Growth prompts Home Hardware to move its dealer markets
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Growth prompts Home Hardware to move its dealer markets

Rob Wallace, chief retail operations officer for Home Hardware Stores Ltd., at the distribution centre in St. Jacobs where a new warehouse management system is in place. [Steve Kannon]

Looking to re-imagine its twice-yearly dealer show coming out of the pandemic and relieve space issues at its St. Jacobs headquarters, Home Hardware is moving the event to Toronto starting in September.

It’ll be the first time for an in-person gathering since the COVID-19 crisis prompted a shift to a virtual event. The pandemic was also a boom time for the home-improvement sector, with the St. Jacobs warehouse space at a premium, prompting the company to look for other locations for the event, now dubbed ‘Homecoming,’ explains Rob Wallace, chief retail operations officer for Home Hardware Stores Ltd.

“Quite simply, we’ve experienced exceptional growth,” he said in an interview following last week’s announcement of the change. “With that growth, we got to a point where our distribution facilities here had to be maximized, and for the twice-a-year market, we had to take over a significant portion of our distribution center to support those events. We simply have outgrown the ability to do that.

“So we started to look for another venue where we could make sure that we were maintaining our supply chain and distribution to all of our stores through our facility here, while at the same time looking for a way to elevate our successful Home Hardware markets. …  We explored a number of different venues and ultimately landed on the Enercare Centre in Toronto.”

Months of planning go into each show, which draws the owner-operators from some 1,100 Home Hardware stores across the country along with suppliers showcasing an array of products available to the retailers. Ahead of each show, staff at the St. Jacobs distribution centre would spend several weeks clearing out space in the warehouse and setting up the trade-show displays, said Wallace.

Now, the time and space required would be too disruptive at the warehouse, prompting the move, he added.

“This re-imagined event combines tradition with innovation, allowing our dealer-owners to stay on top of emerging retail trends, innovative products and merchandising strategies so customers continue to find the brands, value, and helpful advice they have come to expect at their local Home Hardware,” said Marianne Thompson, the company’s chief merchandising officer, in a release announcing the move.

Shifting the dealer markets to Toronto will have an economic impact, says Jenna Morris, Woolwich’s economic development and tourism officer.

“It’s certainly a loss to the community,” she said, noting that Explore Waterloo Region, in calculating the impact of pandemic-related cancellations in 2020, found the event contributed millions to the local economy.

Total lodging, transportation, food and beverage, retail, recreation, space rental and business services amounted to $5.3 million. Total business sales, direct and indirect, were calculated at $8 million, supporting some 2,100 jobs.

While moving the market events, the company says it plans to continue hosting events in the region, including in association with the new Homecoming shows.

“We continue to host a number of major events throughout the year, and really appreciate that Waterloo Region has always been home for us. This is where we were founded, and it’s an important part of our history – we’ll continue to host events here whenever we can,” said Wallace.

Having made a significant investment at the headquarters building, including a new automated warehouse system, the company is eager to show that off to visiting dealers, for instance.

“We’ve made millions of dollars of investments into our St. Jacobs distribution centre. We upgraded our warehouse management system, which really allows us to optimize and streamline the movement of our goods throughout our supply chain. We want our dealers to be able to come here to our facilities to see the investments that we’ve made,” he said.

“We’re also beginning to set up what we’re calling our innovation centre, where our store of the future [display] will be set up. In 2023, we’ll look to bring dealers down here to see our store of the future and innovation centre right here in Waterloo Region.”

The first Homecoming show at the Enercare Centre is set for September 23-25, with the better part of 3,000 people expected to attend.

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