The home improvement industry has made significant investments in tool development over the past 15 years. In return, it has received excellent results.
Cordless, precision laser technology, and new cost efficiencies have revolutionised the market. There are at least five other strong contributions. More great developments are on the horizon.
Even so, there are some market sectors that are not receiving the attention they deserve. This is the result of shifts that have taken place in the market over the past six to seven years.
Perhaps the most important emerging consumer segment is casual/beginner DIYers. In the past this segment consisted of low-spending, single-task consumers often looking for a single quick fix. Today this segment is dominated by consumers with a set of specific objectives: I need new kitchen cupboards, I need to refurbish the bathroom, I need to update my son's/daughter's bedroom.
If we were to sum up this market, it would be that they are looking for something better and more custom than IKEA, but at a close to IKEA cost.
There are three reasons why this market matters as much as it does. First, as the overall level of DIY skills is declining in the Australian community, beginners must be nurtured into becoming the next generation of experienced consumers.
Second, helping out beginners is probably one of the few good opportunities left for retailers (and brands) to truly establish loyalty in consumers.
Thirdly, this market is currently being undersold. Customers in this segment are walking out the store door after spending $100 to $150, when they should be spending $400 to $500. What's more, as consumers they will get far better value from spending the $400 than the $100.
Start with tools
Tools are a good place to start in looking at the needs of this market. The transition from quick fixes to a lengthy project often begins with the purchase of a "serious" tool.
However, the way this segment looks at tools is quite different to that of other segments. To generalise, where other segments look at what a tool can do, its functions and capabilities, this segment looks at what they can do with a particular tool.
We've identified three types of tool that would benefit from further development and attention, on both the supplier and the retailer level.
1. Easy to use tools
Most toolmakers will claim - often with good justification - that they spend a lot of time and effort making their tools easy to use.
The question that needs to get asked is: Easy to use for whom? Not only do toolmakers not always take into consideration the needs of a neophyte, but sometimes the "easy to use" features they introduce for advanced users can make tools more difficult to use for beginners.
For example, it is possible to optimise hammers to be lighter and deliver the same force per blow as much heavier hammers. Less weight definitely makes a hammer easier to use - for experienced users. Usually such changes make the hammer more difficult to use for beginners.
Power tools for beginners
In last week's editorial we mentioned some of the interesting brand implications of the inexpensive power mitre saws that both Bunnings and Masters sell.
One of the interesting things that emerged was that, while the purchasers and users of those saws thought they were very good for the money, they explicitly mentioned that they were probably not good for beginners.
This wasn't due to any fault with the saws, but rather because the saws lacked a laser guidance system. As experienced users, the reviewers knew how useful those systems can be.
Both Bunnings and Masters do sell power mitre saws with laser guides which on discount cost around $120. What is interesting is that in those stores - as in most home improvement stores - there is a lack of clear guidance for what beginners/casual DIYers should buy.
It is a kind of guidance that, in today's retail environment, is usually supplied by brands or sub-brands. At the moment there are very few in-store guides to help beginners make these kinds of wise purchasing decisions.
2. Safer tools
In recent years health officials in many states have started issuing press releases before long weekends that warn of the dangers of power tools. No one has collected the exact numbers on injuries just yet, but everyone agrees those numbers are on the increase.
Once that data does get collated through Medicare, you can be sure there will be a push to improve the safety regulations around power tools. It would be a good idea for both tool manufacturers and retailers to get out ahead of that movement.
More than that, for the beginner DIY segment safety is an active concern. There is a good deal less "bravado", and they will freely admit that some aspects of power tools really worry them.
Or, to put that a little differently, safety is actually a good selling point in this market, and something these customers will willingly pay for.
Safety down the product range
One of the ironies of tools is that the high-quality, well-designed tools the professionals and "prosumers" use tend to have extra safety measures built in. The cheaper tools that beginners buy do not - even though the beginners are the users who most need them.
One difficulty is that at the moment, there seems to be no way a consumer looking at a range of power tools receives much guidance as to which tools are safer than others. Not only is there no rating system, but digging up the details takes some work.
As a simple example: Bunnings should be applauded for providing blade braking on even its cheapest mitre power saws, and making this information readily available in its product descriptions online.
Stopping the blade once the power switch is released is a basic and vital function, especially for beginners. Competing products are not clear on this issue.
What this offers is a great branding/promotional opportunity. A simple tag that identifies a tool as being particularly safe would be enough to trigger a sale in many cases. Not only direct sales, either, but gift sales as well.
3. Tools for women
This is a category that is ready to become viable. In the past this category has been misunderstood and abused. Tools with pink handles, for example, were really not ever going to sell well.
One sign of viability is the substantial increase in editorial pages devoted to DIY for women in home interior design magazines. Much of this editorial has moved from pure "craft" projects to more serious DIY. The projects are still simple in nature - low commitment, big results - but many of them require tools such as power drills and power saws.
To fully develop this category, it is necessary to understand both the different design requirements of women, and their unique buying pattern.
A good example of design can women can be found in hammers. Physically, it is true that women tend to have less upper body strength and smaller hands than men. This does not mean, however, that they want to buy little tack hammers and confine themselves to hanging picture frames.
What might appeal would be a hammer that weighed 12oz, but delivered the whack of a 20oz hammer.
And guess what? DeWalt makes just such a hammer. Here's a review from YouTube:
This is really the key to designing tools for the women's market: delivering additional capability, not limiting their uses.
A second requirement for this kind of design to succeed, of course, is that these tools are marketed appropriately, so that women can easily identify them.
As with this case, designing well for women often means little more than designing really well for everyone. Many men would benefit from such a hammer, just as men could also benefit from tools that adapted more easily to hands of different sizes, and that were substantially lighter.
Men and women begin their buying consideration at the same point, most of the time. They work out what tasks they will need a tool for, then they match those tasks to the tools available.
It is what happens next that is different. Men nearly always find the tool that matches the majority of their needs - then buy one that is one or two notches higher in terms of capability. Women are more inclined to buy the tool that exactly matches their needs.
Also, women are happy to use "community" resources to solve problems. If her power saw isn't big enough to cut through a red gum post she needs for the garden, most women will have not problem in asking a local hardware store to do it for them. They will even feel clever about that solution.
Most men in the same situation feel something like a small sense of defeat. They will wish they had bought a bigger saw in the first place.
Choosing examples, especially when it comes to power tools, is always difficult, as there are usually three or four equal options. So the tools I choose here are less a specific endorsement, and more good, well-functioning examples of a type.
AEG 12V drill/driver and impact driver
Probably the first "major" tool a woman will buy is a cordless drill/driver. One of the best "starter kits" for a woman to buy is actually the AEG 12V Kit (BS12CKIT2-402B) which includes a drill/driver and an impact driver.
One of the best features of these units is that their hand grips are very well-designed and can easily accommodate a wide range of hand sizes.
While as a 12V device, they may seem underpowered to some, they are also lightweight - a feature that is enhanced by this kit including two different battery sizes.
The impact driver tool is a very good tool form women, though many might not naturally consider it. It might not be evident, but drill/drivers can require substantial force to get screws going, while the impact driver reduces this stress.
But: just look at the AEG marketing, from YouTube.
The message is geared towards getting men to accept a lower-power device by associating it with construction sites. That really is not appealing to women consumers.
Worx WX423 and WX427 saws
One of the now-common requirements in design magazine DIY articles is some kind of a power saw. Usually a jigsaw is the recommended device - which is a "typical" woman's saw.
While jigsaws are versatile, and well-adapted to craft work as well as structural wood cutting, they are actually a little difficult to use for the latter. Make a good straight cut through even 90mm x 19mm pine can be hard.
Circular saws, of course, make this task much easier, but for someone moving from craft work to structural work, they can really be overkill. They are also typically quite heavy - at least 4kg.
These two saws from Worx are a good size for smaller projects. The WX423 is quite light, at just 1.8kg, but would be pretty much limited to making straight cuts in 19mm pine.
The WX427, however, is much more versatile, offering up to 45 degree bevel cuts and a cut depth of up to 45mm. It also features a laser guide, and at 2.3kg is still light enough for easy handling.
Successfully targeting the beginner market is partly a matter of having the right tools available (and perhaps getting more such tools designed and produced), but it is every bit as much about marketing as well.
While there would be room for dedicated marketing propositions - such as a specific web page for these tools, or even part of a store aisle - just as much can be achieved by adding a marketing overlay on top of existing marketing structures.
While directly labelling some tools as "for the beginner" might be off-putting to more experienced users, it doesn't take much thought to come up with a more acceptable label - such as "StartUp" - to better identify this category. Similarly, it certainly won't hurt sales to develop a "safety tag" that identifies tools with enhanced safety features.
This kind of sub-branding would effectively translate to both in-store and online product identification.
Will it be worth it? Just to summarise the potential benefits:Help ensure the development and growth of an experienced DIY marketCapture new customers at a stage when strong store loyalty can be establishedHelp protect novice DIYers from injurySell higher value merchandise to customers who will appreciate itExpand current markets into new areas
Until next time,
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