Hartco Monday appointed the head of a former home renovation products distributor to take over its operations.

The Montreal-based firm, which owns the MicroAge, CompuSmart and Compucentre franchises, said Tony Molluso would take over as president from CEO Harry Hart on Sept. 17. Hart, who has run the company with his son, executive vice-president of corporate development Jeffrey Hart, will remain chairman.

“Harry wants to be maybe not as much in the firing line now,” he said. “I’m there strictly to support Harry and Jeffery.”

Molluso comes to Hartco from Sodisco Howden, which distributes through Pro Hardware and Do It network of 1,500 Canadian dealers. Molluso said Hartco would represent a different challenge, in part because of Hartco’s healthy financial picture. Sodisco had been losing money for more than six years when Molluso joined the company in 1997.

“The Sodisco situation was a turnaround — the company was almost bankrupt,” he said. “Hartco’s not a turnaround. Hartco is just making a good company better: growing the top line, looking at what the franchisee wants to know, how we can improve their business.”

Though he is entering the technology industry at a time when many customers are holding off on IT purchases, Molluso said he was optimistic about Hartco’s future.

“When you have a market that everybody seems to be dumping on, that’s the situation whereby the opportunities exist,” he said. “I always think when there’s a fine-tuning of the industry, the people who shouldn’t be in there get out. Hatco’s been in it for 40 years. They’re in it, they’re professional at it and they’re going to get stronger at it. But some of the weaker players that really are in there on the fringe that just upset the industry, they just won’t make it.”

Last year, after suffering the first financial loss in the company’s history, Hartco announced plans to spin off its computer and communication division in an effort to restore profitability. At the same time, the company discontinued money-losing operations and launched an online reseller business, ZincPC.com, which works through the BellZinc.ca portal. Compucentre, after enduring a sluggish PC market, has turned to higher-margin games while CompuSmart got a new management team.

Molluso said Hartco has clearly learned from any mistakes it has made in the past. “When the organization uses a buck-shot approach — when you’re trying to hit everything that’s moving, you usually don’t succeed,” he said. “The problem with an organization like Hartco is sometimes you’re too close to the action, and you’re going to give the business too long to survive.”

Molluso said his first two months with Hartco would involve a cross-country tour to meet with partners, including its MicroAge franchisees.

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