Nine successful distributors from diverse product sectors shared some of their companies’ key business strategies in a series of “best practices” panel discussions at this year’s Executive Summit of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW), held in the nation’s capital Jan. 29-31.

Among the panelists was Chip Hornsby, group CEO of Wolseley plc, Reading, United Kingdom, who also took the reins as NAW chairman for the 2008-2009 term. In a preamble to his panel presentation, Hornsby pointed to the U.S. economy as the biggest challenge facing the corporation and its Ferguson unit in the short term. He issued a stunning prediction that U.S. housing starts would plummet to a meager 750,000 in 2008, down by almost two-thirds from an all-time high of 2.2 million in 2005. That figure would be more than 25% lower than any previous annual housing starts recorded in the U.S., according to data going back to 1959.

Hornsby also addressed Ferguson’s employment reductions of about 1,500 this year, saying, “regrettably, we will continue headcount reduction” as a means of coping with the housing slump. Ferguson is in reasonably good shape because home building accounts for only about 20% of its business, he said. But he also projected that the U.S. housing market will not recover until 2010.
- Jim Olsztynski