In Canada, expect change

Toronto There is good news and bad news for the Canadian home improvement market, according to RONA CEO Robert Dutton. The bad news, he said, is that change is going to force everyone to do things differently. The good news is: change provides opportunities for store owners, operators and managers.

Speaking at the 12th Annual Hardlines Conference Series in Toronto, Dutton described several of the changes facing not only the RONA network of 673 locations, but the home improvement industry in general. The two keys: customers will demand more solutions and services; and the operational challenge of staffing will increase as the role of the home improvement retailer becomes more complex.

The evolution of the store will probably lead to the demise of the term “warehouse” as a description of a type of home improvement format. There will always be big stores, he said -- but “what will disappear is the store focus providing a large quantity of products with a very limited service component.”

The Canadian market enjoys some favorable market conditions. Dutton pointed to the housing stock as one of them -- 85 percent of homes are 10 years old or older, and 65 percent are more than 25 years old.

An early highlight of the combined events came when Dutton maintained that the Boucherville, Quebec-based retailer and distributor would remain Canadian, despite speculation of a buyout -- specifically from Canada-bound Lowe’s Cos.

“I suppose someone wants to know if RONA is for sale,” Dutton said during a question-and-answer session following his presentation on the evolution of the home improvement industry in Canada. “We are not on sale.”

He added: “We are a Canadian company, and personally I want to prove that Canadians can have success in the retail business. With the cooperation of all our suppliers, we can continue to be the leader. I’m sure of it.”

The comment sparked applause from the room of conference delegates, many of them suppliers. RONA operates a network of 673 corporate, franchise and affiliate stores of  various sizes and formats. “Over the years, RONA has managed to evolve and at the same time remain unique,” he said.