By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
Lowes Companies Inc., the relatively new owner of Hawaiis first big-box home-improvement retailer, Eagle Hardware & Garden, recently put the finishing touches on converting its two local stores, and is considering expanding.
The North Wilkesboro, N.C.-based chain with 650 stores in 40 states is in the midst of its most aggressive expansion plan in the companys 54-year history.
The $2 billion effort is expected to involve opening 115 to 125 stores this year, or more than two a week, at an average cost of $17 million. It isnt likely that any of those planned stores will be in Hawaii, but sites are being considered for stores that could open after 2001.
"We are still evaluating Hawaii for additional store sites," said Lowes spokeswoman Suzanne McCoy.
Real estate representatives for Lowes, the nations second-largest home-improvement retailer, have been scouting sites around the state, including the Big Island, according to local property owners and real estate brokers. The company has a store at Waikele Center on Oahu and one at Maui Marketplace.
If Lowes finds suitable locations, it would mark a resumption of Eagles derailed expansion effort and mean increased competition in an already heated battle with Home Depot, Ace Hardware, City Mill and True Value.
Home Depot, the nations largest home-improvement chain, is busy expanding, and will open stores this year in Pearl City and Kahului, Maui. It is looking for a site in Kona. The other companies have fought hard with low prices and customer service.
Before merging with Lowes in 1999, Eagle had plans to buy a Kalihi property for its third Hawaii store that would have been in head-to-head competition with Home Depots Iwilei store. But Eagle could not reach a purchase agreement.
In April 1999, Lowes acquired 39 Eagle stores in Western States, including the two Hawaii stores opened in 1993 and 1997.
Since then, Lowes has concentrated on digesting its acquisition and retooling Eagle stores. The company brought in Lowes-brand merchandise, increased its selection of appliances (Lowes is the No. 2 seller of appliances nationwide) and changed store signs.
"We were working to get the new product in, and get the old product out," McCoy said. "That is always a difficult challenge. There may not have been enough space as we wanted for a particular product."
Lowes completed its Hawaii store conversions in September. The company expects total sales growth of approximately 20 percent per year. For the nine months ending Oct. 27, net profits were up 28 percent to $669 million on sales of $14.24 billion, a 17 percent increase.