SAN FRANCISCO -- Looking for that perfect gift for the woman in your life?
Try power tools.
Half of the residential customers of home-improvement stores are women.
On True Value hardware's Web site, products for "handy-mom" share top billing with "gourmet-mom." The site for Rubbermaid's women-focused Tough Tools includes images of women showing men how to get the job done.
Female hosts on home-improvement shows include Lynda Lyday on the call-in show "Talk2DIY," Amy Devers on "DIY to the Rescue," and Jodi Marks on HGTV's "Fix It Up."
Harry Harrison, host of HGTV's "Help Around the House," generally works with female homeowners. Even magazines are popping up, such as the new Woodworking for Women. "I keep an eye on five to 10 industries. This is the second most advanced one," outdone only by financial services companies, in its marketing to women, said Martha Barletta, author of "Marketing to Women" (Dearborn, 2003) and chief executive of TrendSight Group, a marketing consulting firm based in the Chicago area.
The home-improvement industry, including retailers, manufacturers and television producers, is "doing back flips because it's suddenly becoming apparent that women are a much bigger factor in the home-improvement decision than they realized," Barletta said.
"Ace Hardware did a study and found that their women customers spent 50 percent more than their male customers," she said. "If women are half of the customers and they're spending 50 percent more, it doesn't take much to do the math."
Home Depot reports that 200,000 women have attended its Do-It-Herself remodeling workshops, initiated a year ago. Lowe's started addressing women's tastes in its store redesigns about 10 years ago. "We know that women make 85 percent of the home-improvement decisions," said Chris Ahearn, a Lowe's spokeswoman. That realization led to new stores that are brightly lit, with wide aisles and products within easy reach.
"Our stores are also very uncluttered and extremely clean," Ahearn said, making for a "shopping environment that's very attractive to women, and men don't mind either. While women are more discerning shoppers, men like all the same things women do."
"Lowe's is saying, 'We know where the money is, we get it, we're fixing it,' " she said. While Home Depot has made strides, company executives make comments such as "we don't want to alienate men, so we don't want to change [our stores] that much," Barletta said.
Ace Hardware made some store design changes, but the company's Web site makes few references to women and tools, and the Mother's Day "gift ideas" page shows a kitchen cart, copper bowl, garden bench and cooking pot.
As an industry, "they're getting the idea. It doesn't mean there isn't more good stuff that they could do," Barletta said. "They don't have the marketing savvy of a retailer like Target. There's a lot more they could be doing in terms of promotions and services. They're still focused on product."
For example, to appeal to time-starved women, she said, stores could offer regular delivery of potted plants, timed to seasonal changes.
Others agreed that the industry has more to do. "We're just scratching the surface," said Lyday, a union contractor for 13 years.
She is writing a home-repair guidebook, will launch a women-friendly tool line this summer and has plans for a construction-work clothing line. "Look at what the food network has done for men getting involved in the kitchen," she said. "Men aren't closet cooks anymore. . . . That's starting to happen with women and tools."
A new generation of women-friendly tools is emerging also. Barbara Kavovit launched her Barbara K product line a year ago, selling her tool kit in Bloomingdale's and Macy's as well as more traditional hardware settings. The company pulled in $2.5 million in the second half of 2003, she said. "Women really want to be able to fix things around the house," she said. "They've taken on so many roles in the 21st century: They're career-oriented, they're heads of households. This was a natural extension."
Recently, when her child asked her to hang up his basketball hoop, "there I was, 8 o'clock at night with my hammer and nails," Kavovit said. "It builds self-esteem. Independence is sexy, and to be able to be independent in all facets of your life is important to women today."
Tomboy Tools is selling its tools direct to women, like Tupperware parties, through home-based remodeling workshops. "We saw triple-digit growth for 2003," said Sue Wilson, president of Tomboy Tools, founded in 2000.
Like the Barbara K and Rubbermaid products, Tomboy Tools are made with rubberized grips and ergonomic designs made with women's hands in mind.
But pink, by all accounts, is to be avoided. Originally "the hardware industry really perceived that what women wanted were not serious tools," said Sue Wilson, president of Tomboy Tools.
"They didn't really understand that we as women homeowners are taking on serious home-repair projects," she said. "We need tools that will help us get those jobs done."