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Brick buys 82 United stores in Canada

EDMONTON, Alberta— Major Canadian retailer The Brick Warehouse Corp., operators of The Brick and Homeshow Canada, has acquired the Canadian assets of promotional chain United Furniture Warehouse for an undisclosed amount.

Paul Comrie has been named president of United, which will operate as a stand-alone division based in Coquitlam, British Columbia.

Kim Yost, The Brick's president and CEO, said the acquisition is part of a new strategy to address all major price segments, with United at the low end, The Brick in the middle and Homeshow Canada at the high end.

"United is a no-frills shopping experience that appeals to young people, students and first-time home buyers — people who are looking for value furniture," he said. "The Brick plans to continue to develop the brand."

The Brick bought 82 UFW stores in western Canada, including the Yukon, and in Ontario.

Founded in 1981 by owner and President John Volken, United Furniture Warehouse once had 180 stores in Canada and the United States, with estimated annual sales of C$210 million.

Most of UFW's senior management are expected to remain, although long time Vice President David Gerstner has left to pursue other career interests.

Furniture/Today's latest Canadian retailer ranking, based on 2001 furniture, bedding and accessories sales, put The Brick at No. 4 and United at No. 6.

Yost noted that United has only one store in metro Toronto and none in Quebec or Atlantic Canada.

There are 22 UFW outlets in Ontario, mostly in smaller urban centers such as Sarnia, Kingston and Peterborough.

"United is not in Quebec and it's not in Ontario the way it should be," he said. "There are great opportunities for expansion."

Since The Brick already has distribution centers and other logistical support structures in place, expansion throughout Ontario and the rest of Eastern Canada should be relatively simple and cost-effective, he said.

"The analysis is going on as we speak, but we haven't made any specific decisions yet," Yost said.

While it didn't disclose specific plans for UFW, the parent company intends to make its Quebec debut in mid-April when it opens six Brick stores and a distribution and liquidation center in greater Montreal.

Construction is also under way on the second Homeshow Canada outlet, which like the first will be in Toronto. Yost expects it will be open in August and that a third Toronto unit will be added sometime in 2005. Later, the company will introduce the concept to other Canadian metropolitan markets.

Earlier this year, The Brick Warehouse Corp. sold its two freestanding La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries stores back to La-Z-Boy Canada.

"We're going to focus on the three banners (The Brick, UFW and Homeshow Canada) for the foreseeable future," Yost said.

UFW President Paul Comrie, who will report to Yost, is the oldest son of Bill Comrie, who founded The Brick in 1971 and remains its chairman. The Brick's 2003 sales, including appliances and home electronics, are estimated at C$1.3 billion.

The younger Comrie studied business and played NCAA hockey at the University of Denver. He played 15 games for the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL in 1997, then joined The Brick after suffering a concussion in 2000 while playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs, an Oilers farm team.

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