CHICAGO - A contractor trying to better understand Big Box stores and do-it-yourselfers might be interested in knowing that there is a trade association for such places and folks, and it has just marked its 25th year.


The Home Improvement Research Institute, which started out in 1981 as the Do-It-Yourself Research Institute, celebrated its silver anniversary with a cake, a Lake Michigan cruise, and most importantly, seven hours of talks on how to do an even better job getting consumers to continue to use their manufacturer members’ products and their retail members’ sales places.


Some 150 persons sat in on the sessions. Many sessions provided number crunching and trends that could be embraced by anyone wanting to know who might be interested in buying the next big ticket item to improve their home, and what would motivate them to make the investment.

J. Walker Smith


Future trends in home improvement formed the basis of a talk by J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich Partners, a consulting firm. He said that overall, the outlook is positive for home improvement projects.


He especially urged attendees to look to single households, Hispanics, and Baby Boomers as a strong market for such projects.


Regarding singles, he told stores owners to “rethink store layouts, instructions, and how-to offerings, and recognize separate issues and challenges for single men versus single women.”


When relating to Hispanics, he urged stores “to mitigate any discomfort with the home improvement process, accommodate the preference for face-to-face relationships, and create marketing that is more appealing and exciting.”


For the aging Baby Boomers, he said they should not be neglected when it comes to advertising. Be aware that they may be more willing to use subcontractors that a store might supply.


Scott Butterfield, senior vice president of Research/Strategy for Lowe’s Companies, looked at market trends. At the time of the conference in mid-October, he noted, “Industry and housing markets are coming off some historic highs, select markets are going through a correction, and the housing market is adjusting to a more normalized pace.”


At the same time, he said those homes being built “are getting larger, even while the number of people per household is declining.”


He did note one of the same findings of Smith in a trend moving away from do-it-yourself and more toward “do-it-for-me”’ that he described as very strong.


He also sent a message to retailers by noting an increasing interest in the Internet, not only for research but also for purchasing.



Soul differentiation, in the view of Dan Stanek, executive vice president for Retail Forward Inc., a consulting firm, means making changes to avoid sameness, changes that resonate with customers.


He said many formats for retail are currently “in maturity or decline phase;” while consolidation continues and “the retail sector is losing its share of consumer spending.” The point, he said, is to avoid “a sea of sameness.”


Factors being looked at now, he said, are whether to be “premium/upscale, price/value oriented, urban, or even an online source.” It might mean going to a niche market like specialty, ethnic, or natural/organic. It might mean stressing ambience or time-saving aspects.


Along the way, it requires “choosing your core,” in noting a supermarket that provides a variety of products but emphasizes fresh food and “build-to-order” food selection.


“You can build a meal online and get all the nutritional info as well,” he said.


Joel Rubinson


Joel Rubinson, senior vice president and general manager for Solutions Synovate Americas, labeled his talk, “Different Do-It-Yourself Strokes for Different Home Improvement Folks.”


“Welcome to a brave new world for marketers, in which consumers have practically unlimited choices to live their lives the way they want,” he said. “They choose how to spend their money, the brands they want, and the places they want to shop.


“Ask yourself, what consumers are potentially most valuable to me now and in the future? What are they looking for? And, how do I develop a special relationship between my target customer and my brand?’”


For example, in the home improvement market there might be:


• Do-it-yourself enthusiasts.


• Upscale researchers who like to check everything out online.


• Hire-it-yourself minimalists, who want all work done by subcontractors.


• Economy-minded do-it-yourselfers.


“Pick a consumer target,” he said, and strive to meet its needs and wants.


Publication date: 12/25/2006