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March 29, 2021 | Volume xxvii, #13



  • HARDLINES EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Lowe’s Canada President Tony Hurst
  • It’s (virtual) showtime: banners host online markets. Are real events in sight?
  • BMR expands consulting service to connect customers with contractors

PLUS: Joe Collerone to retire, Kent signs with online engagement provider, former RONA head joins Loblaw, eBay Canada launches refurbished product platform, retail sales fall, U.S. housing dips, and more!

HARDLINES EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Lowe’s Canada President Tony Hurst

Early last year Tony Hurst was put in place as president of Lowe’s Canada. Based in the company’s head office and distribution centre in Boucherville, Que., Hurst reports directly to Lowe’s president and CEO Marvin Ellison.

Hurst has spent the past year getting used to the business—and to Canada. Recently, he sat (virtually) with Hardlines to share his observations.

When asked what differences he identified between Canada and U.S. home improvement markets, Hurst noted that there are many similarities, especially in terms of the customer and how to go to market. But he did add that the Lowe’s model here, with its multiple banners and ownership models, is “drastically different than the U.S.”

That, he admitted, is the big distinction between Lowe’s Canada and the U.S. parent. “I get asked this question a lot about, ‘what is our long-term banner strategy?’ My answer would be that I’m not as concerned about the name on the front of the building as I am about the experience and the brand recognition for the customer.”

The focus now, he added, is on making life easier for that customer. “A lot of our work and our attention has been around making sure that we have a better experience in-store—a more frictionless experience, especially as we focus more on omnichannel amid these times of the pandemic.”

He identified the varied store formats as an advantage when selling to contractors. “We also have our building centres, which allows us to really expand our reach as far as our pro focus segment, with goods that you wouldn't necessarily carry in a corporate store.”

That ability to tailor assortments beyond the corporate offering is something he hopes to flow back to the big stores. “I think that’s been a strength for us that we’re continuing to lean into—to figure out how we grow our reach to all of our corporate stores with an offering that's differentiated to that pro segment, so that we can service them much better.”

Hurst believes that the many aspects of the Lowe’s Canada store formats offer a range of categories and ideas that can be shared with the other banners. For example, he notes that Réno-Dépôt stores, which are solidly focused on pro customers, do not have special-order kitchen centres. But products and services that appeal to DIYers and go beyond just what’s on the shelves are important.

“So we're really focused on how we expand the best of each banner into our other stores, and really give a more consistent experience as well. At the end of the day, it's about how we get a consistent experience, regardless of the name on the front of the building.”

(The full interview with Tony Hurst will appear on the very first episode of our brand new Hardlines Podcast Series, What’s in Store, which goes live in the second week of April. Hurst will share the company’s plans for growth in Canada, his insights into the importance of the pro customer, the value of the multi-banner model, how relations with vendors have been enhanced, and much more!)

It’s (virtual) showtime: banners host online markets. Are real events in sight?

It’s showtime for the home improvement industry, as wholesalers roll out their buying events to drive sales and promote programs from their respective banners. As the pandemic drags on and variant viruses slow the world’s recovery, vendors and buyers alike are wondering what the fall will look like.

Home Hardware’s 2021 Virtual Spring Market kicked off all last week and ends today. The event boasted hundreds of suppliers, live video interaction capability, and key updates from Home Hardware’s hardlines and LBM merchandise teams. Home’s events have historically been preceded by a dealer conference and the virtual one had its own educational component consisting of 16 category review webinars.

Also last week, Ace Canada held a virtual show for the dealers it now services. The 2021 Spring Buying Show drew more than 100 dealers who carry the Ace banner in Canada. Due to a strategic alliance with LBM buying group Sexton Group, the show also featured a showcase for LBM dealers on the combined strengths of Sexton Group and the Ace Canada banner program. The next in-person show is scheduled for September 2021, but a decision about whether to pivot to a virtual show will be made soon.

Orgill held its February show virtually, with increased emphasis on learning and seminars. Taking advantage of a different mix of attendees than it might get with a live event, it offered seminars and service updates, along with an online buying show. For the educational component, the company reported more than 3,000 dealer registrations for some 30 sessions.

Come the fall, plans by the various groups and wholesalers become less clear. Orgill had committed to make its next market a live event, scheduled for Chicago from Aug. 26 to 28. But based on the success of its virtual shows, it’s evaluating how to proceed with a combination of virtual and live events, says Greg Stine, EVP marketing and communications at Orgill. “Within the next week, we will be rolling out a 12-month plan that outlines how these online and in-person buying events will work in tandem to provide our customers with options that are best suited to meet their needs.”

In Canada, where vaccine rollouts have been hindered and travel hesitancy is considered greater than in the U.S., wholesalers have been slow to commit. The Home Hardware Fall Market typically falls on the third week of September, but the company says it could not confirm any plans yet for the format of that event.

“Home Hardware continues to build on the success of our previous virtual markets, leveraging technology in new and innovative ways to support our dealers’ growth and profitability,” said Kevin Macnab, president and CEO of Home Hardware Stores, in an email. “As we look to the future, decisions about returning to in-person events will be made following all health and safety regulations.”

BMR Group holds its show in Quebec City in the first or second week of November, drawing member-dealers from across the province, as well its dealers in the Maritimes and Ontario. That event took a pause last year when the buying event went virtual during COVID. A spokesperson for the company said they have not yet decided which formula to use and will decide in the coming weeks.

The virtual events unquestionably have their merits. They let many dealers who may have been prevented by time, money, or distance attend the buying markets from the safety and comfort of their home or workplace. The vendors who were contacted by Hardlines throughout COVID have expressed more mixed feelings. Many insist online platforms do not draw the kinds of attendance or generate the levels of business that a face-to-face event can deliver. The costs to participate in a virtual show can, they say, rival those of a live event.

As the industry—and the world—reckons with the return to some sort of normalcy, dealers and vendors alike have expressed their eagerness to get face to face again, despite the convenience of virtual events.

BMR expands consulting service to connect customers with contractors

One thing bricks-and-mortar retailers have been realizing through the pandemic is the value of added services to make a customer’s experience easier and more complete. BMR Group is no exception and its latest initiative aims to simplify the often-painful process of securing a contractor once a project has been finalized.

BMR is partnering with RénoAssistance, a subsidiary of Desjardins Group, to offer customers in the Montreal region access, free of charge, to a pool of more than 1,200 contractors. Customers who consult with the BMR Reno Squad can look to the team of 35 professionals at RénoAssistance for help identifying their needs and completing their projects. All participating pros have been screened for quality and pricing.

RénoAssistance was founded in 2010 and Desjardins became a majority shareholder at the beginning of 2020. During the past year, the company says it has received more than 31,500 customer requests from the Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto markets.

Requests for a price can be accessed through the BMR website and are processed directly by RénoAssistance, which will then present quotes from the three best contractors for the customer’s project. The bids are evaluated based on criteria such as previous customer references, legal structure, and results from worksite visits.

Referring to BMR’s positioning as a Quebec-based company that works to stay close to its customers, Martin Lecomte, vice-president, retail and network performance, said that “to partner with RénoAssistance, a Quebec flagship that has unrivalled expertise in this area, seemed natural to us. We are very pleased with this collaboration, which allows us to further our commitment to be the partner of choice in renovations, for both consumers and contractors, in Quebec.”



People on the Move

Joe Collerone, director of marketing at Sexton Group, has decided to retire at the end of this month. A 15-year veteran of the Winnipeg-based group, Collerone was considered instrumental in developing the programs for its members. In his early years with Sexton, Collerone was on the road working to grow membership across western Canada.

Robert Sawyer is joining Loblaw as COO. With 40 years experience as a Canadian retail executive, including as COO at Metro, he served as CEO and president of RONA from 2013 until 2016, when he joined Weston’s board.

Kaileen Millard-Ruff has joined Peavey Industries as senior vice president, operations. Her portfolio consists of the Peavey Mart, Mainstreet Hardware, and corporate Ace Hardware locations. In addition to Peavey’s in-field store retail operations team, Millard-Ruff also oversees operational services and the company’s facilities and maintenance team. Previously, she was VP of retail at Lee Valley Tools.



... that Hardlines is launching podcasts next month? Our brand new Hardlines Podcast Series, What’s in Store, will go live in the second week of April with news and insights from industry leaders and top dealers. The first episode features the president of Lowe’s Canada, Tony Hurst, in an exclusive interview. You won’t want to miss this, so click here to sign up for the podcasts now!


Exchange Solutions, a marketing technology company and loyalty services provider, has formed a partnership with Kent Building Supplies, which operates 48 home centres and big boxes in Atlantic Canada. Exchange Solutions, which has offices in Toronto and Boston, will work with Kent to develop an online loyalty program using its ES Loyalty SaaS Platform and ES Engage. This partnership will allow Kent to offer customers a personalized program that gives them access to exclusive, customized offers and rewards. Consumers will also have the opportunity to take advantage of real-time offers while browsing online.

eBay Canada has launched a new business offering “Certified Refurbished” products. Canadians can now shop for popular brands on eBay at up to 40 percent less than buying new, but with all the same assurances, including a “like-new” quality guarantee backed by the manufacturer and a free, two-year warranty. The program was launched in the U.S. last year.


The Quebec Hardware and Building Supply Association (AQMAT) provided a telecast version of its Annual Industry Gala this year. The event, which attracted an estimated 600 viewers, honoured both retailers and suppliers in Quebec’s retail home improvement industry, with five retailers, five manufacturers, three employees, one sales team, and two innovative products earning top honours from among the 89 entries. A special ceremony also marked the years of service of 19 employees. (Click here to see the full list of winners.)



Retail sales fell for the second consecutive month, down 1.1 percent to $52.5 billion in January. Sales declined in six of 11 subsectors, representing 39.4 percent of retail sales. Core retail sales—which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicle and parts dealers—also posted their second consecutive decline, falling 1.4 percent. However, the building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers subsector remained strong, up 2.9 percent from the previous month, and up a healthy 26 percent year over year. (StatCan)

Sales of new single-family homes in the U.S. tumbled 18.2 percent in February, hitting a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 775,000 units. That represented a nine-month low, pulled down by cold weather and high lumber and mortgage costs. On a year-over-year basis, new home sales were up 8.2 percent in February. (U.S. Commerce Dept.)

Sales of existing U.S. homes fell by 6.6 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.22 million units. (National Association of Realtors)


According to a Leger survey commissioned by eBay Canada, 40 percent of Canadians have purchased a refurbished item in the past, but 70 percent would consider buying refurbished in the future if it came with the same assurances as buying brand new.


"I have enjoyed working with Joe since I began with the company and have much respect for his work and contribution to our company over his 15-year career with Sexton.”
—Eric Palmer, vice president and general manager of Sexton Group, on the departure of Joe Collerone after 15 years of service developing the group’s dealer network.



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