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Rudy Boschwitz, in 1977, was the face of the business.

John Croft, Star Tribune

1998: Rudy and Ellen Boschwitz and their four sons, from left, company CEO Gerry, Ken, Dan and Tom.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Final nail in Plywood Minnesota

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER
  • Star Tribune
  • January 11, 2010 - 11:37 PM

Home Valu Interiors -- the home remodeling retailer that built the fortune and public persona of businessman and former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz -- is closing its doors for good.

The chain has operated as Home Valu since 1993. But it may be best known by its original name, Plywood Minnesota, because of the TV commercials that became part of the state's popular culture. Boschwitz, clad in plaid flannel shirts, always ended the spots with a signature catchphrase: "Our best shot all the time."

Boschwitz said Monday that his company will spend the next several months liquidating its inventory at its store in Fridley, where the retailer is based. The company had nine stores in the Midwest until last month, when it closed or sold four outlets, including one in Inver Grove Heights. In addition to Fridley, its five remaining stores include outlets in Bloomington and Minnetonka.

All but about 30 of 150 employees will lose their jobs this week as result of the shutdown, Boschwitz said. The remaining employees will help oversee the liquidation sale.

Boschwitz, who founded the business with his wife, Ellen, turned the company over to other family members after he was elected to the Senate in 1978. He returned to help run it after losing his Senate seat to Paul Wellstone in 1990.

In a letter to employees, the family said it was a sad ending after 46 years in business. The company had been "the center of our family life and part of the hearts and souls of ourselves and so many others who really became part of our family." The letter assured all employees that they would be paid.

Expansion, contraction

At its peak, the company had about 70 stores -- many of them franchises -- stretching from Montana to Indiana and about 1,200 employees. The company was down to 11 stores and about 300 employees when the name changed to Home Valu to reflect its evolution from a building supply merchant to a home store that sold carpeting, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, window treatments and cabinets.

The name was selected from entries in a radio contest. The family rejected more than 2,000 suggestions. Many, like Rudy's Home Plaza and Rudy-Mart, showed that consumers still identified the chain with its former pitchman.

Boschwitz blamed the company's recent financial problems on the severely depressed economy as well as the credit crisis. The sharp drop in home construction has hit the chain particularly hard, he said, and financially strapped consumers have also cut back on remodeling.

The retail and housing meltdown has battered other chains that specialize in home products. Home Depot Inc., the nation's largest home improvement retailer, has seen its sales fall since 2006 and recently reported a 9 percent decline in profits for the third quarter. The Lowe's Companies, the second largest home improvement chain, recently posted a 30 percent drop in profits for its third quarter.

Boschwitz said Home Valu didn't cut overhead expenses fast enough when the recession hit.

Even so, he said he doesn't regret a decision to acquire Plymouth-based STS Flooring in 2008. The acquisition was expected to expand Home Valu's reach in the flooring business into more commercial markets. At the time, Gerry Boschwitz, Rudy's son and CEO, said Home Valu planned to seek partnerships with similar companies in states where it already did business as part of a growth strategy.

Bankruptcy filing undecided

Rudy Boschwitz said Monday that revenue for the year ended Aug. 31 was about half of what it had been at its peak of about $100 million in 2006. He said the chain was unprofitable but declined to be more specific. Boschwitz said he is not sure whether the company will file for bankruptcy.

Some contractors that have worked for Home Valu said Monday they have not been paid for months.

Lance Scott, who installs flooring in apartment buildings, said he is owed about $18,000, about one-third of what he would expect to earn in a year.

Rudolph Stoltman, who has worked for Home Valu as a carpet installer for than 10 years, said he is owed about $10,000, about one-sixth of what he would expect to make in a year.

He said Home Valu had previously paid him about a week after completing jobs, but began delaying payments last summer before stopping them altogether in October.

"I don't know how I'm going to recoup my losses," he said.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723

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