business news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of reaction to yesterday’s story about Home Depot trying to develop a woman-friendly store that will have different features than its traditional units … which I thought sounded just a bit condescending.

One MNB user wrote:

I agree, it sounds condescending to say that Home Depot will romance women.

The question asked in MarketWatch was does hardware have a softer side? Sears tried the “softer side” campaign from 1993 -1999 but could not, as we know, differentiate themselves from the competition and suffered lackluster sales. Warm-friendly doesn’t always match the needs or wants of consumers.

As a 45 year old, female, professional who has spent considerable sums in Home Depot, and Lowes and some years back Ernst Hardware also, through the years, I feel somewhat offended. I believe there is a market out there that would like the fancier show rooms and more emphasis on décor but leave me my hardware store. I resent that it is nearly impossible to find a place that sells fasteners by the pound instead of in fancy plastic packages with either too few or too many for the job I have at hand. Leave me a hardware store that sells parts and not preassembled replacement units in “standardized” sizes.

As a single female, having owned three homes and having had two of them remodeled, I am sure I have bought things from every aisle in a traditional home depot store. If you want to “romance” me here is what I would find sexy the next time I am in Home Depot:

1) let me come and go through the same door, don’t make me walk past home and garden, doors & latches, paints and plumbing, and lighting, just to get to lumber – I am in the store often enough I know what they sell. When I am in the middle of a project and need that one item to finish I want to get in and out quickly – I will probably be back before the day is out if I can move along with my to do list quicker;

2) available help that WILL help. Last night I approached three floor sales people before I got assistance - “not my area” was the response from the first two – if it isn’t your area then use your phone and call for help or direct me to the right person;

3) knowledgeable help – recently I bought the display model to complete a set of towel racks, the first floor person was sure that it would take a special installers tool to remove, when I pointed out that a small screwdriver was sufficient after a long wait a young man with droopy britches (showing my age) returned with a Phillips;

4) train sales people in respect – a) don’t assume the male standing near me is my husband, or that he in any way is more involved in the project than I am if I am the one who asked the question – look at and direct your answer to the one who asked (me!) – I know I live in GA and Home Depot is GA based but I am not a wilting southern violet – I’m the one paying the bill and doing the work, and b) if your clerk is going to ask did I find everything I needed when I check out make sure they know how to handle it when I haven’t found what I needed – “oh” is not the correct response; and c) it wouldn’t hurt if they were pleasant, that surly gal that works the first register on the early evening shift needs to smile and not glare when she has to get off her cell phone to ring up my sale, every time it’s the same thing with her ; and

5) make my extended credit viewable online (this may be offered now, but wasn’t at the time it was important to me).

Obviously, most of my complaints are help related. Truthfully, these have mostly stemmed from my experience since moving to Georgia three years ago. My Home Depot in Odessa, Texas had wonderful help and I was always treated with the appropriate level of respect due any customer regardless of gender. Notice I said “my” for Texas, except for the doors and extended credit they did things right – a place I would like to consider part of “my” brand. Isn’t it interesting that in the home state of the company they don’t seem to be getting it right?

Another MNB user wrote:

It’s like that “tool kit for women” with the pink case and pink screw driver handles…we’re not all delicate flowers! I can make my way around a Home Depot just fine. While I appreciate that they have women in mind, actually having someone around to answer our questions would suffice!!

MNB user Rosemary Fifield had a suggestion for Home Depot:

Well, for one thing, don't call it a hardware store. It's a bath and kitchen store. There's a difference. I've had my crummy experiences with staff at a local hardware store whose attitude is plainly, "What are you doing in here, lady?" but I've never taken it quietly. Home Depot doesn't need to protect me with a pretty-in-pink hardware store.

Another MNB user wrote:

I hope these new Home Depot's for Women are not located in Maine, where my son and daughter-in-law reside, or else I fear reading about how one woman is picketing this store for discrimination. A few years back for Christmas, I got them each what they had put on their list. My son wanted a high-end copper sauce pan from France. My daughter-in-law wanted a new table saw.

So, that's what they each got (the pan cost more than the saw). When she goes to the lumber yard to buy wood for a project, she tells them exactly what grade wood she wants for the project; she doesn't spend up more than she needs, and she doesn't skimp by buying a lesser grade than the project calls for. When she decided she'd like to put ceramic tile on her kitchen floor and counter, she bought a video, bought a tile cutter, and went to town. This store is definitely not for her.

MNB user Lois Bredow wrote:

We have been doing a large amount of shopping at Home Depot in the last year due to several home improvement projects. I have noticed that approximately 1/3 of the men in the stores are accompanied by a woman and that one does see women alone in the store. There are women employees there as well. None of the employees, male or female, have ever been condescending to me when I have shopped alone there. I do not need a fancy place to sit down to be shown materials. I do know, however, that there are women who need that. I am involved in using the products we purchase there, installing them, and making them function in my home. I want to see more than color when a purchase is made. I visited a Home Depot decorator store (which has since closed) and that is where I felt discriminated against. I felt the sales people in the store assumed I was not their customer. Hopefully their new approach will not send this message.

Another MNB user wrote:

So, are the other Home Depot's just for men? This feels like pandering and as a female Home Depot shopper, it turns me off. HD should focus on what they are good at, having "lots of stuff you need" and not patronize those of us who can find our way around a hardware, even when it's not "pretty."

MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

Home Depot didn't do well with its Expo Design Centers, and failed entirely with its Village Hardware Stores. Its major problem, it seems to me, is to upgrade its existing store base. Most of those units have been cranking out millions of dollars of sales for a decade or more and are somewhat "shopworn."

The lesson here is clear. The Home Depot “innovation” actually categorizes customers of a certain gender one way, and many of those customers reject the label as being inaccurate. We all make assumptions about our customers, but in the long run simple respect and attention can go a lot farther than condescension in making our customers happy.

And by the way, I say this as someone who is married to a woman who is far more handy than I am; I tend to buy light bulbs when I go to Home Depot, and screwing them in is about the extent of my abilities in this area.

We did, however, get another email that put the issue in a different light. MNB user David Livingston wrote:

There is probably more than just a whiff of condescension. But regardless, women, like men, like to go where others make them feel good about themselves. Romancing shoppers of either sex is not a new idea. I have a client who owns a supermarket. He greets all female customers with a hug, kiss, or compliment. You would think he would get nailed for sexual harassment but he has all registers open and a store full women shoppers coming to get their dose of attention. His attention to them might be the only positive attention they ever get from a man. Naturally these are long time repeat customers.

Years ago when working for Scrivner in Oklahoma City we did some consumer research because we could not figure out why this less than ordinary IGA store was doing so well. Turns out it had nothing to do with pricing, quality, or service. A high percentage of women told us they shopped there because the manager was charming.

As a man I know I have shopped at a certain store or picked a certain checkout lane because I enjoyed the attention some woman was giving me. The lady that runs the dry cleaners I go to always gives me a hug and tells me I'm a handsome man. I go there quite a bit now.

Which is the difference between us. I don't want the dry cleaner going anywhere near me, much less hugging me.

Hell, I don't even like it when people in stores call me “hon.”
KC's View: