Ames executive, Cort, takes post at Hechinger

December 22, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

Kenneth J. Cort, the chief operating officer who shepherded Ames Department Stores Inc. out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is moving to Hechinger Co. to help the Landover-based hardware chain meet growing competition for the loyalty of America's do-it-yourselfers.

Hechinger said yesterday that it has appointed Mr. Cort, 50, to the newly created position of president and chief executive officer of the Hechinger Stores Division -- one of the company's three main divisions.

Mr. Cort's chief responsibility in the job, which begins Jan. 11, will be transforming Hechinger's stores to "Home Project Centers." The warehouse-style stores focus on projects involving bathrooms, kitchens, decking and other home improvements.

Starting about a year and a half ago, the company has converted 16 stores to Home Project Centers. The remaining 74 Hechinger stores should be converted in the next four or five years, according to W. Clark McClelland, senior vice president-finance.

The conversion program comes as Hechinger faces increasing competition, particularly from fast-growing, Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc.

Hechinger's earnings have suffered in recent years, declining from a high of $53 million in 1988 to $26.1 million in 1991. For the nine months that ended Oct. 31, the company lost $29 million, as the result of special charge of $57.3 million to cover the cost of store conversion and inventory markdowns.

Mr. Cort's appointment will allow Hechinger to focus more on the day-to-day operation of Hechinger stores and the conversion, according to Michael L. Mead, vice president for research for Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc., a Baltimore stock brokerage firm.

"They can make sure that they don't take their eye off the business of retailing while they are converting the Hechinger stores to Home Project Centers," Mr. Mead said.

For his part, Mr. Cort, who will be part of the company's seven-member management committee, said he has not set any goals. "I need an additional bit of understanding of what I need to do."

The company's other divisions are the Home Quarters Warehouse chain and Triangle Building Centers.

Ames, which has been under Chapter 11 protection since April 1990, emerged from the reorganization proceedings Friday, Mr. Cort said.

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