Hardware store chains target women customers

Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal

Stacey McQueen pushed a shopping cart through a paint supply aisle at Orchard Supply Hardware, picking out brushes, a roller and a selection of bright, primary colors for her son’s new bedroom shelves. The daughters are getting shades of purples, pinks and yellows.

After the children’s rooms and before she heads outside to help her husband with the landscaping, she plans to head into the kitchen of a new house where she’ll lay tile for the first time.

“I want to start easy,” the Aptos resident says.

Ms. McQueen is just the kind of do-it-herself woman that hardware stores are increasingly courting. Once considered a macho hobby, home improvement is experiencing a large female following.

Wilkesboro, N.C.-based Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and Chicago-based Orchard Supply Hardware claim about half of their customers are women. OSH is owned by Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Atlanta-based The Home Depot, which recently held its first nationwide Do-It-Herself home improvement workshop for women, says 55 percent of its non-contractor business are women. And a recent survey of Oak Brook, Ill.-based Ace Hardware’s smaller neighborhood franchise stores estimated 42 percent of customers are women, but they spend 30 percent to 40 percent more than men do per visit.

“The sheer number of women coming into our stores is definitely increasing,” says Paula Erickson, ACE spokeswoman. “There are more women who own their own homes or are the head of their households, so you find more and more women are doing the projects themselves.”

At Lowe’s about 66 percent of women customers ownpower drills; in California it is 76 percent, according to the store’s 2002 customer survey. While only 26 percent of the women polled in Home Depot’s study in April this year said they had bought a power tool in the last year, 50 percent say they wanted to learn how to use one.

According to Home Depot’s poll, conducted by telephone, 80 percent of the 534 women surveyed said they planned to do some type of home improvement project in the next 12 months. Sixty-eight percent of the women said they would prefer to spend their leisure time working on a home improvement project rather than shopping.

And of those women, 65 percent of them plan on painting or wallpapering, while 39 percent of them said they will be replacing doors or windows, light fixtures, ceiling fans and carpets, or working on landscaping projects.

Their confidence level is increasing as well, according to the Lowe’s study. Women initiate 80 percent of all home improvement projects and represent half of Lowe’s customer base, according to the company. Compared to a year earlier, women characterized themselves as intermediate or advanced as opposed to beginners, says Lowe’s. Ninety-four percent of all female homeowners have completed a home improvement project on their own at least once, the survey says.

One reason for that is the amount of information that’s available on the Internet, says Lowe’s spokeswoman Chris Ahearn. On Lowe’s Web site alone, there are 600 illustrated projects for the do-it-yourselfers, she says. Then there are the television shows on home improvement.

“They generate excitement on home improvement and make it look very easy,” Ms. Ahearn says.

Shedding the traditionally skinny, dark store aisles lined with boxes of bolts and pipe fittings, home improvement stores are reaching out to their female crowd by creating more of a grocery store experience. Aisles are well-lighted and many have clear signs and instructions on products or materials use.

“Historically, hardware stores have been intimidating to people who might not know what they want when they walk in the door,” Ms Ahearn says. “In creating a store that’s friendly to females, we want to make sure we aren’t alienating our male customers, but the changes we’ve made to appeal to women have had the added benefit of appealing to men as well.”

ACE is testing family-friendly store layouts that include project areas for children to work on crafts such as birdhouses.

Project clinics help customers learn as well. Home Depot held its first-ever nationwide Do-It-Herself clinic on May 15; the company plans another nationwide clinic on July 28.

Geared toward “female-friendly” projects, Home Depot clinics involved design and décor such as flooring, window treatments, lighting, kitchen and bath, and landscaping, says spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher.

“We add a little element of fun for the ladies,” she says. “One store was handing out food and knick-knacks … to kind of give it a female-friendly feel and make it fun for them as well.”

JENNIFER PITTMAN is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz.

This article is published (here)

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