Twenty years ago, we published our first issue of Home Improvement Retailing with the goal of bringing business ideas, solutions, and information in all areas of home improvement retailing to assist readers – home improvement retailers – to become and stay successful.
That year, 1995, was the year the toonie was introduced. Jean Chrétien had been prime minister for almost two years and the first Harry Potter book ‒ Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone – came out. Windows 95 was launched to replace Windows 3.1.
Since 1995, the TSX index has grown to 13,627.32 from 4,524.08; GDP has reached $2,144 billion from $799 billion; and the consumer price index rose to 127.3 from 87.6. Canada gained a new territory when Nunavut was officially separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999. However, the solar system lost a planet when Pluto was declassified as a planet in 2006.
The retail landscape has also experienced some major changes, with the introduction of the ‘big box’ format and technology topping the list.
Between 1975 and 1995, the number of foreign retail stores in Canada more than tripled from roughly 3,000 to 10,000, says Statistics Canada. As of 1996, foreign retailers accounted for about 35 per cent of all retail sales in Canada and about 19 per cent of all non-automotive sales. The majority of these foreign retailers (about 75 per cent) are from the U.S.
Big Box Format
These newcomers introduced the ‘big box’ format with low prices and advanced logistics systems forcing existing retailers to transform their business models to stay competitive. Statistics Canada says in some sectors, this infiltration caused local independent retailers to disappear. However, although the number of independents in the home improvement sector decreased, overall they seem to be surviving and even thriving. According to industry experts, the increased competition has enhanced the industry.
The big box “marketing initiatives have helped grow our industry and all hardware and home improvement retailers are benefitting from this growth,” says Bernie Owens, president of TIM-BR MART Group.
In fact, the industry has evolved considerably. “When Home Depot came to Canada it started the process of major consolidation of the retail home improvement community over the next 20 years which has continued to this day with the recent announcement of Orgill purchasing Chalifour,” says Paul Crawford, president of King Marketing.
Amar Doman, chairman and CEO of CanWel Building Materials Group Ltd. agrees. He says some of the biggest changes in the industry have been “the consolidation in all sectors of our space. Manufacturers, retailers, and distribution have all consolidated in a huge way in the past 20 years, and many of the familiar industry names are gone.”
Changes in technology have affected the retail sector in two ways. It has changed the way consumers shop and how retailers do business.
“The digital revolution is having and will continue to have an impact on our industry as it changes the way that people shop,” says Paul Straus, president of Home Hardware Stores Limited. Strauss was actually responsible for designing, installing, and programming the company’s first computer system. “We live in a world where new technology allows customers to instantly ‘tweet’ about their poor customer experience or blog in real time about a product that failed to live up to expectation.
“The internet and mobile devices have empowered customers like never before, providing access to valuable product and service reviews in the comfort of their own home or in front of a store shelf.”
Technology has made consumers much more informed about the products they buy and given them new channels to do their shopping.
Retailers are also using technology to enhance business models. “Over the last 20 years, the technology available to retailers has changed dramatically,” says Greg Dinsdale, president and CEO of LBMX Inc. “There has always been a noticeable gap in the amount of technology used by corporate retailers and independents. Most significantly, this includes the ability to capture valuable data throughout the supply chain and leverage it in meaningful ways. We have been pleased to work with a number of forward thinking groups who are dedicated to narrowing this technology gap. The playing field has leveled from a technology perspective so there is no reason for buying groups to not use technology to have access to real time rebate reporting or to understand and analyze what their members are buying at the item level as it happens.”
The changes in technology “allow us to streamline our business operations and gives us better management of inventory, accounts, and our time,” say Tony and Kathy Marczak, owners of Marczak’s Ace Hardware in Lac La Biche, AB. “Our automatic replenishment process has taken the guess work out of inventory management. Our sales have grown because we’re never out of the basic items we need in store. In the past, it would take us a whole week to do our ordering, but now it takes less than an hour. We’ve saved five days of our time with technology.”
Technological innovations over the last 20 years include the widespread use of bar codes and point-of-service scanning, the introduction of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, self-serve checkouts, and interactive kiosks.
One of the drawbacks of technology, however, is the protection of personal privacy and information. Although technology and data give retailers a powerful marketing tool, no-one has yet come up with a failsafe control to prevent data breaches, which continue to happen in the retail sector.
The Great Recession
The ‘Great Recession’ of 2007 to 2009 impacted Canada, although not nearly as much as in the U.S., which was the epicentre of the crisis. The event lead to a massive slowdown of global economic activity with a direct impact on foreign trade. This was significant for Canada because the U.S. represents three-quarters of Canada’s exports. The crisis also weakened financial markets and shook consumer and business confidence. Spending in the home improvement sector went down.
“No one predicted how deep nor how fast the recession would strike North America,” says Dale MacLean, president and CEO of Tree Island Steel. “While Canada fared reasonably well, our neighbours to the south suffered greatly. Markets for products disappeared or were reduced and a number of manufacturers disappeared, resulting in a more limited North America supply base.”
Finally, one cannot discuss the events of the last two decades without mentioning 9/11. “9/11 was the single most important event that impacted the entire world and everyone in it,” says Ernie Couillard, executive vice-president of Regal Ideas Inc./Telesteps Inc. “This event brought the U.S. and the world to its collective knees. It was beyond comprehension that anything like this could ever happen to humanity. It showed the worst, but also the best, of humankind and it changed us forever. It also changed businesses in as many ways as it changed people. It forced us to re-evaluate everything we do and reminded us that our success depends on how well we treat our customers and neighbours.”
The following pages present more in-depth profiles of industry players of the last 20 years – changes, advances, challenges – and a look at what to expect in the coming 20 years.
Home Hardware Stores Limited
Home Hardware Stores Limited has been in business for 51 years. It began in 1964 with 122 independent Ontario hardware retailers and has grown to Canada’s largest independent home improvement retailer with almost 1,100 stores today.
Key To Success
The reason we have been successful at Home Hardware is our people and unique business structure. Our company is built on a vision that our founder, Walter Hachborn, created – a business model that would stand the test of time and help independent dealers succeed. Every day, the people in our company work together to carry out that vision.
Our head office is focused on providing the best possible service, resources, products, and support for our independent dealer-owners. This focus allows our dealers to provide quality service, expert advice, and competitive prices to their customers in communities across Canada.
In the last 20 years, we have had a number of big milestones for our company. In 1996, our shipments reached $1 billion for the year for the first time in company history. A number of years later in 1999, Home Hardware acquired Beaver Lumber (138 stores) and became a leader in the lumber and building material space.
We have had some leadership changes in the past decade with our company founder, Walter Hachborn retiring from the board of directors and taking on the role of President Emeritus in 2010. At that time, Paul Straus was appointed president and CEO and I was appointed as executive vice-president and COO. Last year, I was appointed as CEO and Paul remained as president.
We have recently reached a number of important milestones including the celebration of our 100th Market in 2013 and our 50th anniversary last year in 2014.
Home Hardware is a company that celebrates its history and is unlikely to embrace change for change’s sake. However, when innovation is called for, our company steps up to the challenge. A recent example of this is the changing face of retail in internet marketing. Customers are still searching for that quality service, outstanding product, and expert advice, but they want to be able to research it for themselves and purchase it in the way that is most convenient for them. Home Hardware has responded to this change by offering our product selections online on our website and the option of eCommerce to meet this rising demand and deliver on our reputation of sourcing almost any product our customers are looking for.
Customers are looking for those innovative, quality products in our stores and we want to deliver on them immediately. In our mission to help our dealer-owners succeed, we are careful to provide the best products at affordable prices and as quickly as possible. Recently, we invested in product efficiencies with a distribution centre expansion in Debert, NS, as well as rolling out a new warehouse management system to deliver products at a lower cost to our dealers.
I think the greatest impact on the way we do business is from internet marketing and retail. In the past 20 years, we have developed a robust website with a multi-channeled social media presence where we can interact and respond to our dealers and customers immediately.
This shift towards online retail has also had a changing impact on the way we sell our products. We have introduced eCommerce and now share our extensive flyer program online and on a number of apps to allow our customers the most convenient shopping experience possible.
We also have introduced new technologies for our contractors in our ‘Home Installs’ program to interact with their customers and our commercial maintenance program. We are providing more communication and information to our customers than ever before, simplifying the process for our dealer-owners.
Over the next two decades, I foresee an increased demand for authenticity and customer care as the digital age continues to change personal interaction in retail. At the core of Home Hardware is service and we have a long history of people dedicated to this culture. We are committed to looking to the future and ensuring that we continue to build on the strong foundations of value, service, and dependability in our company.
Taiga Building Products
Taiga Building Products has been in business for 42 years. It was started by a group of experienced lumbermen with the goal of providing better customer service than the competition, and this remains the cornerstone of the company to this day. Over the years, it has grown from a single sales office employing a dozen traders into a network of more than 400 people.
Today, it is a leading independent wholesale distributor of building materials with 15 distribution centres in Canada, two in California, and six reload stations in the eastern U.S. It produces preserved lumber at three plants across Canada and also exports products into markets in Asia, central and South America, and the Middle East.
Key To Success
Our success is comes from very entrepreneurial succession of management. We are always able to adapt to changes in our industry. We also have a strong culture of dedicated employees and a strong national base of distribution centres.
The fact we are still involved in this industry that has seen consolidation in both retail and wholesale means that we have been able to provide a strong product selection and service to a very broad base of customers.
One of the biggest industry changes over the last 20 years is the arrival of the big boxes such as Aikenhead/Eagle and then Home Depot, Lowes, and RONA.
TIM-BR MART Group
TIM-BR MARTS Ltd. was founded in 1967, celebrating 48 years in business this year. It is a member-owned organization serving building material and hardware retailers, commercial dealers, and manufacturers. TIM-BR MART Group exists to help Canadian entrepreneurs involved in the sale of building materials and hardware to be more profitable.
Key To Success
TIM-BR MART’s success over the years is due to our focus on the independent building material and hardware entrepreneur. Their success has been our measurement of success. Our management team always ensures our membership has access to competitive regional buying programs, direct-ship opportunities, marketing programs, and the guidance they need to be successful and profitable in their markets. This acute focus on the independent and their success has allowed our group to grow and adapt to changing market conditions over time and throughout Canada.
A historical change we’ve undergone has been via the growth we’ve experienced over the past 10 years. In 2005, three regional buying groups (Award in Atlantic Canada, Homecare in Ontario, and TIM-BR MARTS Ltd. in western Canada) merged into one, TIM-BR MART. At this point we became a national buying group and carried a single, unified banner for our members across the country. Upon the TIM-BR MART banner, we developed our national marketing and branding initiatives, and soon after, introduced the AIR MILES Reward Program, which has been instrumental in increasing our national exposure.
The expansion and growth of the box store footprint in Canada has been impressive. Their marketing initiatives have helped grow our industry and all hardware and home improvement retailers are benefitting from this growth. The box stores’ marketing initiatives helped our industry compete for consumers’ discretionary spend. Online retailing has also evolved and exposed more products to consumers. Many consumers see products and ideas online then come and visit our stores.
The popularity of renovation shows on TV has also helped grow an important part of our industry – the renovation market. Project spending in our industry has increased exponentially. POS technology has improved and evolved beyond just an electronic cash register and now assists retailers with managing their business, customer base, and inventory levels.
The expansion of the box stores and their massive marketing power has really added growth to our industry and, in the same token, challenged the independent entrepreneur.
Online retailing will continue to grow and evolve. In our industry, consumers will research and have access to more product information, pricing, and where to buy their chosen products. Consumers will know or easily access all retail pricing for easy comparison shopping so it will be crucial to be priced right regionally. We will also see less DIY and more ‘do-it-for-me’ shoppers. The younger generations (Gen X and Y) are typically less handy compared to their preceding generations and, as such, will rely on contractors and other professionals to do the work for them. They will be very adept and informed when it comes to what they want in regards to products, trends, fashion, and design, yet home projects will likely be completed professionally.
Castle Building Centres Group Ltd.
Castle Building Centres Group Ltd. has been in business since 1963. Its buying approach is focused on member profitability with a diversified business model to appeal to the LBM, commercial, and specialty segment of the industry. It is focused on core building materials and hardware.
Key To Success
With the change in the landscape, Castle had to provide a different service for its members. Our volume has never been higher and has grown and continues to grow. We think that the success formula is managing our costs of operation, knowing what we are good at, and then delivering that to the members in a platform which is as efficient as possible. Probably our largest investment in the last 20 years has been in our Enterprise reporting system, which manages our business, the payables, and the invoicing.
The biggest change that has happened in the last 20 years would be the introduction of the big box retailers into Canada. The first big box retailers opened in 1992, but, since ’95, Home Depot has rolled out 175 stores across the country. That changed the retail format.
The good thing is, as the big box chains grew, it did weed out some of the poorer performing independents. However, it also created a new class of independents who were more business savvy, smarter, and able to compete. The majority of volume in Canada still goes through the independents – between 55 to 60 per cent.
When you look at the competitive nature in Canada with the geography of Canada, you cannot have independents not fulfilling these needs. The towns are too small and too spread out so the independents are not going to go away.
The buying groups, as a whole, have realized their role is to make the independents more competitive as opposed to controlling the behaviour and brands of the independents. We think it is going to continue to evolve. We think there is going to be additional competition which is going to come into the marketplace.
The biggest change will come as technology. More people are buying more products on the worldwide web every day. We think in some categories that is going to have an impact. In other categories, it is not. Consumers are not going to buy a delivery of shingles online. Consumers will continue to rely on the contractor. The contractor wants to have a relationship. That is where we think the independents are going to be able to take care of that contractor and help him make money. Independents will always be a part of the home improvement industry.
Castle celebrated its 50th year in 2013. We are going to be here another 50 years. Independents are going to be here for another 50 years. The question is what is going to happen with the bricks-and-mortar stores? Are they going to be able to handle the onslaught on the square-footage? Some of them are very well positioned to handle it. Those that aren’t as well-managed are going to face challenges. We think we are going to continue to see some people continue to struggle in the marketplace.
We see the positioning of Castle as a local brand. We continue to see people who are putting money into the marketplace to try and get people into their stores. We push that down to the member and the member can make those decisions which work for them, whether it be in Victoria, BC, or in Stephenville, NL. We stayed away from that national brand which we think is one of the positives about Castle because we do not have to have the members pay for it. It is a way of business that crystallized about 10 years ago and we stayed with it. That is what we want to do. We want to continue to drive that consumer and the contractor into a relationship with the store from the store level.
Stanley Black & Decker Canada (Global Tools & Storage Division)
When you look at all the brands within the company, Stanley Black & Decker Canada can tabulate more than 500 years of combined experience within its global tools and storage business. This consists of brands such as Stanley Hand Tools, Black & Decker Tools, DEWALT Tools, Porter Cable Tools, and Bostitch Pneumatics & Tools.
Key To Success
Success starts by understanding our end user, everyone from the novice DIYer to a jobsite professional who needs the best tools on the job and this helps us to develop and deliver a regular suite of industry leading products. Then we add to that our strong customer relationships and experienced, responsive marketing and sales team.
A historical moment for the DEWALT brand was the development of the 18V Nicad battery and power tool line-up, which has now evolved to our 12V, 20V, and 40V Cordless Lithium Extreme Runtime technology. On the Stanley side, we are proud to be the leader in the tape measure industry with our FatMax tape and brand. In addition, there’s Bostitch, which continues to be a leader in the development of the pneumatic tools industry with its innovative fastening tools and fasteners. Recently, we acquired Abmast and Powers, two brands that we will see grow our tool and fastener business into the future.
Without a doubt, when it comes to industry changes in products, the advent and continued development of cordless technology has revolutionized the business. From an industry perspective, the introduction and expansion of home improvement and big box stores along with the growing enthusiasm that homeowners have for DIY have not only given the industry new distribution channels, but also created a whole new consumer segment for us.
The changes on the industry side have had the biggest impact due to the driving force behind the ongoing innovation that has led to the creation of power and hand tools becoming smaller, faster, and more durable.
TORBSA will be in business for 50 years in 2016. It is a building materials buying group that is member owned and directed, with more than 28 members throughout Canada. TORBSA members maintain independent business identities, but also volunteer their time and expertise and work together to ensure the success of TORBSA, their fellow members, and the industry.
In May 2016, we will be 50 years old. We are going to have a gala dinner for the industry on May 13 in Toronto, ON, and will invite all our industry friends, shareholders past and present, founders, retired suppliers, and past members.
Key To Success
A lot of our success comes back to relationships with our vendor friends and shareholders. We like to have that vendor, member, or shareholder relationship as strong as possible. It gives our members an advantage to be competitive in the marketplace and to totally understand their position, their numbers, and how they compete. Our best practices include monthly meetings, corporate functions, partnering with vendors to help fund them, and keeping our members current with updated product changes and promotions in the industry.
In the last 20 years, Bill Gates wrote about bringing people into the 21st century and I think we did that right from day one. We put computers in the hands of our dealers on an ongoing basis, upgraded most computers and gave them tools such as PDAs and iPhones and then iPads, making sure that they were comfortable with technology.
Last year, Bob Hill joined us as our business development manager. He comes with many years of experience in the industry.
One of the things we have done in the last 20 years is we have expanded our breadth of membership. We now have members in BC, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes.
We also joined the OCTO group three years ago which extended our hardlines offering.
We have also transitioned to the cloud. From there, our members can look at purchasing volumes, marketing programs, contact information, and be updated on what is happening within the group.
We are proud to have members that in the last 20 years have celebrated substantial years in service. Oldershaw Builders Supply Co. was founded in 1846; Builders Supply in 1933; Merkley Supply in 1959; and Blair Building Materials in 1950.
One thing I see is that people in their late 20s to early 30s – they would be considered Millennials – do not have a problem shopping over the internet. That will have an impact on the bricks-and-mortar of our business. Consumers spend a lot more time on the internet looking up information and finding out where they can buy it. If they go into the store, they buy a product in the store or they order it online. They younger people, as they start to become more of the predominant people who buy, will actually focus on acquiring a product or searching out information on that basis.
Over the last 20 years, we have also seen more competitors, more product choices, and offerings of the same products. I see it as a blurred product line between the professional dealer and the LBM stores. There are a lot of products that have only been offered by the specialty dealer and some of those products are now being offered at LBMs.
Additionally, we are seeing many companies that have U.S.-based offices moving their finance, marketing, and other operational functions in-house to the head office.
Another thing is the average age of the trades – like plumbers and electricians – is getting older. I think our educational system and union will have to be focused on making sure there are enough people heading into those trades to take over when the current demographic retires.
I think technology has had a major impact on our industry. Twenty years ago, no-one would know until the middle of the following month how they were doing the previous month. Now, you push a button and the numbers are there. They tell you if your margins are off, if there is a product you are not selling that you should be, and if you have too much inventory.
I think we will see a change in the business model. There will always be specialists that will continue to be able to meet the needs of their clientele; however, technology will drive away business from some of those specialists.
Also, dealers will be looking for more just-in-time inventory. They don’t want large inventories because that costs money. In the last 10 years, we have relied heavily on products coming out of Asia and different markets where the lead time was 12 to 14 weeks. Perhaps businesses are realigning where they want to buy and looking at buying more locally rather than offshore. This means is they do not need to have as big an inventory. They might pay a couple of percentage points more, but they will likely do that if they are able to reduce their inventory and, at the same time, be able to supply their clients in a timely manner.
Regal Ideas Inc./Telesteps Inc.
Regal Ideas Inc./Telesteps Inc. is celebrating 30 years in business. The company provides a wide range of innovative products designed to make life easier for home owners and make business sense for contractors. It started with one product line years ago – Regal Aluminum Railing. Today, Regal Railing is the largest selling brand of aluminum railing in North America and the company continues to develop innovative new products for the building supply industry, providing better solutions for home owners, developers, and builders. Products that work with the Regal Railing Systems include QuickKit Aluminum Fencing, QuickStep Aluminum Stair Stringers, QuickSnap Aluminum Columns, and Telesteps Engineered Climbing Products.
Key To Success
The key to our success is that we invented the ‘1, 2, 3’ step component aluminum railing and fencing for the DIY consumer and the home improvement industry. We also have a customer centric approach with all our products, programs, and support materials.
We are easy to do business with. We develop product that is easy to install and easy to use, durable, and safe.
Additionally, we work closely with each of our customers to enhance retailers’ growth and performance. Our company provides complete product assortments with optimized merchandizers to offer a turn-key solution in each of our categories.
We are constantly researching and developing products that offer a low-maintenance, long life solution.
Our success depends on having good people, products, and programs, but the biggest factor is building strong relationships with our customers and associations.
I would have to say that 9/11 was the single most important event that impacted the entire world and everyone in it – more than anything I have ever seen in my life. This event brought the U.S. and the world to its collective knees. It was beyond comprehension that anything like this could/would ever happen to humanity. It showed the worst, but also the best of humankind and it changed us forever.
It was also an important life lesson that reminded us of how fragile and dependent we are on each other and how important it is to understand our differences and work towards tolerance and acceptance and toward global solutions to allow all of humanity to live in peace and dignity.
9/11 changed businesses in as many ways as it changed people. It forced us to re-evaluate everything we do and reminded us that our success depends on how well we treat our customers and neighbours.
The internet has changed the face of retail. Whether it’s online shopping or social media, it has influenced and changed how consumers shop and research products.
Now, mobility and the use of mobile in retail is growing exponentially.
Social media is a big influencer in our industry and we have taken a major step in our marketing strategies to include focused social media campaigns. We want to be where consumers are spending their time, and that is online.
Steel-Craft Door Products Ltd.
Steel-Craft Door Products Ltd. has been in business for more than 50 years. It manufactures residential, commercial, and industrial doors. The company has a manufacturing facility and adjoining distribution centre in Edmonton, AB, as well as several other distribution sites across Canada.
The company was founded by Art Mihalcheon, an ornamental iron maker who saw a growing need for well-crafted steel products such as garage doors. His commitment to quality and ingenuity is present at Steel-Craft today. He still refuses to work with inferior materials, still makes his own parts, and his tool-making ingenuity has evolved into a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that uses technology and human expertise to ensure quality and efficiency with minimal wastage.
Key To Success
Steel-Craft’s strength has always been in its people, starting with Art Mihalcheon, the founder. His commitment to quality is still present at Steel-Craft today. His vision to create a high quality and efficient product set the fundamental basis for its on-going success.
Technological advancements have allowed Steel-Craft to move away from traditional non-insulated and polystyrene insulated products to investing in a continuous line for polyurethane foam in both the residential and commercial products. This new insulation has made our doors stronger and more thermally efficient which has allowed us to better fit the needs of Canadian consumers.
Over the past 20 years, the industry has allowed for more customization with a large variety of colours including wood-grain options and an array of design options. With this, there has also been a high concern for quality, which contributes to the development of polyurethane insulated products. This has had a big impact on the industry, especially in Canada where customers are looking to meet both their aesthetic and functional needs. Companies have come out with innovative ways to meet both of these needs. For example, Steel-Craft’s new Contemporary Series offers a wood-grain finish, with quality insulation and durability that isn’t available in a traditional wood door. Marrying this idea of a quality and design has been an improvement for the industry, but has also raised the standard for all overhead door manufacturers.
Groupe BMR was established in 1967. It is a group of independent dealers that operate 247 home renovation and hardware centres in Quebec, Ontario, in the Maritime provinces, and in the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. In 2015, the company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the agricultural and agri-food cooperative, La Coop fédérée. It joins Olymel, Agrico Canada Ltd., Agronomy Company of Canada, and Énergies Sonic.
Key To Success
Being close to our vendors has always been essential for us and this explains the majority of our success. We listen to our vendors and we make sure this is what we base our business model on.
Our operations, which are completely integrated, are also part of our success, as is the fact that we have developed throughout the years our own financial service, with our own credit card and our BMR 360 loyalty card.
Our marketing team also does a very good job of shining the spotlight on our brand (strong-marketing).
In 1997, we made an important decision that has shaped our history ‒ to build a hardware distribution centre on the south shore of Montreal, QC, to meet the needs of our vendors. Thus, we integrated the hardware segment into our provision of products.
Unfortunately, we cannot pass in silence over the fire that ravaged our warehouse and our headquarters in 2005. We had to rebuild it all anew.
Finally, another historical moment for us has clearly been us joining the large La Coop fédérée family in 2015, which doubled our number of vendors (350) in addition to giving us greater purchasing power.
There are so many of them! Without a doubt, the biggest changes are the appearance of big box stores, the arrival of American competitors, and the coming of eCommerce. This has completely changed the face of the industry.
Some other changes, not as major, have also contributed to shifting the industry. These include longer store business hours, the reduction in the number of local independent retailers, the everyday low pricing strategy, the increase in the number of imported products, and the increase in the number of corporate stores.
It is difficult to choose just one from amongst them, but I would say the appearance of big box stores. This has shrunk the distances and now it’s as if there are no longer any borders.
New technologies are going to change the consumption habits of our customers and, as a consequence, our ways of attracting them and serving them as well. Information about hardware industry products will be easier to access than ever and we must adjust to this. I also believe that eCommerce will lead to a globalization that inevitably is going to reduce the number of physical stores.
Sexton Group Ltd. has been in business for 30 years. It is an independently owned buying group for building material dealers, hardware retailers, specialty dealers, and manufactured structure specialists. Headquartered in Winnipeg, MB, the group has more than 300 members, representing more than 400 locations in every province and territory in Canada.
We concluded that the continued strength of our members and their commitment to their local community is the backbone of our group and, therefore, this is the theme of our 30th anniversary. In addition, we held a fundraiser for the Canadian Liver Foundation. With the support of our members and suppliers, we raised over $9,000.
Key To Success
The key to our success is due to the fact that our time and resources are invested in ensuring our members have competitive buying programs and we deliver on our commitments to our suppliers. Day in and day out, we work with members individually to deal with issues and opportunities in their local markets. Each market is different and every day our members face new challenges. Sexton Group needs to be working with them every day. Today’s buying groups must be much more hands-on and we are meeting this requirement.
Over the past 20 years, we have roughly tripled the number of member locations and are now present in every province and territory in Canada. We have established a powerful ‘direct from manufacturer’ hardlines program and member purchases are five-fold what they were 10 years ago. Over the past 10 years, Sexton Group has become the largest Canadian buying group for manufactured structure enterprises.
From our perspective the biggest change is the continued health and relevancy of the independent building materials retailer. There was a common belief a number of years ago that the independent would be decimated by the corporate giants. This has not happened as Sexton members have adapted and invested in their futures. They continue to be an important part of their local communities and the clear preference for professional contractors.
Our industry has been a late adopter of information and communication technology. This is changing and there are significant efficiencies that should result.
Also, continued consolidation of vendors and the globalization of supply lines are creating more distance between vendors and our local markets. In the opinion of Sexton, buying groups will be called upon to play an increasing role in building a bridge between suppliers and our members in local communities.
All Weather Windows
From a single Alberta-based plant to Canada’s largest privately owned window and door manufacturer, All Weather Windows today stands as a true made-in-Canada success story.
All Weather’s humble beginnings trace back to Edmonton, AB, in 1978 when Harry Buhler launched the company out of a 10,000-square foot window and door manufacturing facility. Shortly after, Alberta entered a recession that had dire consequences for the housing and construction markets as interest rates skyrocketed and property values plummeted.
Thanks to hard work and strong leadership, All Weather emerged from the turbulent 1980s and, by the next decade, it had established five locations across the city. In 1998, it merged the five facilities into a single manufacturing plant and head office in Edmonton. Eight years later it expanded into Ontario by opening a manufacturing plant in Mississauga. Today, All Weather Windows has nine branches, more than 1,000 dealers and over 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space from Ontario to BC.
The advent of PVC windows have had the biggest impact in the residential construction industry over the last 20 years and, at the same time, customer satisfaction and product innovation have been the hallmarks of All Weather’s continued growth. PVC windows have provided better thermal performance and a longer life span than aluminum and wood while offering better sound proofing. The move to PVC also resulted in less heat loss in the winter and more control over heat allowed in during the summer. This prompted builders, dealers, and consumers ‒ especially those in colder climates ‒ to demand more innovation in energy efficiency, such as dual and triple pane windows. All Weather responded by developing products that lower fuel and energy costs, improve indoor air quality, and increase comfort for homeowners. The shift away from aluminum frame windows to PVC also led to perhaps the company’s most important innovation in 2009 when it launched V-weld. V-weld technology fuses together all of a PVC window’s joints, leaving no gaps, cracks, or spaces and virtually eliminating air and water leaks. All Weather Windows was the first window and door manufacturer in North America to offer the technology.
With energy efficiency gaining momentum All Weather was an early adopter of energy efficient manufacturing practices and window and door offerings. The company’s commitment to energy efficiency has earned recognition as the ‘ENERGY STAR Manufacturer of the Year for Windows and Doors’ in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2015.
In addition to functional improvements, windows are now more generally regarded as part of a home’s aesthetic appeal. All Weather Windows has taken advantage of this trend by positioning its products as part of the design of the overall building envelope with different shapes, colours, and brick-mould sizing. As part of the colour solution, All Weather offers bold colour options for both exterior and interior PVC frames. Its Renolit product showcases creativity in home design by permanently bonding coloured acrylic film to the PVC window frame.
A lot can change in 20 years even in the window business and All Weather will continue to lead the way as we head into the next 20 years.
TruServ Canada, part of the RONA network, has the goal to be the ‘helpful solution’ for independent retailers in Canada. With service centres in Winnipeg, MB, and Kitchener, ON, TruServ Canada supplies a complete range of hardware, tools, paint, electrical, plumbing, lawn & garden, automotive, sporting goods, housewares, stationery, toys, pet food & supplies, linens, and workwear to independent retailers across Canada on a weekly delivery basis. More than 40,000 SKUs are available via the warehouses with another 80,000+ available on direct programs. The company can support any retail business initiative from the smallest niche market to a full-sized Ace branded store. The Ace brand is offered in in three format options: Ace Hardware, Ace Building Centre, and Ace Country & Garden.
Key To Success
Our dealers are the reason for our success. In a summary, it is the ability to change to meet the needs of the changing marketplace, “the more things change … the more you need to adapt your business.”
The purchase of TruServ Canada Incorporated by RONA inc. in 2010, reinforced the importance of independent retailers to the retail fabric of Canada. We’re now part of the largest home improvement company in the country.
The industry has grown significantly; exploded, in fact, with the housing growth in the mid-’90s and then with the introduction of the ‘big box.’
The big box growth, most of which was U.S. driven, has meant more competition for independents. Unlike other retailers who have faced increased competition, the independent hardware dealers did not disappear. In fact, it forced independents to evolve and develop niche programs.
As technology increases, and online shopping habits of Canadians increase, there will be more changes. Retailers will need to adapt in order to keep the pace of change.
Atlas Polar Company Ltd.
Atlas Polar Company Ltd. has been in business since 1938. It is a privately held Canadian manufacturing and distribution firm with offices in Toronto, ON; Calgary and Edmonton, AB; and Montreal, QC. The company has grown from a local supplier of Polar marine engines to a multi-faceted North American company. The three interrelated divisions at Atlas Polar include Truck Mounted Material Handling Equipment, Polar Crane Remote Controls, and Trash Rake Systems.
Key To Success
We like to think that our strong customer support is recognized in the industry and provides the basis for our success. As a single example, a few years ago one of our customers was desperate to deliver a load of building material, but had a traffic accident that disabled his Moffett forklift and truck. When the unit appeared at Atlas Polar, we unloaded the material to a demonstrator truck, delivered it to the end customer, and had the Moffett repaired and ready to go within the day ‒ unusual, but true.
For Atlas Polar, 2013 was an historical moment. The company celebrated 60 years of selling and servicing the Hiab/Moffett/Multilift brands of equipment, and 75 years of serving our Canadian customers.
Without doubt, the greatest change has been the impact of the internet on customers’ expectations. Another significant change was the introduction of safety electronics on hydraulic equipment.
Of these changes, the internet has had the greatest impact. Our customers expect a high level of service and we have so much equipment in the field that we’ve needed to set up service centres in high population areas and carry high levels of parts inventory to satisfy the needs of our customers. We’re a privately owned firm and no special approval is needed to provide the unusual, to satisfy our customer’s needs.
Task Tools has been in business for 47 years. It is a Canadian company that develops high-performing, quality tools with a focus on environmentally-sustainable packaging and effective merchandising designs. The company has three brands: TASK, TASK Signature, and Tuf-E-Nuf.
Key To Success
Task Tools focuses on contractor grade quality, breadth and depth in our key categories, superior levels of service (97 per cent-plus fill rates, in-store inventory management, hassle-free warranty support), and product innovation. These attributes have helped make us a valued partner for our customers throughout North American and the Caribbean.
For Task Tools, some of our biggest moments were in 2000 – the introduction of the Quick Support Rods & Accessories program to the North American market; in 2010 – our change in branding from grey to red; in 2011 – the launch of our environmentally sustainable sandwich blister packaging for power tool accessories; and from 2012 to 2015 – the awards we have collected recognizing our packaging, merchandising, and product innovations:
• 2012 Environmental Packaging of the Year Award (Power Tool Accessories)
• 2012 Gold Merchandising Award (Spinning Carabiner Clip Display)
• 2013 Gold Packaging Award (Impact Driver Accessories Set)
• 2014 Product Innovation Award (Quick Support Rods)
• 2015 Retailers’ Choice Award (Spinning Bulk Driving Accessories Display)
One of the biggest changes in our industry over the last 20 years has been the consolidation at all levels – from retail to distribution to manufacturing. Other changes have arisen because of the internet and related technologies. As information becomes more accessible, power is moving from manufacturers to retailers to consumers. One of the outcomes of this power shift is that customer experience is rapidly replacing product features and benefits as the key driver of buying behaviour. This phenomenon is having a big impact now and it will continue to change the way we look at our industry in the future.
Burlington Merchandising & Fixtures
Burlington Merchandising & Fixtures (BMF) has been in business for 12 years with a mandate to help independent retailers renovate their stores.
Key To Success
We have developed turn-key solutions for renovating stores and building new ones and continue to innovate to expand merchandising options for retailers and vendors.
In 2009, we moved into our new facility which allowed us to expand our display division for vendors and reliably deliver large rollouts with tight timing.
In 2013, BMF was named to a list of the Canada’s fastest growing companies and 2015 will mark its third consecutive year on this list.
In 2014, BMF shipped its first products to the U.S.
In 2015, BMF launched its new FLEXline product line to complement its shelving and racking systems.
Interest in home improvement has grown exponentially in the last 20 years, driven by television networks such as HGTV, a robust housing market, and stores with much larger offerings than in the past. Woman shoppers have driven the need for expanding assortments in décor departments and improving in-store presentation. New on-line competition is forcing retailers to further enhance the in-store experience. The dramatic expansion of box stores over the last 20 years has driven independents to expand and renovate to remain competitive.
BMF’s ability to help retailers drive and adapt to change in our industry will continue to be a cornerstone of our success.
CanWel Building Materials Group Ltd.
CanWel Building Materials Group Ltd. has been in business for 26 years and is one of North America's largest distributors of building materials and home renovation products serving the new home construction, home renovation, and industrial markets.
The company operates seven wood preservation plants that produce treated wood products. Through its distribution warehouses, it provides a comprehensive range of building products to dealer/lumberyards and home improvement centres. The products are used primarily in new construction, repair, and remodelling.
The company carries a full line of structural, exterior, interior, and specialty products for all types of projects.
Key To Success
One of the main reasons for our success is the key long-term relationships we have and continue to build with our customer and vendor partners in Canada and the U.S. It has taken years to build and maintain these. Also, we have the best team of employees in Canada. They certainly drive our success. We also continuously re-deploy capital into our company through strategic acquisitions and investing in our physical locations and IT programs.
We have been a consolidator in our space. This allows us to have scale and manufacture some of the products we distribute. This segment is growing and will continue to grow inside CanWel, in Canada, and the U.S.
We always feel like a work in progress, striving to improve by listening to our customers and looking forward to the future, watching trends and cycles, and acting accordingly. We believe in our industry and are very proud to have been associated with it for decades.
There are many historical moments for CanWel. Going public in 2004 on the TSX was certainly one of the most memorable and, of course, there are the many acquisitions we have successfully completed over the years which have transformed us not to look like anyone else in our space.
Being public provides us access to a wide range of capital sources, not to mention being noticed by industry players around the continent. We have been fortunate with an excellent board of directors who help guide us and allow us to pursue our growth strategies in an ever-changing environment. Seeing interest rates sitting at record lows today is certainly something we will all remember, much like we remember the sky high rates of the early ’80s.
I would say some of the biggest changes have been the consolidation in all sectors of our space. Manufacturers, retailers, and distributors have all consolidated in a huge way in the past 20 years and many of the familiar industry names are gone.
As well, the severe downturn of the late 2000s certainly provided its own challenges and hurdles to overcome. I believe that that shock will last in our thought patterns and impact our behaviours for the years to come. Home improvement continues to build as an industry of its own and it’s nice from our viewpoint to see our overall ‘pie’ expanding. Forty years ago, home improvement was a kitchen or bathroom renovation – now it is a massive component in North America generating in the billions of dollars per year and growing.
RONA inc. is a major Canadian retailer and distributor of hardware, building materials, and home renovation products. The corporation operates a network of over 500 corporate, franchise, and independent affiliate stores with complementary formats. With its nine distribution centres, RONA serves its own network as well as many independent dealers operating under different banners, including Ace.
Key To Success
In the world of retail, there is no status quo. We have to constantly reinvent ourselves to stay relevant, to improve our offering, and adjust our strategies.
Last year, RONA celebrated its 75th anniversary. Over that period, the corporation has seen many changes and operated under different corporate names.
The 1990s was the era of big box stores, ushering in RONA L’entrepôt. The first decade of 2000 saw meteoric growth for RONA as it made acquisitions, built new stores, and recruited new dealer-owners. In 2002, RONA went public, marking an important milestone when its shares began trading on the TSX.
Last year, with the transformation of all Réno-Dépôt stores complete, a better banner positioning, and as the master licencee for the Ace Hardware brand in Canada, RONA continues to consolidate its restructuring efforts. Today, RONA has a Canada-wide network of over 500 corporate, franchise, and affiliate stores of varied and complementary formats.
Over the years, RONA has been a leading partner in sustainable development efforts. In 1997, it pioneered in Quebec the first paint recovery and recycling program in Canada. In 2012, RONA became the first national retailer to recover paint nationwide by offering the service in all its corporate, franchise, and affiliate stores. RONA also offers its customers over 2,000 eco-responsible products, including those of its own private brand, RONA ÉCO.
Tree Island Steel
Tree Island Steel has been in business for more than 50 years in Canada. Since 1964, it has been providing high quality wire and wire products into the industrial, commercial construction, retail, agricultural, and specialty market sectors. At the retail level, the company typically supplies nails, agricultural fencing, and construction related reinforcing products.
Key To Success
As a North American-based manufacturer with facilities in both Canada and the U.S., we deliver high quality products into the market at competitive pricing. We are highly focused on customer engagement, while adapting to a dynamic market to ensure we provide exceptional customer service combined with a broad distribution network for rapid delivery. We are also ISO 9001 quality certified and very proud of our people and capabilities to surpass customer expectations.
Tree Island was founded in 1964 and we celebrated our first 50 years in business in September 2014. We have operations along the west coast of North America in British Columbia and southern California. Tree Island ships to all points in North America and internationally.
Today the company offers a wide range of products, including nails and fasteners, stucco reinforcing products, concrete reinforcing products, and agricultural wire and fencing as well as industrial and specialty wire products.
While the company has gone through a number of changes over those 50 years, the philosophy of offering high quality products and exceptional service has not diminished. Since those early days, our customers have relied on our reputation for quality and delivery and our ongoing commitment to that focus remains important to all Tree Island Steel employees.
Today, we are proud to produce a broad range of products while providing a level of service that exceeds customer expectations. Fifty years is just the beginning for Tree Island Steel.
The expansion of box stores into Canada is seen as a marked change in the retail business model for building materials. When Aikenhead’s introduced Canada to the box store concept in 1991, it was a unique retail opportunity. This changed the market from one dominated by regional and national independents to one now dominated by big box retailers, including Home Depot, RONA and Reno Depot, Canadian Tire, Lowes, and others who are taking a larger portion of the retail market.
Another major event in the last 20 years was the global recession of 2008 to 2009. No one predicted how deep or how fast the recession would strike North America. While Canada fared reasonably well, our neighbours to the south suffered greatly. Markets for products disappeared or were reduced and a number of manufacturers disappeared, resulting in a more limited North America supply base.
A further transformation in the industry has been the ever-changing landscape of regional and national buying groups through consolidation and restructuring. In addition, as individual members get absorbed by major retailers and others, buying group purchasing power continues to evolve.
There are multiple factors which impact sales volumes and, ultimately, the financial results for the company. Of critical importance is to maintain an ongoing focus on delivering high quality, competitively manufactured products which meet or exceed customer needs. As part of this focus, Tree Island Steel continues to stick to its core competencies through a well-established North American manufacturing base to deliver its broad range of wire and wire products into the market. We are proud to manufacture ‘Made in Canada’ and ‘Made in America’ products for the construction industry.
Tree Island Steel has grown its sales by over 25 per cent in the past two years and demand in our end markets remains robust. We believe we are well-positioned for further growth in future periods. We look forward to manufacturing and delivering high quality North American made wire and wire products for another 50 plus years.
Marczak’s Ace Hardware, Lac La Biche, AB
Marczak’s Ace Hardware has been in business since 1960, celebrating 55 years this year. Tony and Kathy Marczak are third generation owners; they purchased the store in August 1995 from his parents. Tony watched his grandfather and his parents work in the store since he was a young boy. In fact, Tony’s dad still comes to work each day.
Key To Success
Honestly, it’s our customer service. We’ve been part of the community for generations, we really do know people who live in this community. We not only know customers by name, we also know their families.
Our name has changed a number of times – most recently from TRU Hardware to Ace Hardware.
The biggest change has been technology. It has allowed us to streamline our business operations through better management of inventory, accounts, and our time. It has taken the guess work out inventory management. Our competition has changed: we’ve seen RONA move into the community, Home Hardware expanded, and so did the other lumberyard just out of town.
The change with the biggest impact is technology, such as our automatic replenishment process. Our sales have grown because we’re never out of the basic items we need in store. In the past it would take us a whole week to do our ordering, but now it takes less than an hour. We’ve saved five days of our time with technology.
If the community continues to grow, we’ll likely see increased competition. However, oil prices will force more people to shop closer to home.
King Marketing Ltd. has been in business for 44 years and is privately owned. It is a manufacturer’s agency in the home improvement, hardware, and lawn and garden retail sector in Canada. The company provides dedicated merchandising services for manufacturers to national retail accounts and box stores.
Keys to Success
King Marketing is one of the leading manufacturer’s agencies in Canada specializing in representing manufacturers in the home improvement, hardware, lawn and garden, and building materials channels. King has been in business for more than 44 years and has coast to coast coverage with five regional standalone offices and a dedicated sales staff of more than 60. The company provides its represented manufacturers with a powerful team of experienced, knowledgeable, engaged, and resourceful representatives.
The key to success is that its team of ‘brand ambassadors’ does not just deal with regional corporate head offices, but works at the individual store and dealer level driving the sales of its product lines through personal sales calls. King reps are well equipped and trained on the products they represent and provide hands-on training, product demonstrations, and the use of point-of-purchase materials, displays, and off-shelf merchandising concepts to maximize sales in and out of the stores. Many of the representatives have been with the company for more than 10 years and have become a valued resource in their respective territories, not only for the companies they represent, but as an authority in the industry as a whole.
King Marketing started off as a regional agency in western Canada but, in the year 2000, it moved into Ontario and autonomously opened its office in Montreal, QC, in January 2014 and, at the same time, expanded into the Maritimes.
One of its unique attributes was the introduction of a private web-based reporting system that every representative uses every day to report on their sales activities. Being a leader in accountability and transparency is key to King’s success and each of the represented manufacturers is able to access their exclusive dashboard and view all sales activities 24/7 including calls made, tasks completed, photographs taken, and staff trained, as well as being able to directly contact any of the employees with feedback and comments.
The one constant has been change in this industry. From consolidation of accounts to globalization, from big boxes to eCommerce, our industry has seen major changes. It is really what keeps us on our toes (and awake at night). From the agency perspective, we have seen a real focus on our manufacturers keeping costs to a minimum. Driven by an increasingly demanding account base, manufacturers have had to really tighten their belts to reduce all unnecessary costs and, in some cases, necessary costs in order to remain competitive. Commission rates have steadily dropped over the last 20 years and we have had to become quite adept at working with reduced revenues, yet still provide the value-added sales functions that are so critical to a manufacturer’s sales growth.
The bifurcation of the home improvement industry is also an interesting and profound change that has happened more recently. With the phenomenal growth of the dollar store chains and the discount and mass merchants, the consumer has increasingly shopped for commodities at this group of stores and shopped at speciality retailers for the brands and service options that are also desired. At King Marketing, our value is obviously representing those manufacturers who have a story to tell, who have features and benefits that need to be championed.
Having a brand advocate at the store level for your products is priceless and when our reps are not in the store, we have confidence in having provided a wealth of knowledge to the store staff on our represented products.
The change that has had the biggest impact in this industry in the last 20 years is probably the introduction of the ‘box’ store. When Home Depot purchased Aikenheads in 1994, the industry changed. The shift was incredible. Consumers were given substantially more choice, control moved from the manufacturing community to the retailer, and companies thrived or even died in the infamous ‘shoot out’ line reviews that became a standard negotiating tool to decide which products would be purchased. When Home Depot came to Canada, it started the process of major consolidation of the retail home improvement community over the next 20 years which has continued to this day with the recent announcement of Orgill purchasing Chalifour.
However, what has also happened is that only the strong, unique, and innovative distributors and retailers have survived. Those that have created value and truly care about their customers are the ones that are still in business. We at King Marketing believe that as agents we offer a unique, innovative, and cost effective solution to manufacturers seeking maximum exposure and, ultimately, sale growth for their products. We also believe the next 20 years are going to be as exciting and as interesting as the last 20 years.
LBMX Inc. was founded 15 years ago. The company is a technology and software partner for buying groups around the world. It offers a suite of software platforms that can integrate with existing ERP systems to provide access to real-time data to manage critical business functions like central or direct billing, rebate management, and claims processing. It also offers a member and trading partner network over the internet or through its EDI service.
Key To Success
For 15 years, LBMX has been providing technology solutions to buying groups of lumber/building materials retailers and their members. Over that time, we have been continually impressed with how passionate our customers are about the value independent businesses provide to our economy and to our communities. This passion has only increased in the face of strong corporate competition.
Over the last 20 years, the technology available to retailers has changed dramatically. There has always been a noticeable gap in the amount of technology used by corporate retailers and independents. Most significantly, this includes the ability to capture valuable data throughout the supply chain and leverage it in meaningful ways. We have been pleased to work with a number of forward-thinking groups who are dedicated to narrowing this technology gap. The playing field has leveled from a technology perspective so there is no reason for buying groups to not use technology. Now, they have access to real time rebate reporting or to understanding and analyzing what their members are buying at the item level as it happens.
One of the largest changes over this period has been the adoption of electronic invoicing between suppliers and buying groups.
Over the next few years we expect to see the full scale adoption of integrated invoicing as well as the transmission of electronic purchase orders, acknowledgements, and advance ships notices directly from the accounting systems of independents. We see the technology tools we have traditionally provided to buying groups being installed by the members of those groups, making them stronger, more responsive, and more efficient.
LBMX has always shared this passion of independent business with a passion for strategic technology solutions and we look forward to celebrating the next 20 years, not just of change, but of growth with home improvement retailers.
IKO Industries, Ltd.
IKO Industries, Ltd. was founded in 1951 and will celebrate its 65th anniversary next June. IKO is a solutions provider in the roofing, waterproofing, and insulation industry for residential and commercial markets. It operates more than 25 manufacturing plants throughout North America and Europe and is a family owned business.
Key To Success
The commitment to a long-term focus as a family business is one key component of our success; we make decisions or investments today that help ensure a better future for our customers, our company, and our industry tomorrow. Many companies are bound by the short-term demands of their shareholders. We take a longer view of the market and the decisions we make. And that means we are committed to always evolving our way of business to provide our customers time-tested products and services at an extraordinary value – from one generation to the next.
For example, for four generations, IKO’s commitment to the vertical integration of its operations has steadfastly led to increasing control over the costs, quality, and supply of our component materials. Today, that equates to real value to our customers in terms of the quality and value of our products.
From a growth perspective, there have been many milestones. Just in the last two decades, we’ve seen our operations grow from our Canadian roots to a North America-wide operation. We’ve built (and are building) new manufacturing operations in British Columbia, Washington, Illinois, and Alabama; participated in joint ventures in Ohio and Tennessee; and have announced the construction of a new plant in Hillsboro, TX. We’ve modernized plant operations in Delaware, as well as Hawkesbury, Brampton, and Toronto, ON; and Calgary, AB. All of this culminates in positioning us with one of the most modern and technologically advanced production operations in our industry.
From a product innovation perspective, our investment in glass fibre manufacturing technology approximately 10 years ago led to a significant change from felt-based shingles to the fibreglass laminated products that our customers enjoy today. This dramatically improved the quality and durability of our products.
The biggest changes would be the level of sophistication of homeowner knowledge of our products, increased competition in the marketplace, and the evolution of product development in our industry. A decade ago fibreglass shingles and laminate shingles made up a small percentage of the total market. Today, fibreglass, and specifically fibreglass laminates, are the dominant product for residential roofing in Canada. Those elements continue to evolve too – 20 years from now we’ll be talking about the effects on social media, crowdsourcing of opinions, and global communities and how they communicate about their experiences with products as conditions that changed our market again.
They are all big in their own way, but it probably comes down to a combination of consumer knowledge and competition. There is so much information (and misinformation) available to the consumer via the internet today. It becomes a challenge of more than building relationships with suppliers and roofers through the value proposition we represent when they go to see a homeowner. It’s also an added challenge of understanding where and how homeowners get information and how to better educate them on our value. The homeowner may still look at the roofer as his expert before he makes the buying decision, but he’s also probably done a lot more independent research on his own. That element of the business is vastly more complex than it was 20 years ago.
CertainTeed Insulation Canada (formerly Ottawa Fibre)
CertainTeed Insulation Canada has been in business since 1980. It is a manufacturer of exterior and interior building products.
Key To Success
Our success is based on our ability to adapt quickly to customers’ changing needs.
Our historical moments include our inauguration as Ottawa Fibre in 1980 and a major expansion in 1986. Then, in 1996, we entered the U.S. residential market. In 2005, we were publicly traded on the TSX. In 2009, we were acquired by CertainTeed.
Big industry changes include always coming out with new products and standards. Premium blowing wools are relatively new and have a rapidly increasing market, which goes along with blowing machine sales. This is replacing most of the old pouring wools that had a labour intensive installation method.
Additionally, product R-values have gone through changes to meet new building codes.
Spray foam is gaining popularity to ensure better insulation in tight areas and speed installation.
And, mechanical and technical product lines have expanded and more customized products are requested. CertainTeed Membrain is new in North America, but is well-positioned to grow in a market that demands better moisture control over the old 6-mil poly vapour barrier systems.
The change with the biggest impact on our industry is quality. All customers expect a much higher level of quality than they did 30 years ago, primarily in using a product that is soft and itch-free. CertainTeed has come a long way to successfully satisfy this need.
Pleasant Supplies TIMBER MART, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Brian Bowers, Owner; TIM-BR MART National Board Member; Chairman, TIM-BR MART Retail Committee
Pleasant Supplies TIMBER MART has been in business for 13 years.
Key To Success
I believe great businesses are built on relationships and we work very hard on building relationships with our employees, our vendors, and customers alike. We have tremendous staff that has a lot of knowledge (some of our people have been with the company for 40+ years) and that adds huge value for our customers knowing they can come in and not only get the products they need, but also the advice.
We have seen incredible changes and rapid advancement in technology. We added a state-of-the-art Windows-based POS system a few years ago which has helped us manage our business tremendously. Technology online has advanced rapidly; social media has become an incredibly effective and valuable way to reach customers. For us as a retailer, an online presence has become a must.
From an operational standpoint, our everyday delivery equipment has also changed due to advancement in technology; the days of just having a couple of flatbed trucks are gone.
We’ve experienced a lot of growth by investing in technology and advanced equipment/vehicles; we added a boom truck a few years back which allowed us to get jobs we normally couldn’t have taken without it. We also added a curtain-side truck this year with a forklift that piggybacks on a truck and allows us to send one staff member on a delivery (versus two or more) and unload it wherever the customer wants. By investing in advanced equipment for our business, we’ve been able to operate more cost effectively and deliver even greater service to our customers.
Technology will continue to evolve, so keeping up with new advancements will be crucial. Also, our industry is aging and so maintaining an employee base and attracting the younger generations to our industry will be key to its longevity.
There will be more consolidation in the coming years as well; buying groups will merge to become more competitive and better positioned in the market.
CBSF [Canada’s Best Store Fixtures] Inc.
CBSF [Canada’s Best Store Fixtures] Inc. has been in business for 12 years. The company has a diverse and talented team that specialize in design, engineering, manufacturing, sourcing, retail installation, and retail merchandising.
Key To Success
From day one it has not just been about quality of product; it has been about quality of our customer service. We are very loyal to our customers. Our main goal has always been to be able to provide what our customers need and it is this drive that has pushed us to expand our capabilities over time to evolve to the full offering we have today – from strategy and design to manufacturing, installation, and merchandising. Our on-site metal, millwork, and acrylic manufacturing has allowed us to maintain product quality and consistency at the high volumes that we became known for when we were just starting out with small runs.
Business milestones include expanding our manufacturing to include millwork and metal which allowed us to truly deliver on all retail elements for one of our key clients. Most recently we expanded our physical footprint across the country with two additional locations ‒ in mid-west and western Canada – passing on efficiencies and improved responsiveness to our client base with national and western Canada retail outlets.
One of the biggest industry changes is the consolidation of brands. Specialized brands have joined forces to create conglomerates such as the HD Supply purchase of Litemore and Brafasco as an example.
Another change is stretching the boundaries of the ‘typical’ customer on both ends. It’s about improving the customer experience in specialized/trade focused retail outlets. It’s not just about picking up the parts you ordered for a job, but it’s also about product inspiration and providing a distraction from the same old parts/products. It’s also about demystifying home improvement to bring it within the hands of the DIYer. Expanding to the DIYer means retailers have had to pay more attention on building brand trust and credibility with customers to become their choice for advice and education.
Stretching outside the ‘typical’ customer has had a major impact because retailers have had to create an experience around the product that had been considered for the longest time as a commodity. Creating the experience is what builds a safe and comfortable environment for DIYers to experiment and provides leadership with trades/specialists on product innovation.