Transparency in a Traditional Industry

Transparency in a Traditional Industry

ESPN is all well and good, as an example of transparent marketing, but you're thinking, "Seriously, it's a multimedia empireand a much more creative endeavorso of course their tactics can be much more transparent." So, to give you an example of a more traditionally run industry that needed help developing transparency to reach women, let's look at the home improvement category.

Prior to the industry's awakening, if you will, a customer would enter a big boxy warehouse store with row upon row of ceiling-high shelving. Plumbing was a separate section, as was electrical and wood. The typical salesperson could mostly handle only questions about the section where he or she had been planted. If you didn't know there were several types of pipes and tubing used in plumbing projects, you might leave the store with the totally wrong item.

Fade to the present. There are updated versions of Ace Hardware; and Home Depot and Lowe's both deliver more modern home improvement shopping experiences. Having woken up to the fact that women are now a major portion of their core customer demographic, home improvement stores are innovating each year.

Whether it's because more people these days are do-it-yourself (DIY) types, or whether there's a nesting trend, you can't help but notice that women as well as men are flocking to home improvement and hardware stores. How did the industry change its marketing, and how did the stores respond, in order to attract the attention and loyalty of so many women?

Let's look at the same transparent principals we examined in the ESPN case study.

The Home Improvement Industry Becomes Transparent


A growing body of research revealed to the home improvement industry that women ( especially those with a do-it-yourself attitude) should be their focus. Here are a few examples of what convinced them to shift their marketing dollars onto women:

  • A 2003 survey by Lowe's found 80 percent of women are doing "everyday fix-it" projects around the house on their own. [1] According to Jim Rhodes, a Lowe's store manager, "It is no longer a male-dominated industry. Ninety-four percent of our shoppers who are females are do-it-yourselfers, and 80 percent of the females make the decisions when it comes to home improvement needs." [2]

  • According to a 2002 Ace Hardware's "America's To-Do List" study of one thousand homeowners, 62 percent of respondents said that the woman of the house is at least partially responsible for physically tackling home repairs and improvement projects. [3] The study also found that men spend an average of $12.27, while women spend an average of $17.74, each time they visit an Ace Hardware store. [4]

  • A 2003 survey by the Home Improvement Research Institute of Tampa, Florida, showed that women are getting involved in do-it-yourself projects at a faster rate than men are. [5] In fact, the number of do-it-yourself products purchased by men has declined over the last two years . [6]


Forget waiting for "honey" to fix it. The real empowerment for women doing home improvement projects results from the desire not to have to wait for husbands or significant others to do the job. "Honey to-do lists" are not so amusing to women who patiently wait until weekends for projects to get started ”and then often go unfinished . Others experience frustration when something breaks down and they can't find a handyman to fix it. More aware that women are leading the home improvement charge, salespeople are responding to them with higher levels of attention and customer service. Also keep in mind:

Transparent tools. To avoid tipping the balance toward pink, more manufacturers are developing transparently designed easier-to-handle tools with improved features (such as no cords and more comfortable grips) that have the same exterior design features as the rest of their lines. RotoZip's lightweight power spiral saw, the Makita "Impact Driver" and Black & Decker's "Mouse Sander" (a light-weight sander) are examples of transparently marketed tools developed to suit women's smaller hands and frames .

Innovative solutions. The home improvement industry is making their old stand-by tools, products and packaging easier to use. For example, Sherwin-Williams Dutch Boy brand paint with its "Twist & Pour" square plastic containers is very consumer friendly. Replacing that age-old purveyor of paint and frustration, the round metal can, Dutch Boy's new packaging innovation features a twist top, a built-in side handle and a no-drip spout. In another example, hardwood- and laminate-floor manufacturers have reconceived the design of their products to make them easier to install by the average layperson.

Brains over brawn. While men like many of the same new features designed to appeal to women, there's still one key difference in the tool world: the lust for megapower. An ad in an issue of Builder magazine features a brawny guy in a plaid shirt, brandishing a huge power saw: [7] "Fourteen houses and this blade 's still eatin' boards like it's day one," the copy brags. With this product, "the blades don't stop until you do." Owning and using power tools is empowering, but for many women the power comes from the ability to use the tools not the torque.


It's important to interact personally . Classes and other methods of personally interacting with customers are a great way to gain feedback. Home Depot, Ace and Lowe's all offer do-it-yourself classes on everything from installing tile floors to faux painting. Women-only classes are becoming increasingly popular, as many women prefer to work in teams and learn in an all- female environment. Although the classes are what we'd consider a hybrid approach to reaching women, they offer the stores an excellent forum for feedback and an opportunity to learn firsthand what women want from their retail outlets and business organizations.

Also, follow the dollars. Tracking product spending by women and noting the departments with a strong spike in sales provides valuable information for companies. For example, Lowe's found that women are tackling more challenging projects, with more than 27 percent undertaking major renovations on their own, such as adding a sunroom or tearing down load- bearing walls. By tracking spending patterns, companies can get a clearer view of the scope of women's interests.


Being information hungry and visually oriented is important. The most difficult part of home improvement is visualizing the process. When a person can actually see how it's done, they feel empowered to undertake the project. While television and live seminars do the best job of meeting this need, home improvement stores are also tailoring their displays and services to be more visually informative. Craftsman Tools is targeting female buyers with detailed photo displays, and newer Ace retail locations feature in-store libraries packed with how-to information on household projects.

More shoppable environments are important also. Home improvement retailers have had to explore and respond to the different ways that women shop compared to men. Both Lowe's and Home Depot emphasize offering a more shoppable environment than that of the traditional hardware store. Lowe's spokeswoman Chris Ahearn says the company has been redesigning its stores since the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the company is continuing to evolve its design to appeal to women: "We really look at the way women shop because they are the decision- makers in the home," Ahearn says. "We want to make sure they are very comfortable in our stores so they can buy the items on their to-do list and also take the time to look around to get inspiration for their next project." [8] Ahearn says North Carolina “based Lowe's has made an effort to provide brighter lighting and wider aisles than its competitors in an effort to appeal to women shoppers. The stores also feature open and uncluttered spaces, clear signage and a home organization section. And, Ace Hardware has changed its signage and display lighting to better appeal to their women customers and to provide a more enhanced shopping experience.


Make it a weekend destination and cool hobby. Home improvement has morphed into a fun, satisfying and empowering weekend activity. In response, the industry is mixing education with entertainment, resulting in hit TV shows like Trading Spaces , interactive and social how-to seminars, and a slew of new books that feature attractive magazine-style layouts. A study conducted by Home Depot and Yankelovich Partners proves that home improvement is a cool hobby for women. [9] An amazing 37 percent said they would rather do home improvements than hit the malls (28 percent) or cook (25 percent). In fact, 54 percent of women versus 51 percent of men said they are currently undertaking some home improvement project.

A showroom feel is good. Women approach home improvement from the overall point of view of creating a home, not just fixing this or that. Showroom displays and room vignettes help women visualize the projects they'd like to do. For example, Home Depot expanded its design- related departments and gave their stores more of a showroom feel.

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I remember going to the hardware store with my father when I was little, but my mom never joined us. It was dark and cluttered, and an unknown world for me. Now I go to one of the national chains on a regular basis and on my own, without my husband, to get inspiration for home repair and decorating projects. The place is light and well-organized, and the staff usually don't roll their eyes when I ask them dumb questions about copper fittings or lawn mowers.

”Claudia G., age 46, internet media specialist

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More diversified and higher-end product offerings are helpful too. Home improvement stores are offering more designer lines, higher-end brands, and a larger selection of products that spark ideas for decorating. For example, to catch the attention of women shoppers, Lowe's has started carrying more designer lines, such as Laura Ashley paint and window coverings .


By approaching women customers as the DIYers they are, and making their products, services and seminars relevant to women, home improvement retailers are reflecting a true commitment, not a phony ploy. The changes they've made in the past ten years reflect an honest and direct approach to their key customers. Women don't want to be ignored or spoken down to when they are standing in the aisles of their local retailer, and places like Ace Hardware, Lowe's and Home Depot have been enthusiastically embracing this new breed of home improvers.

In providing an exceptional shopping experience for customers, many stores in the hardware and home repair industry are learning how to develop long- term , one-on-one relationships with existing customers, as well as inspire newcomers. This industry has adopted an under-the-radar, transparent approach to marketing that is definitely reaching women more effectively.

[1] Anne Erickson, "Girl Power Tools," MSN House & Home , reprinted 2004,

[2] Bob Johnson, "Women Making Home Improvements," April, 25, 2003, cited by News Channel 9 , Chattanooga, Tennessee,

[3] Allison Wollam, "Women nailing clout with home improvement retailers," Houston Business Journal , July 8, 2002,

[4] Also in Alice Wollam, "Women nailing clout with home improvement retailers."

[5] The Female Home Improvement Do-It-Yourselfer Report 2003 (Tampa, Florida: Home Improvement Research Institute, 2003),

[6] Kimberly Stevens, "Women Find Power in the Whir of a Saw," August 30, 2000, Real Estate Journal ,

[7] Kimberly Stevens, "Women Find Power in the Whir of a Saw." See also

[8] Allison Wollam, "Women nailing clout with home improvement retailers."

[9] Lis King, "Women and the Tools They Love: More women discover the joys of DIY," online article (undated),