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New Stores a Bonanza for Home Handyman : Hardware Marts Expand but Independents Move to Meet the Competition

November 11, 1986|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Southern California's do-it-yourselfers need not travel far in search of hammers and nails.

In a six-block cluster along Fletcher Parkway in El Cajon, the repair and remodel crowd is being wooed by Westy's, Handyman, Home Depot, Home Club, Sears & Roebuck and the Hazard Center building and lumber supply company.

Fullerton's Orangethorpe Avenue is home to the likes of Home Club, Home Depot, Builders Emporium, Buena Park Lumber and National Lumber.

Stretches of hardware heaven are growing up around the country, but the Southland "is where the action is (because) Southern California is the world's largest user of wood products," said William Cowling III, president of Dixieline, a five-store lumber and hardware chain in San Diego.

$59 Billion in Sales

Regional chains, hardy independents and major retailers are chasing the $59-billion annual do-it-yourself market that will mushroom to more than $100 billion by 1990, according to statistics gathered by the Indianapolis-based National Retail Hardware Assn.

But intense price competition is taking a toll.

"There's a blood bath going on in El Cajon," observed Cowling, whose nearest Dixieline outlet safely sits more than a mile away from the cluster of hardware and wood products outlets along Fletcher Parkway. "And what's happening in Fullerton is World War III."

The casualties:

In September, San Diego-based Handyman's board of directors voted to liquidate the company, which went public just a year ago after spinning off from Edison Brothers, a St. Louis-based retailing company.

Liquidation of Handyman's 53-store chain's assets figures to generate a handy gain for shareholders, officials said. Since the announcement, Handyman's stock has risen by more than 14 points.

Last year, Boise Cascade sold most of its Southwestern retail stores, including a lumber yard and mill, a wholesale distribution facility and seven retail building-materials stores in San Diego. A local management team acquired the San Diego operations in a leveraged buy-out.

Weyerhauser last year sold its San Diego operations, including five Dixieline retail outlets, a wholesale distribution center and a manufacturing facility, to Providence-based Nortek.

W.R. Grace, which late last year sold more than 100 of its West Coast retail outlets to Santa Monica-based Wickes Co., the owner of Builders Emporium, also is negotiating the sale of its Midwest and Eastern home stores.

"My God, there are so many (ownership) changes going on," Cowling observed. "That alone should serve as a smoke signal that there's going to be a shakeout."

Change has been the name of the game in the once-staid lumber yard and hardware store industries during the 1960s, when savvy retailers created "home center stores" that for the first time combined lumber and hardware sales under one roof.

In 1979, Atlanta-based Home Depot further rocked the retailing scene when it introduced two "warehouse home centers" that offered handy men and women a massive selection of aggressively advertised and competitively priced lumber, hardware and home furnishings.

Warehouse stores are just that--massive hardware and lumber supply stores with upwards of 100,000 square feet of floor space, crowded with merchandise and stacked to the rafters.

The warehouses contrast with both neighborhood hardware stores that might occupy 5,000 square feet, and the larger but more traditional home center retail stores that are bigger than a hardware but smaller than most warehouses.

Because warehouses each require as many as 125,000 households to support them, only about 70 U.S. markets may be large enough to attract and hold the major competitors, according to Ellen Hackney, who edits "Do-It-Yourself" magazine for the National Retail Hardware Assn.

In the race to open new stores, warehouse operators already are waging war in Southern California and in cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago and Virginia Beach.

'Maturing Very Rapidly'

Consequently, more than half of the 400 warehouses that the nation's do-it-yourself population will be able to support already have been built, according to the National Retail Hardware Assn.

"Our segment is maturing very rapidly and we're now in a consolidation phrase," observed Jud Walford, chief operating officer of Builders Square, K mart's two-year-old chain of home center stores.

Those that survive the consolidation will cash in on a national wave of self-sufficiency that continues to bolster the ranks of consumers with the confidence to tackle the repairs and renovations that once were best left to plumbers, carpenters and masons.

The percentage of the nation's homeowners who feel competent to do their own remodeling and repair work has nearly doubled since 1970, according to the National Retail Hardware Assn.

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