Ten years ago, if you encountered two women talking about nails, chances are they were referring to the manicured kind. These days, if you stumble into the middle of a nail conversation between two women, they are just as likely to be debating the benefits of galvanized vs. stainless steel for repairing the back deck.
Long overlooked as remodelers and do-it-yourselfers (DIYers), more and more women are picking up power tools and putting them to use. Los Angeles-based Be Jane Inc. pegs the female home improvement market as a $50-billion industry.
While women have always played a role in remodeling choices and room design, “what has shifted is that women are taking on projects and doing them themselves. Now, they realize that this isn't rocket science,” says Heidi Baker, co-founder of Be Jane, an online community “dedicated to serving the fastest growing segment of the home improvement marketplace women do-it-yourselfers.”
About 95,000 unique visitors came to www.be-jane.com in August to view content like animated how-to tutorials, a power-tool glossary and step-by-step DIY projects. To come: an expanded online store, a weblog for members to post their experiences with their own projects and a referral system for female contractors. If the site continues to grow at a 35 percent rate, as company president and co-founder Eden Clark expects, Be Jane will be looking at 350,000 unique visitors per month by December.
Be Jane is not alone in its efforts to target women. New York-based Barbara K Enterprises Inc. (www.barbarak.com) features power tools and tool sets specifically designed for women by company founder, author (Room for Improvement, Rodale Books, May 2005) and former contractor Barbara Kavovit. The tools weigh a little less than average and feature grips sized to better fit women's hands, and come in stylish carrying cases.
“This is all about areas where women have historically lacked confidence,” says Kavovit, a single mother and homeowner herself. “We are helping them get out of the kitchen and giving them the entrée to be independent, the basic knowledge to be self-sufficient.”
The key to serving the female DIY and remodeling market is to understand the differences between the traditional male remodeler and the female and there are significant differences.
“Women shop and buy in terms of getting projects completed; men think of stocking the tool shed,” says Kavovit. “Women think in terms of enhancing their homes. Men say, I need a new hammer.'”
In the kitchen, for example, where a man might be looking to install a new sink to replace a rusted one, a woman might be asking, “How can I make the space more suitable for cooking, more usable, more child-friendly, so it's a space where kids can sit and do homework while I make dinner?”
“It's not just the project itself, but how it affects their lives,” says Eden Clark, president and co-founder of Be Jane.
Such gender differences are where, until recently, traditional home improvement stores have done a poor job.
“The real key is fear. Many women think I can't do this' or I'm not supposed to do this,” says Clark.
One of the main goals of the Be Jane and Barbara k! Web sites is to get women over that fear. Baker and Clark often receive comments like, “Thank you for providing a resource that women can relate to” or “Finally, a place where I'm able to ask the stupid' questions.”
“Women are afraid of asking, because if you ask a stupid' question at a lot of home improvement centers, you're seen as not being able to do the project,” says Clark.
Despite the rapid increase in female DIYers, many women have little experience with remodeling projects. The first time Baker and Clark installed crown molding, it took six hours to put up 30 linear feet.
“We found that when we did home improvement projects the first time, it took two to three times longer to do it right, because we didn't have the right tools when we started project,” says Baker.
The second time they attempted crown molding, the two traded in their hammer and nails for a nail gun and installed 100 linear feet in less than half the time. When anyone uses the wrong equipment, man or woman, they will have difficulty with the job. But women new to such work have a tendency to blame themselves, which reinforces doubts.
“They think, It must be me. I must not be able to do it because I'm not strong enough,' when really what they're lacking is the right tool for the job,” says Clark.
Home improvement centers themselves are getting better at meeting women's needs, say the experts. Lowe's and Home Depot have taken steps to make their stores more female friendly and implement a number of how-to workshops for men and women.
“We see a definite difference in how home improvement retailers and product companies are addressing the market. One-and-a-half years ago, we didn't see it,” says Clark. “Now there is more awareness that this a viable audience. They are definitely shifting.”
Companies like power tool manufacturer Ryobi Technologies Inc., Anderson, S.C., are doing “a terrific job” of targeting the female market, says Clark, by advertising directly to women and providing a range of tools for beginner and intermediate DIYers. According to a 2003 Ryobi survey, nearly 90 percent of women polled said they would be happy to receive a power tool for Mother's Day. (In 2003 at Amazon.com's hardware site, Mother's Day sales of power tools equaled Father's Day sales.)
This summer, American Standard, the big supplier of kitchen and bath products, launched a “for women only” marketing effort to help women plan and undertake plumbing projects. A 12-page guide features kitchen and bath designs, with ideas for choosing and installing sinks, toilets, faucets, bathtubs, whirlpools and showers. The company even held a contest and selected “American's Sexiest Plumber” to serve as a spokesperson: Lori Sardinha-Costa, a real plumber from Fall River, Mass.
“American Standard helps empower women to do it themselves,” says Sardinha-Costa. “Few things add as much value and enjoyment as a bathroom or kitchen remodel in which you do all or part of the work yourself. Even a simple fix-up, such as installing a new faucet, can make your home a better place while adding to your own sense of accomplishment.”
The trend is not expected to stop anytime soon. The market is feeding itself. The proliferation of “shelter” magazines such as O Home, Natural Home and Dwell clearly target women and expose them to more remodeling and decorating ideas. Plus there simply are more women in the market with more money to spend.
It's pure demographics, says Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare, a retail consulting firm based in Miami. On the one side, “women are living longer than men do and are more active in their senior years.” And on the other side, “young women are marrying later and buying their own home in their early working years.”
Nearly 20 percent of the homes sold in 2004 were sold to single women, according to the National Association of Realtors, Chicago. That contrasts with 10 percent sold to single men. From 2004-2010, the number of single female homeowners will rise from 17 million to 30 million, a 76 percent increase, according to Fannie Mae, Washington, D.C. By 2010, 28 percent of households will be headed by women.
These are independent minded people, used to doing things for themselves. Home repair and remodeling means more to such a demographic. It's more than installing a sink or a dimmer switch.
“They want to save time and money and have the confidence to do it themselves. They don't want to have to rely on others and want to lead that independent lifestyle that we all strive for,” says Kavovit.
When a woman completes a remodeling or DIY project, “it results in an overall sense of accomplishment that they carry everywhere,” says Baker.
Adds Clark, “When you change your home, you change your life.”