Business

Lowe's says Canadian expansion 'on track'

Lowe's Companies Inc., the U.S. big-box home improvement chain, said its Canadian expansion is "on track" with four stores set to open in southern Ontario in 2007.

Lowe's Companies Inc., the U.S. big-box home improvement chain, said itsCanadian expansion is "on track" with four stores set to open in southern Ontarioin 2007.

The company broke ground Thursday on its first location in Hamilton and said three other stores would open in the second half of next year inBrantford, Brampton and Toronto.

It said it has identified nine other locations for future stores and has begun the hiring process for its initial stores.

Lowe's said each store would employ up to 175 people and cost an average $20.5 million to build.

Lowe's operates almost 1,300 stores in 49states, employing 200,000 people. The Ontario stores are the chain's first foray outside the U.S.

Doug Robinson, president of the Canadian division of Lowe's, acknowledges that Lowe's is a late entry into the Canadian market.

Robinson sayscarving out a place in the crowded Canadian home improvement market is a "complicated art,"but he told a retail conference in Toronto on Tuesday that the industry was very strong in Canada.

"We're very optimistic that the economy will continue to grow," he said. "By and large, a Canadian's greatest asset is their home and they will work to protect that investment."

Last year, when the chain announced itsexpansion into Canada, it saidlong-term plans included the potential for as many as 100 Lowe's stores in Canada.

Big-box competition heats up

Lowe's had sales of more than $43 billion US in fiscal 2005, placing it second toHome Depot, which has more than 2,000 stores and annual sales of $81.5 billion US.Home Depot has storesin all 10 provinces.

Big Canadian competitors in the home improvement business include Quebec-based Rona, with more than 600 franchise, corporateand affiliate stores, and Canadian Tire, withmore than 450 stores.

Rona is in the midst of an aggressive expansion program andplans to add convenience stores and gas bars to one-third of its outlets.

Canadian Tire is moving forward with a major retrofit program to convert stores to its largerConcept 20/20 format.

now