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This editorial is better than you think

No question about it: rising foreclosures and falling home prices combine to pose a serious threat to many of us in the home channel. But around the industry, people are saying they are fed up with what they believe is excessive negativity in the mass media, and not just the executives at the National Association of Home Builders.

In a recent interview with Lyle Heidemann, the True Value CEO expressed the desire that the media stop communicating that the economy is lurching toward a recession. (You can listen to the interview at www.homechannelnews.com . Just click on our 2008 podcast series button.) Many others have pointed to the self-fulfilling nature of such prophecies.

It might be too late. The last time I passed a newsstand, the headline on the cover of the issue of U.S. News & World Report screamed out at me: “Why the housing crisis is bigger than you think.”

(Question: how does the magazine know what you think?)

Adding insult to injury, the cover image depicts a house sinking into a hole, bringing a map of the United States down with it. Get it? The cover story’s inside headline paints an even more frightful scenario: “Nightmare on Main Street.”

This industry cannot afford to run and hide from bad news. And it hasn’t. But it is certainly within its rights to lament the chilling effect on spending that results from nightmarish headlines.

It’s worthwhile here to compare the tone of mass media headlines to that of the CEOs of the biggest home channel retailers, who in recent weeks delivered their assessment of the economy to investors and shareholders. (See articles on page 3 and 8)

Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock: “We remain focused on what we can control.”

Home Depot’s CEO Frank Blake: “We should be judged by the discipline we bring to executing on our key priorities and the discipline we bring to stepping away from activities that aren’t priorities.”

At Sears interim CEO W. Bruce Johnson: “We will work to improve and tighten our management of costs and inventory levels in 2008.”

Tightening, focus, discipline. Here are the sensational concepts that will guide the industry through 2008, and probably 2009.

Speaking of magazine covers. The news at True Value reflects a back-to-basics retailing movement that’s taking place at the Chicago-based co-op. The company is “re-energized” with a new look in the form of a Destination True Value prototype; and saw a sales jump in its most recent quarter. (Our special section begins on page 15.)

Successful retailing doesn’t come over night. “It’s not that we’ve now created a store prototype, and everyone gets it,” said Heidemann. “It doesn’t work that way. Retailing continues to be a journey.”

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