Northeast: E.C. Barton's Focus on Discount Pays Off

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, May. 23, 2011 12:00 am  

After being in business for more than a century, E.C. Barton & Co. of Jonesboro had a choice to make in 1993. Either it was going to focus more on its retail building supply stores or its discount warehouse division.

(Click here for a list of the largest private companies in northeast Arkansas.)

It picked the discount warehouse stores and made the right move.

"The discount provided us a better opportunity for growth as well as allowed us to emerge as one of the largest, if not largest, building material retailers," said J. Niel Crowson, E.C. Barton's president and CEO.

Although the company still has locations under the Barton name, its Surplus Warehouse stores have been a main source of revenue for the company in recent years.

In the early 1990s, there were 27 Barton's and 13 Surplus Warehouses, which are about 25,000 SF to 30,000 SF. But now there are 12 Barton's and 58 Surplus Warehouses.

The company's target customers are builders or individuals who are building a home or doing a major home project. The Barton's showrooms are about 8,000- SF- to 20,000-SF traditional lumber yards that offer such services as delivery to a job site.
Surplus Warehouses, though, operate out of warehouses, keeping the company's overhead costs low, Crowson said. It sells flooring, plumbing and cabinet products. It doesn't offer delivery services.  

"We have lower prices," Crowson said. "You can't have the elaborate stores ... and be cheap."

For its fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, E.C. Barton had revenue of $310 million, which puts it No. 30 on the Arkansas Business list of the 75 largest private companies. Its revenue is down 7.2 percent from its previous fiscal year, and Crowson blames that decline on the sluggish economy.

"The housing starts are down in our area," he said.

Still, he said, during the Great Recession the company has focused on operating more efficiently.

Since the beginning of 2010, it closed eight stores and sold seven of its southwest Missouri stores to Meek's Lumber Co. of Springfield, Mo., for an undisclosed price.



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