Tech Talk: ‘Insights’ into Information


Nashville, Tenn. — Bill Harrison of McGuckin Hardware was one of thousands of technology-focused professionals who spent several days under the science fiction-like glass dome of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel here during the Epicor Global User Conference last month.

One of McGuckin’s new efficiency boosters is a solution called Training on Demand, a Web-based video training program, of which McGuckin is a beta tester. "Videos are short and to the point — 10 to 15 minutes on POS, purchasing, inventory management," said Harrison, IT manager for the True Value member that’s also an Orgill customer. "A dashboard keeps track of who does what, and it gives you more control of the training."

But for Harrison, there’s a bigger IT mission behind his attendance. "We’re looking to adopt any applications to help," he said. "And maybe see if there is something we can do differently."

One of the themes of the Epicor "Insights" event, which drew some 3,000 customers from multiple industries, was the challenge and promise of managing the 24/7 connected consumer. During the show, attendees learned that tablets are going to surpass desktop PCs this year, and surpass portable PCs in 2014. And by the end of 2013, there will be more Internet-connected mobile devices than people.

According to Epicor’s Steve Bieszczat, senior VP marketing, taking advantage of progress requires from an independent retailer a strong foundation in the basics of IT. That means that items are loaded, prices are accurate, and a scanned item responds with "a happy beep," he said.

"When these new technologies come along — websites, loyalty programs, tablet point of sale — they magnify the need for best practices," Bieszczat said. "It’s the owner’s leadership within the business establishing best practices that makes a retailer great — not the technology."

For McGuckin, a recently reworked website represents one of the fruits of a busy IT program. (Check out the site’s Flatirons webcam at But there is tough competition for today’s independent, both on the Web and in the form of the billion-dollar mega chains. Can the independent compete? The answer is a bit complicated.

"We’re ahead in that we can be more reactive to changes," said Harrison. "We’re behind them in terms of the money they can throw into something."


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Who do you view as your biggest competitor?

The Top 300 ride again


No matter how you slice them, the numbers of the HCN Top 300 Industry Scoreboard reflect the rising housing market, increased spending on the home and an easy comparison with the previous year’s performance.

Of the leading 300 home channel retailers, 277 show positive sales in the most recently completed finished fiscal year, and 12 show declines. Eleven others are listed as flat.

To download the full list of Top 300 retailers, sponsored by the National Hardware Show, click here.



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Key findings from the research:

• The 300 companies on the Top 300 Scoreboard generated home improvement sales of $214.2 billion in 2012, an increase of 4.6% compared with the same companies’ total from 2011.

• Gainers beat decliners by more than 23 to 1.

• Excluding the national home center chains and Walmart, which rank 1 through 4, sales of companies ranked 5 through 300 totaled $58.85 billion — up 10.6%.

The Top 300 list was dominated by LBM dealers, with 171 representatives; Paint stores, 17; Lawn & garden, 12; Home decor, 16; Home center, 50; Hardware store, 16; and Farm & ranch, 18.

Here are the top five revenue leaders from each sector and the sales growth of each sectors’ combined representatives on the HCN Top 300:

LBM(sector: up 13.5%)

• ProBuild (No. 8) • 84 Lumber (No. 11)

• Builders FirstSource (No. 13)

• Stock Building Supply (No. 15) • BMC (No. 17)

Skinny: The LBM field dominated the Top 300, with 171 representatives. The big are getting better: Both Builders FirstSource and BMC showed year-over-year gains of more than 30%.

Farm & Ranch(sector: up 9.3%)

• Tractor Supply (No. 7) • Rural King Supply (No. 21)

• Orscheln Farm and Home (No. 25) • Atwood (No. 26)

• Bomgaars Supply (No. 34)

Skinny: It was another growing year for the farm and ranch sector, where Tractor Supply continues to pace the field — up 10.2% to $4.66 billion in sales.

Hardware Store(sector: up 5.7%)

• Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores (No. 9)

• Harbor Freight Tools (No. 10)

• Northern Tool + Equipment (No. 14)

• Orchard Supply (No. 20)

• Westlake Ace Hardware (No. 32)

Skinny: For the first time, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores makes its appearance on the Top 300. Harbor Freight, purveyor of low price-point, private-label brands online and in store, continues to ramp up its presence — now at 440 stores.

Home Centers(sector: up 2.8%)

• Home Depot (No. 1) • Lowe’s (No. 2)

• Sears Holdings (No. 3)

• Walmart (No. 4) • Menards (No. 5)

Skinny: The top five home centers rank 1 through 5 on the Top 300. Their combined sales of $165 billion is more than three times the total sales of companies ranked 6 through 300.

Home Décor & flooring(sector: up 11.6%)

• Lumber Liquidators (No. 18) • Great Floors (No. 87)

• Avalon Carpet Tile & Flooring (No. 97)

• Airbase Carpet Mart (No. 132)

• Western Wholesale Flooring (No. 161)

Skinny: There’s a long distance between first and second in the flooring category, where Lumber Liquidators showed the largest sales volume ($813.3 million) and the largest sales increase (up 19.3%) by a long shot.

Lawn & Garden(sector: up 9.6%)

• Armstrong Garden Centers (No. 92)

• Bachman’s (No. 104) • Stein Garden & Gifts (No. 110)

• Star Nursery (No. 140) • Meadows Farms (No. 148)

Skinny: Conditions were ripe for sales gain in the lawn and garden category in 2012, with an early and extended spring. Companies faced no such good fortune in 2013, which could make next year’s scoreboard comparisons somewhat painful.

Paint Stores(sector up 17.2%)

• Sherwin-Williams (No. 6) • PPG (No. 22)

• Kelly-Moore Paint (No. 37) • Frazee Paint (No. 41)

• Dunn-Edwards Corp. (No. 51)

Skinny: Sherwin-Williams’ Paint Store group was up double digits, crossing the $5 billion barrier.

Fastest-growing Top 300

The following companies showed the biggest percentage gain over prior-year sales:

  1. Kodiak Building Partners (No. 113), up 300%
  2. CNRG (No. 84), up 222%
  3. PPG (No. 22), up 175%
  4. Building Solutions (No. 281), up 82.1%
  5. Matheus Lumber (No. 56), up 45.3%


  • 1. Home Depot: Company reports for total company sales.
  • 2. Lowe’s: Company reports for total company sales.
  • 3. Sears Holdings: Reported combined sales of “Hardlines” merchandise for Kmart and Sears Domestic. Employee count is pro-rated with sales.
  • 4. Walmart:HCN sales estimate is based on assumption that home improvement sales make up 5% of total Walmart U.S. Stores sales. Employee count is pro-rated with sales.
  • 6. Sherwin Williams: Company report for paint store division only.
  • 9. Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores: Company reports. Formerly a division of Sears Holdings.
  • 12. sales estimate is based on assumption that home improvement sales make up 2% of total sales.
  • 22. PPG Architectural Finishes: Acquired 300 U.S. stores from AkzoNobel, including Glidden brand stores. Acquisition was completed April 2013.
  • 24. US LBM Holdings: Brands include Bellevue Builders Supply, Edward Hines Lumber, East Have Builders Supply, H&H Lumber, Myers & Son, Millwood Lumber, The Kitchen Factor, Universal Supply Co., Wisconsin Building Supply, Lyman Companies, Carpentry Contractors Co., Automated Building Components and Shelly’s.
  • 32. Westlake Ace Hardware: Acquired by Oak Brook, III.-based Ace Hardware Corp. in December 2012 for $88 million. Previously owned by private equity firm Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison.
  • 76. ACO: Closed 14 underperforming stores in 2013.
  • 84. CNRG: Central Network Retail Group brands include Lumber Center, Elliott’s Hardware, Home Hardware Center, Harvey Home & Hardware NFL Home Center, Town & Country Hardware, Habersham Hardware & Home Center and Town & Country Farm & Hardware.

The Home Channel News Industry Scoreboard research project combines Web surveys, phone surveys and industry estimates to create the HCN Top 300 rankings of retailers that sell to homeowners and home builders. The Scoreboard Series includes the HCN Top 200, ranking pro dealers; and the HCN Top 100, ranking two-step hardlines and LBM distributors. For more information, visit



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Who do you view as your biggest competitor?

Protect your workers from heat stress

BY Roy Maurer

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers establish a heat-related-illness prevention program that includes advising workers to drink plenty of water and acclimatize to weather conditions and providing them with schedules that alternate between work and rest breaks. 

NIOSH specifically extends this guidance to outdoor workers in agriculture, construction and other industries that expose workers to heat stress caused by great exertion and environmental heat, which can lead to severe illness or death. 

Heat stress defined

Heat stress can be brought on by internal body heat generated by exertion (hard physical labor) and environmental heat arising from working conditions.

Contributing factors to heat stress include:

• Moderate to high air temperature, particularly with high humidity.

• Direct sun exposure.

• Heavy clothing.

• Lack of adequate water, rest periods and cooling-off conditions.

“Workers who are new to a worksite or returning from an absence of four or more days should gradually increase their workload and heat exposure over a week,” NIOSH recommends. “When a spike in temperature or a heat wave occurs, workers lose their acclimatization to the environment, and the risk of heat stress increases.”

The agency studied heat-related fatalities of workers in the United States from 1992 through 2006. During this period 423 worker deaths from environmental-heat exposure were reported. Of those who died, 102 were employed in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industries. Sixty-eight crop workers died from heat stroke, representing a rate nearly 20 times greater than for all U.S. civilian workers, NIOSH said. In 2011 the Department of Labor reported that 2 of every 1,000 workers are at risk for heat stress and that individuals in certain occupations — such as logging, firefighting, agriculture and construction — are at a greater-than-average risk.

Preventable tragedies

According to the institute, in 2008 a 56-year-old male worker died of heat stroke after spending three days hand-harvesting tobacco leaves on a North Carolina farm. On the third day the man started working at 6 a.m. He took a short midmorning break and a 90-minute lunch break. In midafternoon a supervisor observed the man working slowly and instructed him to rest, but the worker continued. An hour later, the man appeared confused, and co-workers carried him to the shade and tried to get him to drink water. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where his core temperature was recorded as 108 degrees, and, despite treatment, he died. On the day of the incident, the local temperature was approximately 93 degrees, with relative humidity of 44%. The heat index (a measurement of how hot it feels when both actual temperature and relative humidity are considered) was in the range of 86-112 degrees.

In another case, a 30-year-old lawn landscaper collapsed and died of heat stroke in 2002. Two hours before his death he had complained of feeling light-headed and short of breath, but he refused his partner’s offer of assistance. The worker was on medication that had a warning about exposure to extreme heat, and this could have interfered with body-temperature regulation. The landscaper was pronounced dead at the hospital, with an internal temperature of 107.6 degrees. On the day of the incident, the maximum air temperature was 81 degrees. 

What you can do

Prevention is the best way to avoid heat-related illness, according to NIOSH. The agency recommends that employers establish a heat-related-illness prevention program that includes the following measures:

• Training for supervisors and workers to prevent, recognize and treat heat-related illness.

• Implementing a heat-acclimatization program for workers.

• Providing for and encouraging proper hydration.

• Establishing work-rest schedules that are appropriate for heat-stress conditions.

• Ensuring access to shade or cool areas.

• Monitoring workers during hot conditions.

• Providing prompt medical attention to workers who show signs of heat-related illness.

• Evaluating work practices continually to reduce exertion and environmental heat stress.

• Monitoring weather reports daily and rescheduling jobs that require high heat exposure to cooler times of the day.

Workers are advised to:

• Stay hydrated. Hydration is the most important tool in preventing heat-related illness, and workers should be well hydrated before arriving at the job site, NIOSH said.

• Eat during lunch and other rest breaks. Food helps replace lost electrolytes.

• Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing made of materials such as cotton.

• Wear a wide-brimmed hat when possible.

• Take breaks in the shade or a cool area when possible.

• Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.

• Monitor their physical condition and that of co-workers.

• Tell their supervisor if they have symptoms of heat-related illness.

• Talk with their doctor about medications they are taking and how those may affect their heat tolerance.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).


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Who do you view as your biggest competitor?