Home improvement for the holidays: the retail analysts who tried to steal Christmas

Well it’s December, and that means the holidays will soon be upon us. There has been a lot of talk recently regarding what retailers can expect in their stockings this year, and for many retail segments it doesn’t look good.

An article that appeared in Fortune magazine last month tided “How Blue will Christmas Be?” (Nov. 11, 2002) talked about how the recent economic climate and the West Coast port shutdown will result in the smallest retail holiday sales increase (2.5 percent) in more than a decade. This comes on the heels of reports earlier this fall that the consumer confidence index hit its lowest level in nearly a decade.

The good news for independent home improvement retailers is that you are somewhat sheltered from these gloomy forecasts for several reasons. First, through the years home improvement retailers have scaled back on traditional holiday-related departments such as toys and sporting goods. And there isn’t as much at stake this time of year as in other retail segments that generate 40 to 50 percent of annual sales during the holiday selling season. Even if you count all of last month, November and December contribute just 15 percent of annual sales in hardware/home improvement stores each year.

Secondly, the home improvement retail sector has been a “bright spot” in the retailing community this year, in part because of consumers’ “urge to nest,” according to the Fortune article. This is consistent with reports from many industry retailers and wholesalers who continue to capitalize on post-9/11 nesting trends and a robust housing market.

Finally, as a privately held business, your store probably hasn’t experienced the fallout that public companies have after a year of corporate scandal on Wall Street. While your personal portfolio may have taken a beating, the value (or the perceived value) of your company hasn’t. Consider what has happened to Home Depot’s stock this year despite reporting healthy sales and double-digit profits.

So as retail analysts and members of the consumer press continue to report that retailing is tanking everywhere, instead of running around yelling that the sky is falling, here are some ideas that might help you give something back this holiday season… and in the process spread some holiday cheer:

* Give Something Back to the Needy–As stewards of your community, donate a portion of your holiday sales to charity. Or give your staff time off to donate their time to the community. Better yet, organize something yourself to benefit those who are less fortunate.

* Give Something Back to Your Employees–They probably aren’t expecting a lot, but a little something in their stocking this month or a holiday dinner party will go a long way to developing employee satisfaction.

* How-To for the Holidays–You offer your how-to expertise to customers the other 11 months of the year, so why not offer a how-to clinic or two with a holiday theme, such as demonstrating turkey flyers (if you sell them) or offering tips on home decorating for the holidays.

* Provide Unique (and Affordable) Gift Ideas–The Fortune article suggested that one reason for the lackluster forecast this year is retailers are “out of touch” with what their customers want, and there is “no real difference between competing stores” anymore. No one knows your customers better than you, so use this to your advantage. Pitch an article to the local newspaper regarding the wonderful gift ideas to be found at the local hardware store. And not just power tools and grills, but your unique niche categories as well. A recent Lowe’s Trendex Study on the subject found 53 percent of those surveyed would like to receive or give a home improvement-related gift this holiday season. Since many retail analysts are predicting that consumers will be looking for discounts this year, be sure to offer plenty of value-priced alternatives to traditional holiday merchandise.

On behalf of all of us here at Do-It-Yourself Retailing, I want to wish you, your family and your employees a happy and safe holiday season and a prosperous New Year.