A couple of interesting things happened after the Hechinger Company announced last week it would begin paying dividends of three cents per share on its publicly traded stock.
Predictably the price of the shares jumped - about $1 a share to 8 1/4 bid. 9 1/4 asked in the NASDAQ quotes.
Unpredictably some of the shareholders complained. "The first two stockholders we talked to wanted to know why we were doing it," recalled Chairman Richard England, with a little bemusement.
The shareholders, he explained, were concerned that paying a cash dividend meant Hechinger was abandoning its long standing policy of reinvesting profits to insure maximum growth.
The notion that the company's growth rate - sales up 15 percent profits up 22 percent last year - will slow, vanished as John Hechinger, the president, guided a golf cart on a tour of the company's new headquarters in Landover recently.
The warehouse is designed not for the 19 stores the company has now or the four more that will open in the next year, but for perhaps twice that many. It's sized to handle enough sotres to saturate the 200-mile radius from Washington that Hechinger considers its territory.
The company's expansion into Tidewater Virginia has been slowed because of the bankruptcy of a landlord from which the company planned to rent a site.
But the stores planned for Norfolk and Virginia Beach should be under construction by later this year, along with one in Glen Burnie. Md. By year end new Hechinger outlets will be open in Harrisburg. York and Lancaster, Pa., and in Baltimore at Perring Park way and Joppa Road. In total, 13 new stores, all 60,000 square foot units are planned.
Also on the drawing board - at Arthur Cotton Moore/Associates in Georgetown - is a new Hechinger store as part of an urban shopping center on the site of the company's old headquarters, in the District of Columbia, along Maryland Avenue near the intersection of 15th and H Streets, NE.
A supermarket - probably Safe way - a department store and a mall with small shops are planned, although financing details have not been worked out. Sensitive to complaints that the company has abandoned the city by moving to Maryland. Hechinger officials are determined to see the old site put to new uses.
The in-town location simply wasn't big enough for the massive new distribution center the company needed to consolidate seven scattered warehouse and office facilities under one roof.
That root is big enough to cover six football fields - or 133 tennis courts. Golf carts are used not only for tours but for internal transportation and a train of cargo carts makes the rounds at noon to bring employes to the cafeteria for lunch.
Securities analysts who follow the company say the increased efficiency promised by the centralized warehouse should mean improved profits for Hechinger.
The prospect, the opening of new stores in Baltimore and the designation of Hechingers as "Retailer of the Year" by Building Supply News, a trade magazine, all are factors in upward trend in Hechinger shares, analysts say.
In the first quarter of 1977 the stock was as low as 3 1/8 bid but has moved steadily in the past year. Trading - which picked up to 2,500 shars a day after the dividend announcement - has been modest, so much so that the stock moved off the first tier NASDQ listing into the "additional" over-the-counter listing. (It is listed with other local companies in The Washington Post.)
The dividend decision, analysts say, will broaden the market for the stock, allowing it to be added to some institutional and trust portfolios that insist on some cash payout, however, modest. Building a history of regular dividens and growth over several years will also make it possible for the company, at some future date, to sell more shares to the public.
Only about 15 percent of the company's 2.6 million shares are in public hands, the remainder are held by the Hechinger and England families, through two private companies, Heco Inc. and Hechinger Enterprises. The real estate occupied by a dozen of the stores is owned by the two family companies, which collected almost $2 million in rent from the public company last year. Hechinger Enterprises also is the landlord of the new headquarters, which carries rentals starting at $870,000 a year and increasing to $1,130,000 after 25 years.
Leasing the stores keeps the company's capital requirements down, while providing income to the founding families. That's one reason why Hechinger and England draw such modest salaries - $54,167 each last year - and why their family (the two are brothers-in-law) will not receive the dividends that will be paid to public shareholders of record on Aug. 1.
Paying a dividend only to the public shareholders of record on Aug. 1.
paying a dividend only to the public shareholders required a special dispensation from the Internal Revenue Service, but such actions are not uncommon with public companies in which the founders retail control.
The 3 cents per share dividend, if it becomes quarterly, is equivalent to about 15 percent of the company's earnings of 92 cents per share last year. But since shares, the cost to the company will be less than 3 percent of earnings, leaving plenty of retained cash for expansion.