Trend-Lines, Inc. History
Revere, Massachusetts 02151
Telephone: (617) 853-0900
Fax: (617) 853-0631
Sales: $208.6 million (1996)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
SICs: 5251 Hardware Stores; 5941 Sporting Goods & Bicycle Stores; 5961 Catalog & Mail-Order Houses
Trend-Lines, Inc. sells woodworking tools and accessories and golf equipment, operating two chains of specialty stores and distributing two national catalogs. The company is the largest specialty retailer of woodworking tools in the United States, with 168 stores located in the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Western states, as of September 1997. The 98 Woodworkers Warehouse and 23 Post Tool stores, along with the Trend-Line catalog, offer hand tools, power tools and accessories, and how-to books for the woodworking enthusiast. The 47 Golf Day stores, located in New England and the Northeast, and the Golf Day catalog offer brand name and private label golf merchandise. Sixty-seven percent of Trend-Lines' sales come from its retail stores and the remaining 23 percent from its mail-order catalogs.
From Upholstery to Woodworking
Stanley D. Black, the founder, CEO, and chairman of Trend-Lines, began his career as a salesman after he dropped out of high school, selling items as varied as office supplies and toothpaste. Gradually, he built up two businesses, one manufacturing metal fasteners and one selling clamps and other upholstery tools to the furniture industry. By 1981, Black noticed there was a strong demand for the company's merchandise from shops serving woodworking hobbyists and professionals who needed tools and accessories for projects ranging from home remodeling to cabinet and furniture making. Within two years the company had switched its focus to the consumer woodworking market. In 1983, Black launched the Trend-Lines catalog, using rented mailing lists, and opened a Woodworkers Warehouse outlet store at the company's distribution center in Massachusetts. This was followed, in 1986, by the first Woodworkers Warehouse retail store, which advertised everyday low prices for hard-to-find items and high quality name brands.
Expanding into Retail, 1987-93
While the company recognized the role its retail store could play, Trend-Lines was primarily a catalog operation. The company published its catalog four times a year, sending it out around the United States to people on the Trend-Lines mailing list, people who had made inquiries, and people on lists Trend-Lines rented or exchanged with other companies. Customers could call a toll-free number to place their order, which was then shipped within 48 hours.
Trend-Lines sold merchandise ranging from power and hand tools to wood finishes, glue, blades, and books, and its lines were much broader than those of such growing home improvement superstores as Lowe's and Home Depot. Someone looking for a power drill, for example, could choose from 70 different kinds in the Trend-Lines catalog compared to 30 at Home Depot. The selections included name brands such as Black & Decker, Emglo, Stanley Bostitch, and Delta, as well as Trend-Lines' own private label products sold under its Reliant, Carb-Tech, and Vulcan trademarks.
The retail approach proved popular, and the company opened more stores in Massachusetts and other states in New England, staffing them with associates and managers who were woodworkers themselves, and promoting low prices for top quality merchandise. Most of the Woodworkers Warehouse stores were located in strip malls to take advantage of the foot traffic and parking, and were between 4,500 and 5,500 square feet in size. But the catalog was the big revenue producer, accounting for over 70 percent of the $33 million in sales in fiscal 1989.
Black had found a niche market he could serve successfully through his combined catalog/retail approach, but woodworkers generally did most of their buying during the fall and winter, when it was too cold to be outside and they turned to their tool benches and workshops. To offset that seasonality, Black decided to go after another group of avid hobbyists, but one that bought expensive merchandise during the spring and summer--golfers. According to a 1995 Forbes article, he wanted to buy Golf Day, a moneylosing cataloger, in 1988, but the $600,000 asking price was too high. So he waited a year and in 1989 purchased the Golf Day name and mailing list for $100,000. The following year Trend-Lines mailed its first Golf Day catalog and opened a Golf Day outlet store at its distribution center.
During the early 1990s, the company continued to grow, expanding the mailing lists for its catalogs and opening a few new retail stores each year. The Golf Day stores were slightly smaller than the Woodworkers, between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet. In addition to merchandise, each store had a practice-hitting area where shoppers could try out the equipment. In the stores or through the Golf Day catalog, customers could buy some 5,000 items, ranging from clubs, bags, and hand carts to shoes and apparel to balls, videos, and golf cart seat covers made of sheepskin. Golf Day also sold private label golf merchandise under its Honors trademark. By March 1994 (the end of fiscal 1993), there were 30 Woodworkers Warehouse stores and five Golf Day stores, primarily in New England, but also in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. That year sales reached $99.9 million, with the woodworking operations accounting for over two-thirds of the revenue, and the Trend-Lines catalog bringing in over half of the total.
Rapid Growth, 1994-95
In 1994, the company began two years of rapid expansion. To pay down its debt and raise money for its growth plans, Trend-Lines went public in June, issuing 2,550,000 shares of Class A common stock and earning some $19.7 million. In July, it issued another 337,000 shares, for approximately $2.7 million. The total shares sold represented 33 percent of the company, with Black and his wife keeping 65 percent.
The company used the $22 million to pick up the pace of its store openings, adding 52 Woodworkers Warehouse and five more Golf Day locations during the year. A typical tool store cost $350,000 to open, including $290,000 of inventory, while the typical golf store cost $395,000, including $270,000 of inventory. In deciding where to open a new store, Trend-Lines went to their catalog customers, usually selecting sites where there was strong name recognition and an existing customer base. Both chains had similar real estate requirements, and with many serving the same customers, they were often located in the same mall or at least close to each other. That strategy helped keep costs down because the company could use the same trucks, distribution centers, and general managers for both the tool and golf stores.
Because its tool selection was so much larger than that of its competitors, Trend-Lines often opened Woodworkers Warehouse stores only a few blocks from a Home Depot or other hardware giant; some opened right next door. Black found the superstores actually generated traffic for the woodworking stores when shoppers could not find what they wanted elsewhere. In some instances, staff at competitors called a Woodworkers Warehouse to see if it had what a customer was asking for. As Black told John Hechinger of Wall Street Journal, "Trend-Lines caters to the enthusiast, Home Depot, the generalist."
Black also used some of the stock proceeds in November to move into new facilities in Revere, Massachusetts. The 286,000-square-foot quarters housed the company's executive offices and its distribution and centralized telemarketing operations.
In January 1995, Trend-Lines moved beyond its Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic territory when it bought California-based Post Tool from West Union Corporation. The new wholly owned subsidiary had 17 Post Tool stores in California and Nevada and a distribution center. In addition to merchandise for the woodworker, Post Tool stores carried power and hand tools and accessories for general mechanical and automotive work. Trend-Lines quickly integrated Post Tool into its information management system and began opening new Post Tool locations in California.
Throughout the year, the company continued to launch new stores in the East, so that by the end of fiscal 1995, it was operating 141 retail stores. For the first time in the company's history, retail sales were greater than those from the catalogs.
But the shift from catalog to retail proved costly, and fiscal 1995 saw another first--a decline in profits. Analysts put the blame on the rapid expansion and poor site selection, combined with a weak holiday season and blizzards throughout New England and the Northeast, the company's major market.
1996 to the Present
Watching the price of his company's stock drop to $5 a share was a rough experience for Stanley Black, a man who saved money by buying overruns and misprinted boxes for shipping his merchandise. To correct the situation, Black made some major management changes, bringing in people with experience in large retail chains. In October 1996, the company hired Richard Griner, from Family Dollar Stores, to become president, and a few months later lured Walter Spokowski from Home Depot to be executive vice-president in charge of merchandising. Within an 8-month period, the company also added senior staff experienced in the areas of information management, distribution and transportation, and real estate management. The new team closed several underperforming Woodworkers Warehouse stores and one Golf Day shop, cut the number of openings almost in half, and consolidated distribution facilities. They also changed the company's marketing approach, replacing the "everyday low prices," with sales on targeted items to bring people into the stores for a specific purpose. Stores reported the promotional change worked, with more store traffic and higher sales of both the promoted items and regular-priced merchandise.
By the end of fiscal 1996, Trend-Lines was back on solid footing, as total sales increased nearly 20 percent, to $208.6 million. In line with a more focused approach to expansion, the company closed three stores and opened 26 new ones: 10 Woodworkers Warehouses, five Post Tools, and 11 Golf Days. This brought the total number of locations to 159. The retail side of the business continued to account for a growing percentage of the business, reaching 67 percent of the company's total sales. For the first time since Golf Day was bought in 1989, the golf chain stores outsold the catalog, by approximately $200,000.
During 1997, the stores themselves got a lot of attention. The company unveiled a new prototype for each chain at the Revere headquarters. The model used brighter colors, displayed brand name logos along every wall, organized better product displays, and improved lighting. The new design was expected to add only a few thousand dollars to the cost of a new store and was to be used in all new Woodworking and Golf Day stores. The existing stores would be redesigned over time.
The new team also reorganized the company's structure, combining the two chains into a single field operation and centralizing merchandising responsibility at the district manager level.
The company's financial picture continued to improve. In the first half of the fiscal year, net income was 104 percent above that of 1996, and both of Trend-Lines' markets were growing. The 1995 "Woodworking in America" survey, sponsored by the American Woodworker Magazine, found that an estimated 18.6 million people, approximately 10 percent of the adult population, were involved in woodworking activities and spent more than $6.3 billion a year on the tools and accessories they needed for their projects. Furthermore, the study found that they tended to pursue their woodworking hobby for an average of 15 years.
On the golf side of the business, the National Golf Foundation's 1996 report on the sport in the U.S. found participation had increased by three percent in a year, with some 25 million Americans playing 490 million rounds of golf. The popularity of Tiger Woods helped interest more young people in the game, and women represented the fastest-growing segment of the sport. Trend-Lines responded to these figures with special marketing programs and discrete sections in the new store model.
Stanley Black carved out two markets targeted at upscale baby boomer enthusiasts. After discovering that it took more than salesmanship and entrepreneurial sense to successfully expand his chains, he quickly hired people with the retail management skills a larger operation needed. With 168 stores, located primarily in the Northeast, Trend-Lines had most of the country available for new locations, and could continue to use its catalogs to identify areas where mail-order customers lived and where their name recognition was greatest. Both the woodworking and golf markets were highly fragmented, with no single chain dominating either business. Taking these factors together, several analysts were predicting good things for Trend-Lines into the new century.
Principal Subsidiaries: Post Tool, Inc.
- Hechinger, John, "Trend-Lines Is Chipping Away Bad Memories with Solid Results," Wall Street Journal, September 1997.
- Hood, Wayne, and Diane L. Roberts, "Trend-Lines, Inc.," Prudential Securities, June 26, 1997.
- Paglucia, Gina M., "Trend-Lines, Inc.," Fechtor, Detwiler & Co., Inc., September 25, 1997.
- Richter, Steven, and Paige Brown, "Trend-Lines, Inc.," Tucker Anthony Equity Research, July 21, 1997.
- Schifrin, Matthew, "What Do Woodworkers Do in the Summer?" Forbes, May 22, 1995, p. 116.
- "$10 Store: Trend-Lines a Retail Turnaround," http://www.thestreet.com, May 16, 1997.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 22. St. James Press, 1998.