February 5, 2006

Warm weather aids outdoor home projects, retailers say

By Justin Grant and Karen Jacobs

NEW YORK/ATLANTA (Reuters) - Unseasonably warm January
temperatures have cooled sales of snow blowers but spurred
sales of plants and decking, retailers say.

In recent weeks, parts of the United States that typically
get snowstorms have seen milder weather. Advisory firm Weather
Trends International said that last month was the warmest
January for the United States in 112 years.

Home Depot Inc., the world's largest home improvement
retailer, said sales of storm-related items such as ice melt
and snow blowers slowed in January. Many consumers ventured
outside to take on home projects usually done in the spring.

"This year we have seen an increase in demand for
categories like exterior paint, pressure-treated lumber,
plants," said Tom Taylor, Home Depot executive vice president
of merchandising and marketing.

At Pike Family Nurseries, a chain of garden stores in the
U.S. Southeast, the warm January weather has been good for
business at a time when things are normally slow.

"We've noticed a lot more colorful plants like pansies and
snapdragons have been selling well," said Dorthea Williamson,
who has been a Pike horticulturalist for 23 years. "Usually
when it's dreary outside, people can't get outdoors to plant.
With this weather, people want to be outside."

The warm weather has led Home Depot to roll out some spring
items like lawn tractors sooner in some regions. "We've taken a
look at some of our categories and said we need to get them
rolled out quicker in certain parts of the country," Taylor

Other retailers have not repositioned products, mindful
that colder weather could return. "Most of our gardening and
living items don't get featured until early March," said Paula
Erickson, a spokeswoman for Ace Hardware, an Oak Brook,
Illinois, chain of hardware stores.

"Our business is so seasonal and we know it's been warm,
but next week there can be a huge snowstorm," she said. "In
Chicago, we went from 50 degrees one day to a blizzard the

Colder temperatures are forecast in some areas for the
coming week.

The warm weather has not frozen sales of products that are
associated with winter.

For instance, while sales of heaters slowed in January,
Home Depot's Taylor said demand for energy-saving products such
as programmable thermostats and compact fluorescent light bulbs
have been stable throughout the winter.

At American Standard Cos., "we see our furnace sales being
strong in high efficiency units," Chief Executive Fred Poses
told Reuters last week. The company's products include heating
and cooling systems and sinks and toilets.

Poses added: "It's probably driven not by the weather, but
by consumers' increasing awareness of the cost of heating and
air conditioning to operate their house, and therefore looking
to do things that will reduce their energy consumption."

A spokeswoman at retailer Lowe's Cos. was unavailable to