Power Tools – Promote the project

Australia’s real estate market has cooled, which means residents are thinking twice about even the most modest home improvements and DIY projects. That presents a challenge for retailers, John Power writes.

Like a thunderstorm that arrives immediately before the harvest, Australia’s cooling housing market has come at precisely the wrong time for hardware retailers and their suppliers.

Just as the industry was gearing up for a hyperactive market emerging from winter hibernation, property owners are greeting the warmer weather with caution. Will prices for established property fall even further? Should discretionary home improvements be delayed for a rainy day?

This customer caution is particularly difficult for hand and power tool departments, whose managers often feel like bystanders during soft market conditions.
So, what can department managers do to better promote hand and power tools in soft markets?

One of the main deficiencies in power tool marketing material is the assumption that consumers have perfect knowledge of the purposes and functions of a large range of products. Most hardware sales catalogues, for example, display crisp cutout images of tools without ever explaining some of these tools’ main functions – people won’t buy a tool if its usage is opaque. So promote the project or task, not the tool.

Evidence regarding public ignorance about power tools’ basic functions is available if you look for it. Public online searches through portals like YouTube can be very revealing. A search of ‘How to use an angle grinder’ resulted in 805,000 hits on one site over a four-year period – a massive number… and a massive alarm bell to retailers that consumers still need help identifying the rudimentary use of product in this category.

Similarly, it is incredible to observe that 412,000 people visited a single site (over six years) to learn ‘Which electric sander to use’. Meantime, 467,000 people searched a single site (over just two years) to discover whether to use a ‘Drill or impact driver’.

To put these figures in context, ‘how to’ sites relating to wheelbarrow use, for instance, typically attracted 20,000 to 30,000 visits over similar timeframes.

Clearly, there is a massive gap in the public’s understanding of how everyday power tools work.

So, instead of simply advertising complex products by presenting them against a white background in a catalogue, it makes sense to educate consumers about suggested applications or projects, highlighting the right product for the job at hand.

During a soft retail market, relevant projects involving power tools might focus on money-saving or time-saving ideas: outdoor furniture construction, decking extensions or upgrades, building planter boxes or a garden shed, creating a timber letterbox, etc. Imagine if your next sales catalogue featured these kinds of suggested projects alongside relevant tools. Not only would such a promotion serve to educate consumers about the uses of specific classes of products, but it would also encourage customers to tackle seasonal jobs that they might not have thought about.

To go one step further, such a marketing approach might also be an opportunity to promote directly relevant ranges of accessories. From drill bits to safety eyewear, overalls to work benches, the opportunities for add-on sales ‘by association’ with power tool-based projects are limited only by the retailer’s imagination.

Unfortunately, this kind of holistic, multi-product marketing approach has never been tried – most companies are stand-alone entities with no interest in sharing promotional space with other businesses; and most companies fear hypothetical risks of reputational damage via association with another company that might fall into disrepute for some reason.

One thing is sure, independent stores and large buying groups hold the key to unlocking cross-promotional marketing strategies to bolster overall sales and educate consumers. Who knows, by adopting such an approach, a large swathe of store customers might actually come to understand what an angle grinder does.

Display challenges
Indoor and outdoor displays are another ‘untapped resource’; eye-catching engagement with consumers is very hard to find. Due to the high value of most power tools, they end up being displayed like static museum pieces in locked glass cabinets, or like wall-mounted trophies tied to anchor points on racks.

As for outdoor or footpath-based displays of power tools, they are virtually non-existent.

However, there are dynamic ways to display valuable power tools without alienating customers or inviting property theft or damage.

No one is suggesting that costly power tools be displayed loose throughout a store for every visitor to handle and test under power, but there are certainly ways to increase customer involvement. A single active display such as a block of hardwood and an impact driver (within view of counter staff!), complete with relevant timber screws, might be a novel and fun way to encourage customers to try out a product and take a closer look at other nearby ranges. Active usage under supervision, or even a simple demonstration, also allows the store person to explain basic or advanced functions of the product to the customer, potentially unlocking newfound enthusiasm for projects.

These kinds of props may not be suitable for footpath display, particularly if there is poor weather protection, but there is nothing stopping the store from presenting partial or complete projects that have been undertaken with the aid of power tools. Why not strike up a relationship with your local ‘Men’s Shed’ members to showcase some of their DIY handiwork?

Similarly, window displays are often underutilized spaces as far as power tools are concerned. How often have you walked past a hardware store, looked in the window, and observed a product displayed on the floor or perhaps on a raised platform… and nothing else? A façade window is valuable promotional real estate, and a perfect place for mounting floor-to-ceiling displays of projects and the primary tools used to create them.

For too long significant hand and power tools have been under-promoted, excluded from customer engagement by their own high value, or by a lack of customer awareness of their main functions.

It is high time merchants reappraised their marketing strategies, and realized that customer education and engagement is just as vital as visual prominence during a campaign.