Serving The Serious D-I-Yer

Highly skilled consumers expect high-end specialty products and complex project assistance

There’s an increasingly sophisticated and highly skilled D-I-Yer in the market, and he is raising his standards for service and quality products, say retailers and manufacturers. To capture this customer, retailers must have the high-quality tools, expert advice and expanded services they require.

Project-oriented serious D-I-Yers are not only growing in numbers, but are also growing in knowledge, says Mark Weigel, East Coast sales manager for Sandvik Saws & Tools.

Sandvik, which is marketing its new Razor Sharp saw line to pros and serious D-I-Yers, has found that “the D-I-Y shows, literature and books are encouraging a generation of people coming into their own to choose products with lasting value and quality,” he says.

The serious D-I-Yer is a crucial element in Braintree, Mass.-based Grossman’s threefold sales strategy, which calls for a direct hit on remodelers, contractors and serious D-I-Yers.

The $833 million company has no “hard and fast rule” for defining the latter customer, says assistant controller Steve Shapiro, but generalizes it to “the person who comes in and spends in excess of $1,000 on project-oriented items.”

Its heaviest competition for these consumers comes from warehousers, and Grossman’s competes by offering what its serious D-I-Yer demands: quality products, specialized services and price, he says.

Quality reigns

Quality to the serious D-I-Yer means the top, most recognizable, name brands in categories such as tools and paint, and first-rate lumber in a covered yard, says Shapiro. Pricing, which retailers agree is lower on the list of concerns the more “serious” a D-I-Yer is, is not the primary issue to his customers, Shapiro says.

“We keep our pricing competitive,” he says simply.

Grossman’s new store format provides more bulk packaging and a smaller number of sku’s in the commodities needed by its three core customer groups, such as screws and fasteners. It has cut back on noncore departments to concentrate on adding sku’s to these categories. Although the stores’ overall sku count has dropped, “within our 9,000 sku’s, we’re probably broader and deeper within those product classes than our competition,” says CFO Syd Katz.

Projects need design help

The company also finds design and engineering help to be a key service for the serious D-I-Yer. To keep employees out on the sales floor helping these customers with project design, the company is adding an automated replenishment system to cut their buying responsibilities.

Extensive project help is important to Babbitt Bros. Trading Co. in Flagstaff, Ariz., as well. “We’ve seen an increase in the homeowner-builder who’s taking on projects like decks, which need design and engineering help,” says Pat Plazek, VP-building materials division. “We take pride in the fact that our personnel can take them through the steps.”

The growing trend to provide higher-end tools can be directly linked to the growth of the serious D-I-Y market, Sandvik’s Weigel says.

Moore’s Lumber & Building Supply in Roanoke, Va., for example, expanded its offering of industrial brands after focus groups encouraged it to emphasize pro brands not typically found at retail, such as Powermatic and Delta.

Its woodworker customers, for instance, need brands that are typically carried by industrial distributors, says Robbie Tastet, merchandise manager-hardlines at the $345 million company.

Other retailers echo those sentiments. Plazek says Babbitt’s serious D-I-Y customers have built their experience level to the point where they will only accept the higher-end products. Price is no longer the top concern, he says.

“They’re very conscious of quality and will accept no seconds,” he says. “A serious D-I-Yer will pay for the worm drive as opposed to the standard consumer model. They’ve gone that route, and it hasn’t done the trick.”

The quality-before-price concern is equally true for lumber, he says. “They will pay for No. 1 treated product. They’ve done decks and brought out the beams and |found they didn’t fit~. They don’t want to go through that again.”

Many retailers say D-I-Yer sophistication has grown as they become more actively involved in remodeling their own homes.

“We know that segment is growing,” says Shapiro, adding that Grossman’s is focusing on the serious D-I-Yer most heavily in its New England stores. “New England is mired in recession, housing starts are at very low levels, and when people aren’t moving, they are remodeling,” he says.

Wickes Lumber in Vernon Hills, Ill., is also banking on the trend to continue. Of Wickes’ $738 million sales last year, 31 percent went to serious D-I-Yers, according to its recently released initial public offering prospectus.

Wickes attributes its high percentage of serious D-I-Y customers to its services, including expert advice on project design and selection, delivery and availability of credit. Its serious D-I-Y customers “have different purchasing criteria than the casual D-I-Yer,” the prospectus says.

Wickes will aim at the serious D-I-Yer in its smaller markets where competition for consumers is not as intense, it says. The company says the path to the serious D-I-Yer’s heart lies in offering what the consumer-oriented chains generally don’t–expert advice on project design and selection, delivery and availability of credit.

Project packages sell

Wickes says it will expand its packages of the projects that serious D-I-Yers complete most often, such as decks, outbuildings and garages. These proprietary project plan booklets combine technical drawings with detailed material lists which, in effect, positions the retailer as a consulting architect.

Grossman’s has begun tying its product mix into the specialized needs of another segment of serious D-I-Yers: woodworkers. Grossman’s has increased its assortment of fine woods, including maple, poplar and oak. Specialty hardwood sales in turn tie into added sales of routers and other woodworking tools, says Shapiro.

Whether woodworker or remodeler, serious D-I-Yers expect to be able to find everything for a project readily available, retailers say.

“The biggest mistake you can make is being out of stock,” Shapiro says. “If they can come into the store and find everything they need for the project, they’ll become more loyal.”

Woodworkers Prefer Home Centers

Retailers who upgrade and expand power tool lines score a direct hit on a key component of the serious D-I-Y market–the woodworker, says David Sloan, editor and publisher of “American Woodworker” magazine.

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Among amateur woodworkers, who annually spend $10 billion, 53 percent shop home centers first for tools and equipment, according to the magazine’s recently published survey, done in conjunction with Family Opinion Research.

The beginning woodworker is most likely to buy his equipment at a home center or at Sears, says Sloan. Home centers are the largest single outlet for portable power tools, benchtop tools and floor-standing stationery tools, he says.

The beginner and lower intermediate categories of the woodworking market, which make up about 59 percent of the market and 43 percent of spending, are the most likely home center shoppers says Sloan. These woodworkers are more likely to pay for consumer-oriented tools–until their expertise increases, he says.

More advanced woodworkers shop lumberyards, the survey says, accounting for 38 percent of the market. They invest twice as many dollars in power tools as the average woodworker, according to the study.

Not surprisingly, as skill level grows, product preferences change. Brand and quality take precedence over price, says Sloan.

“The beginner is going to buy Black & Decker and Sears,” he says. “The advanced woodworker is seeking Bosch, DeWalt, Porter Cable or Delta.” One of the largest competitors for the expert’s dollar on these products is tool catalogs, he says.

“As home centers proliferate, they offer customers an opportunity to get their hands on a tool,” he says. “But mail order companies offer definite advantages they’ll be hard-pressed to overcome. They offer the convenience of shopping in and delivering to the home, no sales tax and free shipping.”

Lumberyards maintain an advantage in wood purchases though, Sloan says, offering quality selection and pricing.

Grossman’s in Braintree, Mass., has increased its specialty hardwoods offering to cater to the advanced woodworker. “When hardwoods sell, certain tools such as routers sell too,” says Steve Shapiro, assistant controller.

Female woodworkers are a newly emerging demographic, accounting for only about 10 percent of advanced woodworkers, but 52 percent of beginners, says Sloan. A significant portion of this group said decorative wood crafts were their No. 1 project, suggesting specific power tools such as routers and finishing equipment.

“This is an area with a lot of product sales potential that retailers and manufacturers could emphasize much more than they currently are,” says Sloan.

Inside the Woodworking Market

Number of amateur woodworkers: 17 million

Size of market: $10 billion

Skill level:

Beginners: 23% of market, 13% of spending Lower intermediates: 36% of market, 30% of spending Upper intermediates: 32% of market, 38% of spending Experts: 9% of market, 19% of spending

Top product categories:

Wood, veneer: $235 average annual expenditure. Power tools: $66 average annual expenditure.

Power tool ownership:

Own power tools: 96% Own cordless power tools: 77% Avg. total value owned: $886 Avg. total value owned by expert and advanced woodworker levels: $1,700

Top projects in past 12 months:

Carpentry/home construction: 52% Outdoor projects: 45% Finishing: 43% Power tool woodworking: 43%

Where they live:

Less than 100,000 population: 28% 100,000 to 499,999: 17% 500,000 to 1,999,999: 20% 2 million or more: 35%

Where they shop:

Home center: 53% Lumberyard: 38%

Source: American Woodworker

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