How’s Handy doing? Here’s how

BY Ken Clark

San Antonio — During a state-of-the-distributor presentation here at the Handy fall market, president Craig Cowart repeated a question that he hears a lot in his role as head of the former co-op: “How’s Handy doing?”

He answered with conviction: “I can promise you, we’re putting together a business that allows us not only to do the job you’re used to us doing in the past, but a better job going forward,” he said.

After a turbulent four years that included bankruptcy, new leadership and new ownership, Handy Hardware points to new capabilities as part of Cranbury, New Jersey-based Hardware Holdings LLC.

“We are not trying to recreate the old business that we had,” Cowart said. “We are taking a foundation and all things that were good from it — it's people, it's process, it's location, relationships with manufactures, and we are focused on delivering simplicity and facilitating success.”

[Click here to see the HBSDealer Slide Show from the Handy market.]

In the past three years, Hardware Holdings has brought together five businesses, including most recently, Moody, Alabama-based Jones Stephens. After a period of operating independently, the divisions are now working closely together. And Handy — also described as the “Local Market Division” for Hardware Holdings — is part of a group that serves more than 5,000 customers across the country through five distribution centers.

“We are now capable of meeting the needs of a broader range of customers both regionally and nationally,” said Cowart.

Part of that strength is in the brands and “blended planograms.” In the area of security, the blended mix includes Guard padlocks, WordLock locks and Master commercial locks.

With Hardware Holdings, Handy has access to 25 “owned brands,” including KC Professional Tools, Ultra Hardware, Aqua Plumb and Guard Security.

Handy’s Fall Market in San Antonio attracted more than 500 manufacturers and close to 1,000 attendees, according to the company. Attendance showed a double-digit percentage increase.

Hardware Holdings CEO Don Devine was in attendance. “At this market, it was important that we showcase Handy’s new capabilities and inspire confidence in Handy’s traditional dealer network, as well as the many new customers participating in a Handy Market for the first time,” Devine said, in a statement. “We want all dealers in the Southwest to know that Handy is now part of a national, growing and stable company with greater resources dedicated to facilitating their success.”

Handy Hardware emerged from a Chapter 11 filing in August 2013 after being purchased by Hardware Holdings, part of the Littlejohn & Company group. The company’s structure changed from a member-owned co-op to an independent wholesaler and distributor. As a result of the bankruptcy proceedings, retailers who were members of the co-op lost their equity.

At the recent market in San Antonio, a closed-loop video thanked retailers for their loyalty through the tough years, as it promoted the new Handy.

Dealers seemed to embrace the message.

Sean Stevens at Tulsa, Oklahoma-based M& M Lumber told HBSDealer: “I’m optimistic about it. “Since they've been recapitalized, they have some money behind them and new faces and some energy going for them.”

“I think they're on the right track,” said Ike Epstein, owner at Dr. Ike’s of South Texas. “Under the new setup they have, they'll be able to increase their buying power, make it more efficient. And consequently have better prices.

“Unfortunately, Handy was a co-op and people were members before. Now they're customers. But I think a customer-based operation will be more flexible.

He added: “They have the umbrella Hardware Holdings up in New Jersey, Jones Stephens in Alabama, a new DC in the Los Angeles area. There’s only one way they can go, and that’s up.”


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