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Eye on the weather, Do it Best sees opportunity

CEO Bob Taylor sees light bulbs and farm and ranch as two areas of growth and profit for independent hardware stores.
Bob Taylor

Indianapolis -- Bob Taylor has a good memory for weather conditions.

Back in March, the Do it Best Corp. CEO flew out of Fort Wayne, Ind., with the thermometer reading 14 degrees. On exactly the same day the year before, traveling to the same business event, the temperature was a balmy 83 degrees.

"Comparatively, we've been challenged," he said, during an interview here at the Do it Best May Market at the Indiana Convention Center. While the Pacific Northwest and Texas have glided through the spring selling season, much of the country has not.

For instance, Taylor said the family-run Taylor Do it Centers in coastal Virginia were down about 25% in March. The good news is that thanks to an improved April and May, the stores have made up for the decline.

"The nice thing is, it is starting to come back," he said. "I’m glad we had at least a few good weeks of weather so everybody came in a good mood. Dealers are positive, and they’re looking for new items and new opportunities." 

One of those opportunities is in the lighting aisle, as game changers such as CFLs and, more recently, LEDs, bring unheard-of technology, efficiency and price points to the equation.

"The lighting piece I think is one of those areas for independents to kind of recapture a bigger segment of that business than what they traditionally had," he said.

The regulatory environment adds another piece to the lighting puzzle.

"You already lost the 75 watt and 100 watt bulbs," Taylor said, referring to federal efficiency standards. "You’re going to be losing the 60- and 40-watt bulbs. And unless you have some giant back room somewhere stocked with all that stuff, you’re going to have to make some significant changes to your business."

No longer a "commodity category," he said, the bulb aisle gives the independents "a great chance to remerchandise that category, educate your staff and capture a bigger segment of that business. And I think it’s going to be a more profitable business, too."

On the LBM side, even when the ramp-up in commodity prices and lumber are stripped out of the equation, Do it Best is seeing gains -- up 13% year-to-date in lumber and up about 10% in panel products.

"To me that’s a really good indication of that slow but steady improvement in the housing market," Taylor said.


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