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March 8, 2021 | Volume xxvii, #10



  • With new role at parent company, BMR CEO remains committed to dealer growth
  • GMS in Canada: the importance of strategic growth through acquisition
  • Lee Valley’s latest executive changes are part of a bigger strategic plan
  • Vendors can get face-to-face with billions in online sales at eRetailer Summit

PLUS: Lowe’s Canada to add head office jobs, Federated Co-op holds virtual AGM, Canac opens 31st store, Giant Tiger’s new-concept store, record building permits issued, U.S. construction rises, and more!

With new role at parent company, BMR CEO remains committed to dealer growth

Sollio Cooperative Group held its annual general meeting at the end of February via videoconference. It changed its name from La Coop fédérée last year. The parent company of BMR reported that consolidated sales stood at $8.15 billion for 2020, up $870 million from the previous year, while earnings reached $201 million.

“The disruption of the pandemic has not prevented Sollio from pursuing its growth,” president Ghislain Gervais said to the virtual audience. As Sollio’s retail division, BMR Group “benefited greatly from the enthusiasm for home renovation.” He added that the “strain on supply chain has underscored the importance of buying local.”

Sollio CEO Gaétan Desroches, Sollio’s CEO, further noted that price increases through last year on lumber had a positive effect on margins.

The meeting also marked the last day before BMR head Pascal Houle (shown here) took on his new role as COO of Sollio. Alongside that role, however, he continues to discharge the responsibilities of BMR’s CEO until the announcement of his successor, expected in the coming weeks. Houle had combined the top job at BMR with an EVP position at the parent company since 2015.

In his new position, Houle, who joined La Coop fédérée in 1998 and served as a management consultant from 2000 to 2004, retains oversight of BMR while taking on additional responsibilities for Sollio.
His appointment demonstrates the amount of talent within the organization, Desroches said.

For his part, Houle is “very excited about the new role,” he told Hardlines. “I’ve worked in the co-op network for more than 20 years. I’m very proud to be working with Sollio.” He feels well-prepared for the promotion thanks to his tenure as BMR’s CEO. “I learned a lot with my BMR team and with the BMR dealers, to work with our suppliers, to understand how the market works.”

Since he remains involved with the BMR side of the business, Houle will continue to work for its growth—and that includes dealer development. “We want to improve our footprint in Canada, to increase our dealers and sales,” he says, noting that the company submitted a five-year strategic plan to the board of directors.

“We are always looking for new acquisitions and new dealers. It’s in our plan.”

GMS in Canada: the importance of strategic growth through acquisition

A steady campaign of acquisitions reinforces the importance of the Canadian market for Gypsum Management & Supply, Inc. (GMS).

Based in Atlanta, the giant commercial dealer operates a network of more than 260 Gypsum supply outlets across the U.S. and Canada. GMS’s presence here was firmly established by its takeover, in 2018, WSB Titan. Headquartered in Vaughan, Ont., WSB Titan represents a network of about 30 locations stretching from Vancouver Island to Quebec. At the time, its sales were estimated at more than $700 million.

Since then, GMS, through Titan, picked up additional independent dealers. It acquired Rigney Building Supplies in Kingston, Ont., in 2019. Last month, it added D.L. Building Materials, which has locations in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, and in Kingston.

The newest locations put GMS in the National Capital Region, a scenario that WSB Titan president Travis Hendren says works well for GMS. A lot of GMS’s outlets thrive in centres that are both government and university towns. While the proximity of the two Kingston locations is something of a coincidence, Hendren says it represents a geographic asset, as WSB Titan, through its Watson division, is centred in the Toronto area and did not have a presence in eastern Ontario. “We weren’t in this part of the country and we saw an opportunity for us there.”

Other regional gaps exist in parts of the West. There, GMS has just one store each in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, while there are only three locations in mainland British Columbia. “There’s opportunity for growth,” Hendren says.

Acquisitions tend to be managed with a “hands-off” approach. Both Rigney and D.L. continue under the original owners, with most of their respective teams in place.

Leslie Kratcoski is the vice president of investor relations at GMS, based in Atlanta. “We typically think about growth through two channels. First is by buying a business, which is a great way to open new markets. Second is greenfields expansion, which works well in a contiguous market.” She offers the example of a new location for Watson which went up in October 2019 in Cambridge, Ont. That’s close to markets in Burlington and Vaughan that were already being served by Watson.

In addition, new stores can be added in existing markets, “to add density if we need another location,” Kratcoski says.

While companies like Watson are heavily commercial, acquisitions like Rigney represent a more mixed retail operation.

“It really depends on the markets” Hendren says. Smaller markets, especially, he notes, are well served by a mixed commercial, contractor, and DIY-oriented building centre. Slegg Building Materials—with 10 locations on Vancouver Island—is a perfect example. “The customers there, they tend to be builders and contractors who do multiple things. That’s what drives us in those smaller markets.”

Hendren confirms that GMS will continue to look for growth in Canada. “We’re always looking and you’ll see more activity in Canada.”

Lee Valley’s latest executive changes are part of a bigger strategic plan

The latest changes within the executive ranks at Lee Valley Tools reflect a succession strategy that sees the second generation of the Lee family take a step back.

At the end of January, the specialty tool and hardware retailer announced that COO Jason Tasse would also become president. Robin Lee (shown here) stepped away from that role while continuing as chairman of the Lee Valley Group of Companies and as CEO and president of its tool manufacturing business, Veritas Tools.

Lee, who is the son of company founder Leonard Lee, says the change is a positive one for the company—and for him. “I’ve been working for the business for 43 years,” he says. “I’ve been president for 18 years.” His role won’t change too drastically, he adds, but he admits he’ll step away from the day-to-day aspects of running the business.

His successor has been with Lee Valley for 25 years, during which time he has been involved at both an operational and strategic level. Tasse led key systems implementations, directed long-term strategic planning, and oversaw the site selection and design of the company’s 150,000-square-foot distribution centre. “He’s literally walked his way up from the shop floor,” says Lee.

Part of Tasse’s profile that makes him further suited for the president’s job is his understanding of the culture at Lee Valley Tools. Lee says he is “such a great fit” from an ethical standpoint and in terms of the passion that drives the company.

Lee says a clear succession plan becomes even more important under the current COVID-19 pandemic. And communicating that plan is equally important. That includes filling the ranks elsewhere in the management team. “Now we have to backfill the COO position, so this will create the same space behind another individual that will also have to be filled.”

The succession planning is all part of a larger vision to move the company forward. “With the new arrangement, expect a number of changes to the business, but they will be part of a larger strategic plan at Lee Valley.”

Vendors can get face-to-face with billions in online sales at eRetailer Summit

One feature that separates the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit from other e-commerce-related events is the strength of its strategic partnerships that span the industry.

“Our strategic partners perennially reinforce our event’s sustainability,” says Sonya Ruff Jarvis, founder of the eRetailer Summit, which takes place virtually March 16 and 17. “Their networks of dealers, suppliers, and solution providers also extend the summit’s brand.”

And as a forum for vendors to get in front of online sellers, it may well be one of the industry’s best-kept secrets.

The virtual summit will offer learning sessions as well as one-on-one meeting opportunities between vendors and retail buyers—who collectively represent billions of dollars in online sales annually.

The first day concludes with a panel featuring some of America’s leading online home improvement sellers. They are Elizabeth Ragone, VP of e-commerce for Boscov’s; Mike Hargrave, senior merchant at Goedeker’s; Asa Farquhar, VP of Spreetail; Brian Fricano, CEO of Sustainable Supply; Jay Patel, senior director of product management at; and Curt Vitale, account manager with Firefly Buys. They will share their experiences during the pandemic and what each has learned to improve their business. Hardlines’ own Michael McLarney will moderate this session.

The Summit’s second day, March 17, will feature the event’s networking opportunities. Manufacturers can schedule virtual one-on-one meetings with selected retailers and third-party fulfillment companies. Those who choose to participate both days receive a discounted rate that gives two company representatives access to up to six meetings with retailers and third-party fulfillment companies.

(For more information about the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit, contact Sonya Ruff Jarvis at 203-295-3385 or

People on the Move

After joining RenoRun last month as a retail consultant, Igor Halencak has been named vice president of merchandising. The former EVP merchandising and marketing for Lowe’s Canada will now head up buying for RenoRun’s app-based delivery service that delivers building products to job sites.



... that your new product line, your latest acquisition, or that new hire are the stories we are always looking to report on in Hardlines? Let us know what’s new with your company, so we can share it with the Hardlines Family! Send your news to our editor, Christina Manocchio.


Lowe’s Canada has eliminated 15 positions at its Boucherville, Que., head office but is seeking to fill 80 new ones, along with a push to hire some 2,000 new workers for its Quebec corporate stores. “We made organizational changes at the beginning of the year to better meet our business needs,” the company told La Presse by email. “In addition … we are currently actively recruiting, still at the head office, with 80 positions to be filled.”

Federated Co-operatives Ltd. held its 92nd annual meeting virtually, a first in the organization’s history. Nearly 300 delegates representing local co-operative associations from across Western Canada came together online for the event. FCL recorded revenues of $7.9 billion, down 13.5 percent from $9.2 billion the previous year. From those revenues, it saw earnings of $177 million, of which $117.5 million was reinvested in local Co-ops and their communities.

Canac opened its 31st outlet last week in La Prairie, Que. The 40,000-square-foot store has a 10,000-square-foot outdoor garden centre and a 24,000 square-foot lumber yard. Representing an investment of $10 million, the new location will create 125 jobs. Construction of the chain’s next store, in Contrecœur, is slated to begin in the summer. Canac’s expansion push also includes plans for its first Ontario store, in Hawkesbury, and a new LBM distribution facility in Drummondville, Que., to replace its two existing warehouses.

Giant Tiger officially opened a new and redesigned store in Ottawa this past weekend. The retailer says the latest concept speaks to the retailer’s commitment to invest in the customer experience. New features focus on the integration of online and in-store capabilities. “We are focused on ensuring Giant Tiger's customers will be able to shop in the manner that best suits their busy lifestyle,” CEO and president Paul Wood said in a release.

Lowe’s Canada received its ninth Leadership in Sustainability award from Call2Recycle Canada Inc. Thanks to its product recovery program and its partnership with Call2Recycle, the Lowe’s Canada network diverted over 98,000 kg of household batteries away from landfills in 2020, making it one of the not-for-profit organization’s highest-performing partners.


January saw a record high total value of building permits issued, up 8.2 percent to $9.9 billion—surpassing the previous record of $9.6 billion set in April 2019. These gains were driven primarily by the residential sector, with those permits up 10.6 percent to $7.1 billion in January. Provincial highs were reported in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. The majority of the increase was attributable to single-family homes. (StatCan)

Investment in U.S. construction rose by 1.7 percent in January, marking the highest value for this indicator since it was first recorded in 2002. Investment in residential construction rose by 2.5 percent, following a 3.8 percent increase in December. (U.S. Commerce Dept.)


“The diversity of our business lines and our commitment to all work together have helped guide us through this crisis. We must continue to focus on the long-term opportunities and consider what the future looks like beyond this pandemic to serve our Western Canadian communities.”
—Scott Banda, CEO of Federated Co-operatives, speaking at FCL’s virtual AGM last week.


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