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Home Sweet Home Improvement

By Mindy Toran

Do you have the tools to hammer home some do-it-yourself sales? Homeowners are always working on some kind of project or repair, which means the home-improvement market is virtually recession-proof. Related promotions can build your business.

Americans spend more than $185 billion annually to improve their homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders, most often with the goal of transforming their homes into comfortable and functional living spaces, in addition to adding value to their properties. Think about it: How many home improvement projects have you taken on in the last year? The number of home improvement shows saturating the airwaves each week continues to blossom, with more programs making the jump from cable stations to mainstream network TV, like ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, whose host, carpenter Ty Pennington, got his start on The Learning Channel's Trading Spaces.

And partnerships between programmers and product suppliers, like HGTV and Lowe's and TLC and Home Depot, continue to emphasize the crossover effect of product promotions. In a recent co-branded episode of NBC's The Apprentice, viewers were encouraged to visit Home Depot stores to learn how to build a toy chest. "You saw it on The Apprentice, now come do it yourself," encouraged the tagline.

These are all telling indicators that the home improvement industry is stronger than ever. The good news for you is, not only are major home-project retailers and smaller, more localized hardware stores using various promotional products to attract consumers, the consumers themselves appreciate businesses that give away imprinted items that help them take care of home projects. Therefore, any business can jump on the home-improvement bandwagon.

Put A Wrench In Your Plans
Tools such as tape measures, screwdrivers, hammers and rulers are useful, long-lasting items that recipients are likely to turn to time and time again, and can help a company keep its name in front of prospective buyers for years to come. "The remodeling craze and design-oriented TV shows are helping to fuel the interest in tools as promotional products," says John Thompson, sales manager at Precision Tools Corp./PTC (asi/79343). In addition, low mortgage rates, high existing home sales and an improving economy have paved the way to increasing home improvement product sales. Smart distributors are taking notice, looking to tools and other home-related items to build powerful promotional campaigns for their clients.

With so many categories of home improvement-related products, there are numerous opportunities for creative promotions. From tools geared toward home remodeling and repairs, to "living" promotional items such as plants, seeds, flowers and trees geared to gardening and lawn care, and decorative products such as picture frames, pillows and uniquely designed throws to spruce up the interior of a home.

"Customers want colorful, useful items … products they've seen on TV shows or in other media that have the logos of 'do-it-yourself' companies [like Lowe's and Home Depot]," says Jeff Lederer, vice president of sales and new product development at Prime Resources Corp./Prime World (asi/79530). "The Baby Boomers of today are 'do-it-yourselfers,' taking on more projects on their own. In addition, the definition of 'young' is much older than it was in the past. More 'young' people are being influenced by the home [makeover] reality shows," and are seeking products and projects they see on those shows.

The remodeling industry has the Baby Boomers to thank for putting it on the economic map, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. "Expenditures for remodeling projects tripled between 1970 and 1980, then jumped another 250% between 1980 and 1990, leading to growing recognition that the home improvement industry had a major role to play in the economy," notes the Center's report, "The Changing Structure of the Home Remodeling Industry: Improving America's Housing 2005." In addition, "significant increases in housing prices over the past decade have given homeowners not only an incentive to protect their housing investments, but also rapidly growing equity to finance those improvements."

The do-it-yourself (DIY) industry - and promotions related to this market - have skyrocketed in recent years, as more and more people are tackling home improvement projects on their own - and are actually enjoying it, says Natalie Danaher, a spokesperson at Ace Hardware Corp. based in Oakbrook, Ill. Regardless of how much the stock market and the economy fluctuate, home improvement, especially in the DIY category, is somewhat "recession proof," according to Ace. "Things will always break in homes and need repair. And quick, inexpensive DIY projects can not only fix the problem, but enhance the beauty of a home."

Whether they're looking to save money or improve the appearance of their homes, an increasing number of consumers are focusing their time and attention on home improvement projects. "Your home is typically your biggest and best investment," says Thompson. "Largely due to the real estate boom, people are getting excited about how their homes are appreciating and are spending more time in the home. As a result, we're seeing more consumers taking on do-it-yourself projects, adding home theaters, focusing on landscaping, updating their windows and roofing, and adding patios, decks or additions. Imprinted promotional tools that can assist consumers with home-related projects are especially useful, and tend to be appreciated by the recipient."

Women Drivers
According to the Home Improvement Research Institute, women made more than one-third of all do-it-yourself purchases in 1999 - a number that continues to grow. Single women now make up the fastest-growing segment of the housing market, purchasing homes at double the pace of their male counterparts.

A study conducted by Lowe's reported that a majority of single, female homeowners are undertaking home improvement projects on their own, establishing this demographic as a key target market for DIY information, products, tools and promotional items.

Ace Hardware reports that women now drive 75% of the home improvement purchasing decisions in a household. A survey of 1,000 homeowners, "Why Americans DIY," commissioned by the home improvement retailer, revealed that a significant percentage of women tackle home improvement tasks and, in many cases, rival the number of men who regularly grab drills, paint brushes and garden tools to get the job done.

"Women are finding the inspiration to do more home improvement projects, largely as a result of home improvement-related TV shows like those featured on HGTV and the DIY Network," says Danaher. Many manufacturers and promotional product suppliers have responded with DIY products specifically designed for women.

"Women tend to be more attuned to household projects that need to be done," says Joe Chanin, vice president of operations at Logomark Inc. (asi/67866). "They're not intimidated by tools, and are much more likely to take on a home improvement project if there's something they believe needs to be done, which makes them a perfect match for these types of promotions."

The demand is there. "We get a number of higher-end gift requests for nice tool sets, such as the Barbara K! 30-piece tool kits designed especially for women, featuring a lightweight hammer, adjustable wrench, slip joint pliers, 10' measuring tape, putty knife, and a multifunctional screwdriver and level in a compact carrying case imprinted with the client's logo," says Bret Slane, vice president, sales and marketing at Alexander Manufacturing Co. (asi/34040).

Tool Trends
"In addition, we get a wide range of requests for inexpensive, small household tools, such as screwdrivers, tape measures, levels, and multi-purpose tools. The main trend is toward more retail-designed products with updated styling and trendier colors. Multifunctional tools - such as screwdrivers with lights, tape measures on a key chain and wrenches with knives - are becoming more popular. And name-brand power tools are also in demand," says Slane. Name-brand recognition, value and quality are extremely important in tool promotions. When you present an item that's a quality brand that's highly recognizable, you send a powerful message to the recipient. Namely, that you value the relationship and that quality is important to your company or organization.

"The main reason for using promotional products is to be remembered," stresses Bob James, president of Kross Inc. (asi/65700). "When you give clients something of value that they can use - not just a trinket they'll throw away - they tend to keep it for a long time and that item will help them remember who you are, what you do and how to contact you." Tools work especially well as promotional items due to their longevity and intrinsic value.

As we mentioned, the versatility of these items makes them work well for nearly any industry or promotional theme. "Inexpensive items like tape measures are very popular, and are a natural tie-in to home improvement-related promotions or promotions focused on 'measuring your success,'" says James. "In addition, we're seeing an increasing number of requests from financial institutions and mortgage companies, largely related to home improvement loan incentives, thank-you gifts from realtors and home builders, and highway emergency kits from car dealers and the like."

Tool sets make perfect gifts for new homebuyers and are frequently given out by realtors and mortgage companies. What's more, "the value placed on tools is much higher than the cost of providing these items," says Chanin. "There is typically a much higher value placed on products that have a specific function - something that people can use that won't be thrown away."

Nail These Opportunities
Architects and high-end builders often give away bags filled with useful items for the home as a thank you gift, and to build word of mouth about their business, says Lederer. "What's important to realize is that to 'sell' a home improvement market does not mean you have to sell mini houses or mini paintbrushes. It's important to find something useful that stays with the recipient so the brand recognition is there. In addition to tools, magnets, clip holders, clips, and a multitude of other custom items that can be imprinted can be used to promote the home improvement market," he says.

Tool promotions are also appealing to individuals who sell home improvement-oriented products such as retailers and appliance companies, says Chanin. One home improvement retailer purchased a "pocket pack" of tools from Logomark's Giftcor line (asi/56775) to help employees take better care of their customers. A flashlight, screwdriver, telescoping pointer and aluminum level were put together in a pocket protector that employees could use on a daily basis while helping customers. Employees reported that they were better prepared to assist clients, and productivity increased. Employee-related promotions can also focus on where the tools are manufactured as a selling point.

"American-made tools with a company logo or imprint are especially appealing for union-related promotions," says Thompson. "In many cases, unions won't buy anything that's not made in the United States. Items with the 'Made in USA' label stamped right on the tool tend to make great promotional products for unions," he says.

Corporate anniversaries and community-related promotions are another great niche for home improvement-related promotions. As part of its 80th anniversary celebration, Ace Hardware recently introduced its "New Faces for Helpful Places" program, which offered $5,000 worth of Ace products and a full day's work, with the assistance of Ace's "Helpful Hardware Man," Lou Manfredini and his crew, to help upgrade a community-based organization. The contest, sponsored by the retailer, focused on giving back to the communities that have helped Ace grow.

"Our brand is focused on helpfulness, which this promotion emphasizes," says Danaher. In addition, Ace uses promotional items as part of its customer loyalty program, the Ace Helpful Hardware Club, whose members can earn points for purchases in the retail stores and receive exclusive promotions, benefits and rewards. "The customer appreciation program, sweepstakes and contests and other special events serve as a means of engaging our customers, while building brand recognition and loyalty," she says.

Designer Flair
In addition to focusing on home improvement projects that beautify and add value to their homes, consumers are also looking to make their homes more comfortable and functional. When used as promotional products, decorative items such as colorful throws and pillows, picture frames and vases can add a sense of style and provide the recipient with an item they're proud to display.

"Products that make the home more inviting are a natural fit for the ad specialty industry," Stuart Miller, vice president, sales and marketing at Goodwin Promotional Products (asi/57707), previously told Advantages. "Woven products such as pillows, throws and wall hangings remain popular as promotional items, due to their comfort appeal, high perceived value and lasting image." These items are often used for corporate anniversaries, fundraisers, employee award programs, hospital giveaways, and for award redemption programs.

Other decorative items that are growing in popularity in the promotional products market are picture frames and photo albums. These items are something that people tend to display, can be used in the home or office, and the ad impression stays in front of the recipient for a long time. In addition, frames provide a vehicle for sending a message. Companies can insert a message inside a frame or use it to present invitations or awards. These items work especially well for holiday gifts, travel incentives, recognition and safety awards, thank you gifts, and giveaways at golf outings and other special events.

Wide Open Spaces
When developing home improvement-related promotions, think of the great outdoors as well. Outdoor living space has become an extension of the home. Promotions focusing on gardening, lawn care, patios and decks and pools are also growing in popularity.

"Annual sales of gardening supplies now exceed $38 billion," says Manfredini. "Yards and gardens offer people a respite from today's frenetic, fast-paced world. People greatly appreciate the simple pleasure of working with their hands to grow living things." Gardens will continue to be a strong focus of outdoor projects for do-it-yourselfers throughout 2005, according to the Ace DIY study.

Other projects rounding out the yard and garden to-do lists include installing lighting (14%), adding a walkway (14%), and adding a patio or deck (11%). Another 10% of survey respondents said they plan to purchase a new gas grill to enhance their outdoor living space.

What about plants and seeds as promotional vehicles? According to the National Gardening Association's "Study of Consumer Gardening Practices, Trends and Product Sales," eight out of 10 households - or 84 million - participated in one or more types of do-it-yourself indoor and outdoor lawn and garden activities in 2003. Of the households surveyed, 58 million purchased indoor houseplants and supplies, 55 million purchased seeds and bulbs, 50 million purchased floral products, 44 million purchased garden tools and 30 million purchased plant containers.

Promotions focusing on the outdoors, using plants and seeds, flowers, trees and other living things can highlight themes of growth, branching out, support for the environment and longevity. Living things also provide "active" promotions. They encourage people to take care of the product and "watch it grow." Throughout the process, a company or organization's logo stays in the daily view of the recipient, who recognizes the sincerity of the gift as something that lasts over time. Plants and seeds are low-cost items that have positive attributes for the environment - they remove carbon monoxide and other pollutants from the air and produce oxygen that promotes health and well-being. What better way to send a positive message to your clients and nurture your business relationships? These items tie in well with tag lines like, "Planting the seeds of success," "Watch your business grow," and other growth- and opportunity-oriented messages.

By thinking outside the box, distributors can come up with a variety of promotions focused on the home and home improvements that are guaranteed to satisfy their clients and build relationships for years to come.

COPYRIGHT © 2005 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Mindy Toran is a contributing writer for Advantages.

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