Dealer owned furniture & hardware giant packs $3.5 billion worth of purchasing power punch
Even on a cold March morning, the pastoral beauty of southern Ontario's rolling hills can soothe the urban spirit. Frozen rivers sparkle in the sun, stone homesteads, the occasional log house and prosperous farms mark the miles and, at the outskirts of Elmira, a Mennonite family in a horse-drawn buggy trots into view.
In dramatic contrast, right next door is the Central Office and Distributing Centre of Home Furniture, Home Hardware Stores' fastest growing division, 250,000 square feet packed with state of the art computer systems, inventory, insurance, and the talent of Home's hardworking marketing/merchandising team, a "complete retail service organization".
Two members of the Home Furniture team are Monica Heinrich, Marketing Manager, and Bruce Hammer, National Manager.
Monica was recruited to Home Furniture five years ago with a solid retail background and an Honours Bachelors Degree in Business Administration. It's her job to market Home Furniture to independent furniture retailers, recruit new members across Canada, train new dealer owners, coordinate their transition to Home, including opening events and sales, dealer education, produce floor layouts, merchandising plans and, in her spare time, coordinate all markets and social events for the company.
Bruce came to Home Furniture in l986, after l5 years of operating his own retail furniture store, to head the furniture division of Home Hardware Stores Limited. As National Manager, Bruce develops and implements a national furniture program for independent furniture retailers throughout Canada, including the direction of daily operations and long term planning for future growth and development.
Another member of the team, Morgan McCabe, furniture Merchandise Manager, coordinates the RTA and Unfinished categories for the buying association. Morgan represents Canadian retailers on government trade missions, the newly formed Canada's Home Furnishings Council, a bridging group between retailers and manufacturers, and he has served as a Trillium Awards judge. He plans all national promotions, sources products globally for the core merchandise program, and negotiates on behalf of the dealer network. Morgan's had l0 years of direct retail experience managing the St. Jacob's store, and five more action packed years in his present position.
Dick Trussler is also a Merchandising Manager, his bailiwick, Major Appliances and Floor Coverings. He joined Home l5 years ago. Dick negotiates programs in his area on behalf of Home's dealers-owners, coordinates national circular events for the major appliance area as well as catalogue pages, assists in the facilitation of the company's new electronic program and coordinates accessory and area rug packages.
Only a stone's throw away from Elmira in the town of St. Jacob's is Home's l4,000 square foot corporate "model" store. It was here, back in l900, that Henry Gilles converted the town's blacksmith shop to establish the first Home Hardware Store.
Today, sourcing worldwide, there are more than 70 Home Furniture stores, and approximately l,000 Home Hardware Stores and Building Centres. It makes a formidable buying association of over 3,500 retail outlets in Canada and the U.S. when linked with strategic partners Alliance Rona of Quebec, and Harbour Wholesalers, U.S.
Not only is Home one of the most advanced in computer and communication technology in the industry, but the company has its own 350 vehicle transportation fleet maintained by the company for delivery of goods to Home dealers and pick-ups from suppliers.
Even with 350 vehicles, distribution can still be a problem at times with Canada's vast terrain and sometimes difficult climate. Bruce smiled, "One of our dealers is so remote that we fly goods in. We deliver to other people in the winter over ice and in the summer by water. Challenging!"
He talked about Home's international expansion. Home's logo can be seen in England and in South Africa, and the company is presently "looking at licensing the formula" with South America, Japan and "others". He said, "We're already shipping internationally to St. Pierre and Miquelon!" (If you have an Atlas at hand, look just to the south of Newfoundland in the Cabot Strait at the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.)
Purchasing power, including the international group, is $3.5 billion annually, $l billion in Canada alone.
Home acts as intermediary between the dealer-owned furniture stores and the more than l00 brand name suppliers of home furnishings, major appliances, electronics and accessories from Canada, the U.S. and abroad. Because it is l00 percent dealer owned, Home is governed by a l6 member Board of Directors comprised of dealers-owners from across the country. Dealers-owners also form an Advisory Committee representing Central, Western and Eastern Canada, its function to scrutinize furniture operations and direct management in order to maintain the efficient functioning of all dealer programs.
Said Monica, "We offer sourcing, distribution, promotion and service, the four pillars of Home's established system. Our focused marketing plan provides dealers with all the tools needed to be successful in day to day retail operations, plus our program is exclusive to one member within a trading territory, so the competitive advantage of each dealer is ensured. Home's franchised program is absolutely unique".
Home's history is a saga of hard work and steady growth. Until l933, Henry Gilles and his son Alfred operated the store. (In l996 his grandsons, Henry and Roy, are members of staff and David Gromeder, his great-grandson, manages the facility.)
Gordon Hollinger purchased the business in l934, and Henry Sittler became manager. Between them they developed their motto, "Value, Service and Dependability", and a very aggressive retail business. Two years later they saw the potential to expand into wholesale. Canadian manufacturers, at first, considered St. Jacob's too remote and small to justify distribution prices, so the partners looked beyond to the United States, Great Britain and Germany, and brought exclusive lines to Canada. In time, Canadians recognized their error and climbed on board.
In those days, the store was less than 2,000 square feet with the wholesaling operation upstairs and in an unheated addition at the rear of the store. The business grew rapidly. In l938, Walter Hachborn joined Hollinger, Sittler and staff members Enoch Martin and Ross Wall.
Gordon Hollinger died in l948 and, in l950, his daughter Gladys sold the store to a new partnership formed by Sittler, Hachborn and an Elmira barrister, A. H. Zilliax.
The business had outgrown the facility by l960, and a new warehouse was erected on the corner of King and Albert Streets.
In the early '60s, changes in the Canadian retail environment and the poor health of one of the partners, forced them to seek alternate methods of doing business. It was difficult to compete with the growing number of discount chains and other operations. To allow dealers to eliminate the wholesale profit and compete successfully, while at the same time providing service and advice, a dealer-owned cooperative was formed.
Hollinger Hardware was sold to the dealers on January l, l964. The retail store was included in the sale and was managed by Bruce Gabel and Henry Gilles. Walter Hachborn became President and General Manager. The business developed quickly. Not only was it competitive, it offered many services to the dealers such as advertising and electronic ordering. Expansion brought in dealers from the Atlantic provinces to join their Ontario partners.
The business also expanded into building materials, and Home is now one of Canada's largest building material retailers.
The upward surge of the enterprise soon demanded more space and facilities so, in l967, both head office and distribution moved to a new 75,000 square foot (now more than one million!) facility on Henry Street at the outskirts of the village. The downtown warehouse was converted into the first Home Furniture Store.
Business in Atlantic Canada grew quickly and necessitated a new 360,000 square foot distribution centre at Debert, Nova Scotia in l978. Three years later, the company bought a state of the art factory in Burford, Ontario to manufacture its own high quality paint and household cleaners. The Paint Division has become the fifth largest consumer paint operation in Canada.
l98l was a banner year. Home amalgamated with the Link Hardware Company of Edmonton, Alberta, a dealer-owned firm serving Western Canada. In l985, the Distribution Centre was moved from Edmonton to a new 460,000 square foot facility in Wetaskisin, Alberta.
The year before, Home had purchased the 250,000 square foot vacant farm equipment manufacturing plant in Elmira now used as Home Furniture's Distribution Centre, offices for PIB Insurance, which supplies insurance and financial services to Home dealers, the Information Systems Centre for Home and for the dealers, and P.O.S. in-store systems.
In the May issue, we'll tell you more about this enterprising company's marketing, merchandising and distribution techniques.
CANADIANS IN HIGH POINT
Anthony's Art Design, Artage International, Baronet, Bermex, Canadel, Canwood, Carrier Inc., Coja Leatherline and C-Style, Deco Design, Dorel Inc., Durham Furniture, Dynasty Wood, Edgewood Furniture, Engelite Lighting, Fornirama, Inc., Leda Furniture, Origo Designs, Palliser Furniture, Québéko Inc., Reflections Furniture, Shermag, Sklar-Peppler Furniture, Trillium Lifestyle Ind., Vic Line, Villageois, Wild Rose.
In addition to the manufacturers from all over Canada listed above, eleven Québec home furnishings companies have pooled resources to celebrate their unique flair, and provide incentives for you to visit their showrooms at High Point! You are invited to win a well deserved family getaway for four to Québec's legendary Anticosti Island, one of the continent's greatest outdoor wonderlands, plus cameras and cash. Your hosts? A.P. Industries, Inc.; Amisco Industries; Bestar Inc.; Dutailier Group; Fornirama Inc.; Jaymar Furniture; Laurier Furniture; Roy & Benot; Shermag Inc.; South Shore Industries Ltd.; and Villageois Inc. They wish you "Bon chance!"