People of the Year
Whether you’re engaged in the distribution of heavy building materials to dusty job sites, or the display of stylish home decor in a well-lit showroom, the hardware and building supply industry is one giant exercise in human resources.
The year that was 2014 was lucky to have more than its fair share of movers, shakers, deciders and outsiders as the economy and housing market warmed to medium heat. On the following pages, we have assembled the cast of characters that made 2014 the year of transition.
The former EVP merchandising officially stepped into his role as CEO and president of the world’s largest home improvement retailer on Nov. 1, 2014. A few days later, Menear was unveiling third-quarter numbers with characteristic strength — $20.5 billion in sales and net earnings of more than $1.5 billion, up 13%.
It was a great opening round for the new chief.
But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. For instance, a recent report counted 44 lawsuits related to the company’s high-profile data breach. And Depot’s comp-store sales lead over archrival Lowe’s slipped to a razor thin advantage in the third quarter: 5.2% versus 5.1%.
Following up on a year when US LBM grabbed Pro Dealer of the Year honors, its growth accelerated in 2014. Today, the company is a collection of 16 LBM dealers in 18 states and more than 90 locations. And based on recent activity, that figure is likely to change quickly.
Gibson, president and CEO, has a reputation for challenging his team to look far ahead. For instance, an unofficial task force is considering a future with no inventory (could happen) and no trucks (not likely).
And here’s an example of Gibson’s vision for a lean company: no corporate headquarters. Executives meet at conference rooms at various divisions. They’re closer to the action that way.
In 2014, the True Value president and CEO became the first co-op leader to a) ride a motorcycle onto a stage during a general session and b) film a segment as “Undercover Boss” on national television.
But more than that, Hartmann has taken an aggressive line as he attempts to bring what he calls “transformational change” to the Chicago-based co-op.
Among the keys to True Value’s new strategy are a heavy dose of national advertising and a move away from opening-price point merchandising — just two of a list of top 30 prioritized initiatives.
“Our retailers have been hungry for passion and direction,” he told Home Channel News. “And it’s here.”
The president and CEO of Memphis, Tennessee-based distributor Orgill Inc. has established a reputation as a venerable leader in the distribution industry. And that image was recognized in Las Vegas this summer when he entered the Home Channel Hall of Fame.
“One of the things that always impressed me is how simple distribution is to conceptualize but how complex and how difficult it can be to actually execute.” With characteristic modesty, he said: “We know that we’re not sending rockets to the moon, but on most days it’s pretty much a full-time job. “
Modesty aside, Orgill rode the industry’s mild recovery to sales growth of 11% last year.
If you like a good David-versus-Goliath story with a happy ending, meet the Stines of Sulphur, Louisiana, proprietors of Stine Home + Yard. The company is a 12-location Louisiana home center and lumberyard run by the brothers Stine.
According to David Stine (second from left), who accepted the 2014 Retailer of the Year Award on behalf of the company, the time has come when independents can compete with big boxes on product and price. And Stine’s recently rolled-out slogan pushes that envelope: “better brands, lower prices.”
One lesson learned from decades of retail trial and error: “We realized that we have to be who we are, and not try to copy someone else,” David said.
Representing the old school independents with a modern approach to technology and marketing savvy, Hipp Modern Building Supply manager Gentry Hipp accepted the 2014 Tools of the Trade Award.
The Mountain View, Arkansas, retailer is a tweet-aholic, maximizing the low-cost marketing available through social media. He even offers a live webcam of his checkout counter. It’s just the beginning of the digital future, he said.
“I feel like that every store is going to have to have a strong, digital presence,” he told Home Channel News. “You’re going to have to have a digital storefront. Everything is one click away.”
THE MOVERS – UP
Michael Jones doesn’t want to sell you a deck chair. He wants to help build your outdoor room.
Fifteen years at General Electric and a role as president at Husqvarna prepared Jones for his high-profile duty at Lowe’s, where he was promoted to chief customer officer in April.
Taking a front-row seat for one of retail’s great rivalries, Jones is charged with merchandising and customer experience for Mooresville, North Carolina-based Lowe’s. There are three top-line focused priorities in Jones’ blueprint: to optimize performance and micro-seasons by market, to boost sales to the pro, and to generally improve and — in the spirit of the deck-chair example — coordinate “elements of great customer service.”
The numbers tell the dramatic comeback story taking place at Dallas-based Builders FirstSource. Through nine months, BLDR swung to a $12.8 million profit, compared with a $47 million loss in the same period last year.
“There is a sense of satisfaction now that we’ve refinanced our debt and have a healthy balance sheet,” said Chad Crow, who was promoted from CFO to president and COO in November.
During the lean years, the company bit the bullet to maintain its sales staff in the field. That paid off in 2014, even as housing rebounded slower than expected.
“I’m excited to enter the operational side of the business after 25 years in the financial side,” he told Home Channel News. “Of course, every decision in the field has to consider the impact on the financials and profitability.”
Meagan McCoy Jones
At the age of 10, she worked the switchboard. As a college student, she helped out in the stores. Today, Meagan McCoy Jones represents the fourth generation of family leadership of McCoy’s Building Supply.
Her responsibilities now include the strategic improvement of operations and growing the next generation of leadership at the company, whose slogan is “Go build something.”
“This position at McCoy’s has awarded me the ability to focus on growing the leadership at McCoy’s through men-torship to improve and continue our legacy as a company that cares about people,” she said. “I’m honored to be a part of a connected executive team that is more prepared than ever to grow our business and our future leaders.”
THE MOVERS – OUT
Tom Wolf, formerly chairman and CEO of WOLF, is out of the home improvement business, but not out of the public eye.
Wolf was elected Governor of Pennsylvania in November 2014.
Before hitting the campaign trail full time and stepping down from his duties with his family business, Wolf wrote a commentary, “Why ‘Made in America’ is good for business” for HCN on the benefits of made-in-the-USA products.
“We searched the whole world for these products, and we found them right here at home,” he wrote. “Conventional wisdom has it that we should not have been able to do that. It turns out conventional wisdom was wrong.”
Quent Ondricek retired in 2014 after 43 years in the business. One of the friends he made during that time was Gary Nackers, the Do it Best executive who is replacing On-dricek as VP LBM.
According to Nackers, Ondricek’s leadership played a key role in the co-op’s ability to weather the historic downturn in housing and LBM. “It’s pretty remarkable that through all of that, we didn’t lay off one person and maintained our level of profitability,” Nackers said. “Quent will be a tough act to follow.”
At the 2014 ProDealer Industry Summit, The NLBMDA past chairman Chris Yenrick recognized Ondricek for his service to the NLBMDA, “through good times and bad times.”
Marvin Ellison picked up massive amounts of home improvement experience while serving as executive VP stores for The Home Depot. He’ll need it all now that he’s moved on to retail industry “fixer-upper” J.C. Penney, where he is slated to take over as CEO in August.
Ellison is going from a company that has made almost $4.5 billion in net income in the first three quarters of this year to a retailer that has lost $712 million.
The chance to lead — and also a package that includes 2,066,116 restricted stock units — enticed the former Target executive to move from Georgia to Texas.
HCN’s sister publication Chain Store Age recognized Boyden Moore as a 40-under-40, up-and-coming executive back in 2004. It was a prescient choice, if one only considers Moore’s involvement with Central Network Retail Group in 2014.
Moore is president of CNRG, which operates 12 brands of home improvement retailers, and is always on the lookout for more. This year, the company took on Taylor-Foster Hardware of Manchester, Georgia; Hiawassee (Georgia) Hardware; and Parkrose Hardware in the Pacific Northwest, while expanding Elliott’s Hardware in North Texas.
The company’s initials — “CNRG” — sound out the company’s value proposition: “Synergy.” “We look forward to more to come,” Moore said.
A creative-writing major in college, J.D. Saunders had a few zingers for the audience when he was installed as chairman of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association in San Diego.
The VP of Economy Lumber of Campbell, California, brandished a 2×4 and a plastic bag — references to truth-in-labeling lawsuits and soon-to-be illegal checkout-lane staples.
“Unfortunately, California is often the starting point of poorly drafted regulations that somehow end up crossing the country,” he said. “The dedication we have to our businesses sometimes seems to be matched by those who would regulate and legislate us to some kind of utopia.”
Saunders’ advice: Participate in industry groups that promote unity and common sense.
Here’s a slogan anyone working in a hardware store would be well served to adopt: “HI SAM!”
According to Rich Lynch, the recently promoted VP marketing for Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Do it Best Corp., the initials stand for “Have I sold additional merchandise?” — a slogan he picked up working in a store as a teenager.
Today, retailers are challenged to move faster to an increasingly online world. The Web is one of six keys to marketing a store, he said. The others: loyalty, advertising, store design, social media and in-store environments.
“These are not six stand-alone ingredients,” he said. “They all work together.”
One can ask: “What was Google thinking?” — meaning, why in the world would the media giant pay $3.2 billion for a maker of high-end thermostats?
Or one can ask: “What was Google thinking?” — meaning, is there something to learn here?
The man behind both questions is Nest Labs founder Tony Fadell, a former Apple hot shot (he helped design the iPhone). In January, Google paid “Silicon Valley money” for Nest, partly because of its cool mission statement: “to reinvent unloved but important devices in the home such as thermostats and smoke alarms.”
Nest smoke alarms ran into a glitch earlier this year, but the industry remains on alert for more game-changers.
A 10-year-old born with a rare heart defect, Aiden Morales’ unscripted performance with Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen during the co-op’s Orlando convention was one of the most inspirational and genuinely entertaining segments to come from a co-op presentation in years. The Ace Children’s Miracle Network ambassador, now playing sports and living a normal childhood, wasn’t impressed by Ven-huizen’s Larry Bird references.
Maybe even more memorable was Morales’ reaction when he signed an Ace Foundation check, bringing a $10,000 donation in Aiden’s name to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Arizona: “I want to relive this moment over and over,” he said.
His cause is just.
As senior director of development for the City of Hope’s Hard-ware/Homebuilding Industry, Al Olsen is an “outsider” with plenty of insider connections. Olsen’s behind-the-scenes efforts have orchestrated fundraising efforts that bring executives from the highest levels of retailing, distribution and manufacturing to gala events across the country in support of City of Hope.
Sometimes competitors appear together on the fundraising — as in the case of Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus and former Ace CEO Ray Griffith — partnering for one night a year to support the efforts of the cancer treatment and research center.
Since its inception, the industry has raised more than $140 million for the cause.
There is a better way to bring dealers and vendors together so they can efficiently exchange orders and product information in a 24-7 environment.
That is the genesis driving the brainchild of Darrell Wabschall: The Vendor Center — using the power of the Internet and bringing distribution decisions into the 21st century. “The Vendor Center is analogous to an encyclopedia of information about vendors with order-writing capability,” he said. “It’s everything a retailer wants to know about a vendor and its product.”
Will it replace face-to-face meetings? No. But Wabschall doesn’t want to replace trade shows — just make them better.
The wood-alternative decking industry is a crowded field with well-backed players, and big name brands: Trex, Fiberon and AZEK among them.
Doug Morse believes there’s room for another, as long as it looks good and works well. His mission: Make NyloDeck a backyard name.
Made from compressed and treated recycled carpet fibers, NyloDeck offers good looks along with high-end performance, including flexural strength. (In other words, it doesn’t bend.) And therefore, it allows designers the flexibility to create tighter joints, he said.
“We made a product that proved itself,” said Morse, COO of NyloBoard, maker of NyloDeck. Momentum is gaining, as well as distribution channels.
Farm and ranch is hot. The hobby farmer, horse owner and anyone living the rural lifestyle is a loyal customer.
One man who has thrown himself into merchandising the movement is Kevin Rewerts, True Value’s divisional VP for farm, ranch, auto and pet, a leading growth category for the co-op. From rubber buckets to fence systems to the latest in pet food, Rewerts is an enthusiastic FRAP ambassador.
Regarding a stat showing the average pet owner spends $630 annually on pet food alone, the former Central Garden & Pet executive said: “It’s not the highest-spending category in the shop, but it drives footsteps. That’s why the hardware channel is loving this business.”
Ingersoll Rand honored for responsibility
Ingersoll Rand received high marks from Corporate Responsibility Magazine, the company announced.
The company, which makes tools among other products and systems, appeared on the publication’s “Most Improved Corporate Citizens” list. It had previously appeared on the magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens” list in the 48th spot.
“We have worked hard to embed sustainability into the fabric of the company. It is an honor to have our efforts recognized in this way,” said W. Scott Tew, executive director for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability (CEES) at Ingersoll Rand. “Making such a drastic leap in the rankings reinforces the value we see in committing time and resources to efforts that have a positive impact on our employees, the communities in which we operate, and on customer outcomes that exceed their expectations.”
Rankings are based on improved performance in environmental, climate change, human rights, employee relations, corporate governance, philanthropy and financial categories.