Pushing hard, Kevork Panossian trundled a cart holding three dozen flagstones out of a Builders Emporium store. The stones were headed for a rose garden at his Burbank home. Six months ago, he also installed shiny new bronze windows throughout his house.
"I am a very handy man, I do everything myself," Panossian said, adding that, "I don't trust somebody else to do it."
More and more Americans, especially Southern Californians, are fixing up their own homes instead of hiring professionals to build decks, remodel bathrooms or paint fences.
And as sales surge for everything from power tools and kitchen cabinets to grills and ready-to-assemble furniture, competition among home repair retailers seems to be growing even faster.
Neighborhood hardware stores and lumber yards, regional home-decorating centers, national home-improvement chains and vast warehouses battle daily with distinct combinations of price, location, merchandise, advertising and customer service.
"This was a very good business in the 1970s; everybody was growing very well," said Cornelius Sewell, a building products analyst for Argus Research, a New York-based independent research firm. "So what you found in the early 1980s was you had a lot of new players."
Hammering Away at Competition
Southern Californians, for instance, have seen the arrival and expansion of big warehouse stores like Home Depot, HomeClub and Builders Square, the expansion into smaller communities of Standard Brands Paint's home-decorating centers and the growth of Builders Emporium through the purchase of Ole's Home Centers and other chains.
For customers, it is often a search for the right color, the right shutter, the right advice--all at the right price.
"I've been coming here for the last 30 years," said Eddie Scaife outside a Standard Brands Paint store in downtown Los Angeles. "I find everything I need and at a reasonable price . . . Used to be you could buy all that stuff and pay someone else to do it."
"Money, I think, is the top priority," said Vicki Dlugolecki, who bought a house a month ago with her husband, John. "Also since we haven't owned a home for a long time, this is all new for us."
The young couple spent $40 at a Builders Emporium last week to buy garden gloves, a "weed puller" and two water-saving shower heads. They also bought a pruning hacksaw. "It's for our two trees," Vicki Dlugolecki explained.
"I do a lot because, otherwise, it costs a lot and my money doesn't go far," said Pedro Oceguera, a Los Angeles resident planning to repaint his baby's crib.
Pablo Ojeda, a resident of South Gate, is repainting the doors of his house and garage. "The house that I got is a good house, so it pays for me to take care of it."
Rising prices for new houses together with heavy turnover of homes already built have spurred do-it-yourself sales and fostered the growth of large chains, particularly in Southern California, said Monroe Greenstein, a retail trade analyst for Bear, Stearns & Co. "It is by far the biggest market in the United States."
Home improvement sales should reach $2.5 billion this year in the greater Los Angeles area, and $6 billion for all of California, he said.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce show retail sales of building materials up 12% last year to $83 billion.
Building materials sales by the country's 10 largest home-improvement chains leaped 24% last year to $10.7 billion, said Ken Schept, editor of National Home Center News, a biweekly industry newspaper. Acquisitions and rapid expansion by the chains are increasing market concentration and squeezing smaller regional companies, he said.
Southern California, he said, "is a very high growth market with a level of sales potential that's probably unparalleled."
The do-it-yourself chains with the largest number of outlets in the Southland are:
Builders Emporium, a subsidiary of Santa Monica-based Wickes Co., with 98 stores in Southern California and a total of 122 outlets nationwide. Average store size is 35,000 square feet.
Standard Brands Paint, headquartered in Torrance, with 55 stores in Southern California, 133 stores total. Average store size is 15,500 square feet.
National Lumber & Supply, based in Fountain Valley, with all 18 of its stores located in Southern California. The stores average 60,000 square feet.
HomeClub, a subsidiary of Framingham, Mass.-based Zayre, with 15 Southern California stores and 33 stores total. The warehouses average 100,000 square feet.
Home Depot, a chain based in Atlanta, with 10 of its 65 warehouse stores in Southern California. The company plans to open nine more in California this year. These stores also average 100,000 square feet.