos. (2011); Pat Farrah, one of the co-founders of The Home Depot (2010); and Joe Orgill (2004). The Hall even includes the man who tried, failed and then successfully recruited Taylor to Do it Best, Mike McClelland (2006).
Taylor’s name will join the esteemed group during an induction ceremony that will highlight the Golden Hammer Awards breakfast event May 2 during the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas.
“It’s a true honor to be recognized at this high level within our industry,” Taylor said. “Any success I’ve enjoyed has been the result of the tremendously talented individuals I’ve had the chance to work for and with along the way. That starts with the best mentor I could have ever had, my Dad.”
Taylor is no stranger to recognition.
In the April 1999 article of Home Channel News, part of an “Industry Innovators” series of profiles, Bob Taylor, then the CEO of the five-store Taylor Do it Center, appears confident and comfortable in a picture above a headline that reads: “Firmly at the helm of his family’s five-store operation.”
Then comes the single-article record for Bonanza-Bush comparisons.
First, “Bonanza’s” Adam Cartwright, the oldest son of the fictional Cartwrights of the long-running TV show. “Adam was a very serious-minded, intelligent high-integrity guy,” McClelland said. “That’s Bob — he fits that to a T.”
A few paragraphs later, it’s a comparison with Bush the First.
“He has the ability of George Bush to disagree with somebody strongly on issues, and then turn around and talk about that person as a good friend,” said Steve Hawkinson, of People’s Do it Center in Galesburg, Ill. “He never gets his nose out of joint.”
The Golden Hammer Awards breakfast will also recognize leading product manufacturers. And a panel of retail honorees will discuss: “The Recovery: Is it real? And what to do about it.”
An article about a U.S. Commerce Department ruling that some imported bottom-mount refrigerators were sold at prices unfair to American competitors led to several letters.
“There is no way that free enterprise businesses can compete and win against companies being underwritten by their countries.
“There is a core group of Americans who are being ignored in this NEW GLOBAL FREE TRADE economy. Not everyone can go to college or be trained for high-tech jobs.
“In the past, Americans who graduated from high school could go get a job at the local factory and have good benefits and raise a family. Our factories have a minimum wage, EPA, OSHA, health insurance, unemployment insurance, taxes, etc. These factories have been and are going overseas at a rapid pace. We are stupid to let other countries ship goods to us that have none of the same requirements. I do not care how cheaply products get made from China; if there are no jobs, you cannot buy them. A healthy manufacturing America has a strong underlying buying power.
“This country was built on manufacturing. They say our initiative, ingenuity and technology will save us, but we are losing that too. We better wake up or learn to say: ‘Want fries with that?’ ”
— Joe Patton
“Other countries do it to us! We need to protect American businesses much more stringently than we do. I support the ruling!”
— Name withheld
“The antidumping [effort] has not worked for our industry. Canadian softwood has a duty coming into the U.S. because of pressure from U.S. producers. They just ship their cheap wood elsewhere now. China gets a majority of it. Softwood prices have been depressed for U.S. and Canadian producers since it was imposed.”
— John Cole
“Dumping. The very name is calculated to put companies in a bad light to avoid the real issue. Domestic companies don’t want to lose market share, but in protecting them we damage consumers. ‘Dumping’ rules interfere with a free market.
“Any attempt to mess with the free market is a stab in the dark. How low is too low? When is it just a competitive price, and when is it dumping? What people are willing to sell for and pay for should not come under the purview of the bureaucrat. No one knows the answer except the people in the transaction.
“Either you believe in a free market or you don’t.”
— Les Burch
An article about a debt-burdened South Carolina hardware store featured in a Yahoo.com video series called Remake America generated the following letter.
“The last four years have been tough for the building community, especially the smaller family-run stores. It has been hard to deal with changing bank regulations after you have been in business over 30 years, and everything as you knew it has changed. We have watched many of our friends go down, both competitors and customers. We are still standing, but every day is a challenge. As we read about the South Carolina folks and talk with folks around the United States, we know that we are not alone in our everyday fight. I think that some of the suggestions for diversification in the store were good, as well as the use of email and Facebook. We will continue to follow the story and wish them success in whatever way the story continues.”
— Sandy & John Bencsik
The following letter is a response to the article “New bill may scale back lead paint rules.”
“[The EPA’s lead paint rule] has had no effect on business, except we opened numerous new accounts as a result of our lead-abatement certification classes!
“If anything, this is a yet another classic example of the failure and ineptitude of our federal government — similar to the Departments of Energy, Housing and now the new agency created to protect us from unscrupulous banking. Billions of dollars, lots of rules and regs, no enforcement, no local or state involvement. The federal government is going where it doesn’t belong.
“In my opinion, lead abatement, as with most other tasks, belongs with the individual states. This way it could have been adopted and enforced as part of the permitting process.
“The scope, size and budget of our federal government are eating us alive.”
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