Monday, December 13, 2010

Retailers Cashing in on the Growing DIY Culture

Pat Higgins sees a trend in the retail market. Consumers tackling home and garden improvement projects on their own seek help from do-it-yourself-friendly stores.

“We’ve seen big increases in the garden business. People are decorating and doing their own landscaping,” Higgins said. “That’s the biggest shift in DIY I’ve seen.”

Doing home renovations oneself goes further than saving a buck or two. What used to be a hobby has become a way of living. Retailers have DIYers on their radar. They’re looking to cash in on the movement, supporting its growth by passing knowledge and advice to keep eager customers.

For 35 years Higgins has worked in retail. The last 13 years he’s owned and operated a Canadian Tire store in Uxbridge, Ont. He’s noticed a major shift in the DIY culture since the market crash in 2007.

“When it comes to home repair, there’s no doubt that as times get tough, people want to tackle these projects because it’s more affordable,” he said.

Adding to the DIY motivation, Higgins said tool manufacturers are shifting their production lines. They’re pushing for more ergonomic, user-friendly rakes, shovels and cordless power tools.

“We’re seeing a lot of expanded lines, which apply to DIY. It’s a move towards ergonomic,” Higgins said. “It’s all designed for the person doing it themselves.”

With the right tools in hand, consumers are tossing out the phonebook and heading into building materials suppliers themselves.

For 33 years, Doug Plourde, owner of Danforth Lumber Company has seen more DIYers coming to his lumber yard save a money.

“In 2007 we’d get about 70 per cent contractors and 30 per cent DIYers,” Plourde said. “Now we see it at about 60/40. People are handier and have more time to do things themselves.”

Plourde said the Internet is a massive teaching tool. He knows when people have a question and are curious they’ll consult the web.

President of Sheridan Nurseries Karl Stensson said “keeping things simple” is key to get customers crashing the shop’s doors and pursuing the next DIY project.

Stensson said his store offers DIYers three levels of interaction: free in-store advice, appointments for smaller project designs, or a home visit design for complex jobs. He said Sheridan takes pride delivering the know-how and confidence to the DIYer so they know exactly what to do and what to expect.

“The first and biggest mistake is not following a design,” Stensson said. “Once you make that mistake, you’re perpetuating (problems) all the way down the line.”

A major retailer for 97 years, Stensson said his company’s philosophy focuses putting power in the hands of the consumer. Like Plourde, Stensson believes technology and the Internet are a perfect landscape to teach handy work.

“We’re doing YouTube videos on how to treat your lawn. Our garden guide has now expanded to 160 pages and the first 30 pages are all questions and answers about home gardening,” Stensson said.

Building material and home improvement retailers appear to be adapting to changing consumer trends. Retailers have a vested interest in the success of their customers. Customer feedback will continue to drive the home improvement industry.

“We’re a DIY store that in itself solidifies the transfer to a DIY consumer and the DIY environment,” Higgins said.

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