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Rona hires industry veteran to help boost efficiency

Rona store in Queen Street east in Toronto.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Rona's new chief executive has turned to a food retailing veteran like himself to help oversee the transformation of the home renovation company.

Robert Sawyer has hired Alain Brisebois, 54, for the newly created position of chief commercial officer. He starts May 27.

Both men have previously worked at supermarket chain Metro Inc.

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Brisebois, who will also hold the title of executive vice-president at Rona, is being brought on board to improve the struggling home improvement retailer's operational efficiency and to develop synergy between its purchasing, merchandising, procurement and marketing activities.

A 30-year veteran of the retail industry, Brisebois was lured away from convenience store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard, where he served as vice-president of purchasing and supply chain before moving up to senior vice-president of operations in 2010.

He has also held key positions at Metro, including senior vice-president of the Ontario division.

"I'm happy to rely on Alain's extensive experience in retail to help us review our business processes, improve our efficiency and offer our customers a better shopping experience," Sawyer said in announcing the move on Friday.

Sawyer, 59, joined Rona last month following more than 30 years in grocery retailing, including nearly four years in the No. 2 position at Metro — another large Quebec-based retailer.

Analyst Derek Dley of Canaccord Genuity said Brisbois seems like a very good addition as Rona's reshapes its executive team.

But he said the company still faces a weak home renovation spending market in Canada and continued pressure from Home Depot and other large rivals including Lowe's.

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"It's always good when you can bring good people to your team but how does it change the overall outlook for Rona? I don't think it does, at least not in the near-term," he said in an interview.

"At some point we need to start seeing some earnings growth out of this company for the stock to really turn around and just given the challenges it's still a very challenging market."

Dley expects Rona's results on May 14 will once again demonstrate the challenging operating environment.

Rona is expected to lose 10 cents per share in adjusted earnings in the first quarter, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

That would be the same loss as a year ago, but revenues are forecast to drop 3.7 per cent to $900 million.

Rona is the largest Canadian distributor and retailer of hardware, home renovation and gardening products with a network of more than 800 corporate, franchise and affiliate retail stores and almost 28,000 employees.

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