DIY aims for different generations

Lowe’s and Tractor Supply Company meet a new era of home improvers

“Tell your dad we said hi.”

It’s right there in the Lowe’s TikTok bio, complete with a waving emoji.

TikTok, the sixth most used social platform worldwide and the most downloaded in 2021, sees eight new users every second. Users spend close to 11 minutes on average on the platform per session. It’s also more popular than Instagram among members of Generation Z, and 59 percent of those ages 18 to 34 view it favorably.

So why would home improvement target that generation? Why not?

“A key thing for home improvement retailers to keep in mind is that generations now span different life stages than before,” says Jason Dorsey, president of The Center for Generational Kinetics, a generational research and strategy firm.

“You might have a first-time parent at age 40 or multiple generations living together in the same house — which could be owned by Gen X. We also see Gen X now taking increased care of their Baby Boomer parents, while often raising their own kids.”

And when it comes to the home, a lot has happened there in recent years — for every generation. Work. Play. School. Gardening. Outdoor spaces. Renovations. And yes, backyard chickens.

Courting new customers

As Millennials and Gen Z continue to move out of big cities into suburbs and more rural areas — and a quarter of homebuyers are now in their 30s — the home improvement market is shifting.  Efforts to reach these younger shoppers wherever they are, however they want, with whatever they need, have been met with growth and category expansion.

Generation Z

Learn more about this generation of consumers and how to meet them where they are in their shopping journey.

It also has highlighted the need for additional expert advice and customer service — perhaps helping those who watch a video, think they’ve got things figured out, and then find themselves needing further guidance. (In some cases, those Millennials find themselves in over their heads completely, hiring professional services for jobs requiring specialized skills.)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tractor Supply Company has picked up 19 million new customers, according to its Q4 2021 earnings call. Many made initial trips in 2020 for home and yard improvement projects, to shop for pets, and to begin raising backyard poultry and gardening. TSC responded in kind with targeted marketing messages, and more than 55 percent of new customers returned for another purchase.

These new customers are younger, increasingly female and digitally engaged; Millennials represent 30 percent of the new customers, and the company has transitioned from traditional promotional print marketing to highly targeted and broader-reaching brand-building television, streaming and digital support.

In the meantime, Tractor Supply has doubled the growth of its digital business with “rapid adoption across generations,” says Mary Winn Pilkington, senior vice president of investor relations and public relations.

Investing in values

As for those chickens? More than 1 million TSC customers started a backyard flock during the pandemic. As mentioned in the earning call, trends toward self-reliance, rural revitalization, pet adoption and homesteading have had a significant impact on the business, complementing long-term investments in business foundations and deep-seated values.

Pilkington finds it fascinating that the shopping habits of the younger generations are “very similar” to their counterparts. They’re also willing to take advantage of Tractor Supply’s expert advice, including the Life Out Here tips, guidance and insights. And it’s common, she says, for TSC consumers help each other in the way of “neighbors helping neighbors.”

Tractor Supply

As backyard chickens are increasingly seen as a hobby, the company offers a poultry starter kit, with everything needed for raising chicks, such as a feeding and watering station and heat lamp. Tractor Supply also draws in young families with Chick Days, with live birds available for purchase in addition to coops, wire and netting, feed, supplements, shavings and treats. (Yes, that’s correct: Poultry treats include mealworms, seeds, oats and more. Some see chickens as livestock; others consider them pets.)

In the broader animal category, there are items for cats and dogs, of course — Pilkington notes that the dogs of average Tractor Supply customers tend to be larger breeds — but also items for horses, cows, pigs, goats, birds, fish and more. Tractor Supply’s social media has featured a variety of animals in its pet washes, including chickens, horses, donkeys and even a yak.

Targeting efforts

There’s movement in the pet category at Lowe’s, too, with increased opportunity to reach the younger set: Millennials now outnumber Boomers when it comes to pet ownership. In early 2022, Lowe’s announced a pilot store-in-store program with Petco Health and Wellness Company, with plans to open 15 locations in Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Other targeted efforts for that generation include Origin21, a modern-design home décor collection with a name that pays tribute to 1921, the year of the company’s founding. Featuring “clean lines, soft curves and natural materials,” according to a press release, it also has “architectural details and nods to mid-century modern and Scandinavian design.”

Lowe's DIY

Then there’s a new platform, DIY-U by Lowe’s — aimed squarely at engaging a new generation of home improvers — with limited-seat monthly educational livestreams and in-store adult and children’s workshops.

“One of the things we quickly learned is that this generation is willing to do workshops through a streaming event, and not necessarily having to come in and do it inside the store, in a classroom-type setting,” says Bill Boltz, executive vice president of merchandising at Lowe’s.

The younger generations tend to be more “adventurous,” he says, trying simpler DIY projects in a variety of areas. They might come into the store to confirm what they’ve chosen is correct.

Providing expertise

Maintaining relationships with older consumers, meanwhile, “comes down to the relationships inside the local store,” he says. Baby Boomers and Gen X typically want that interaction, and trust face-to-face communication with associates they’ve come to know. Regardless of the age of the customer, Boltz believes that the power of the “red vest associates” is what sets the company apart — including the level of service and expertise provided in-store.

NRF Nexus 2022

Learn more about the future of retail and evolving consumer behaviors at the NRF Nexus 2022 summer event.

In recent years, one of the outperforming segments at Lowe’s has been the outdoor living space, with consumers of all ages looking at ways to enjoy being outside as an “exterior room of the home.” That includes new landscaping, gardens, grills and more. The pandemic, married with inflation, has brought individuals and families to try their hands at gardening.

In general, Dorsey’s research has shown “lots of interest,” from the youngest generation to the oldest.

“There was often a perception that young adults didn't want to get their hands dirty doing work to improve their house, but that proved very wrong as many of them dove into these projects and sought to make their home more the way they wanted it,” he says.

And now, with the cost of home rising so quickly, their best path forward is to upgrade and renovate current property rather than move. His studies show that younger generations still would like to own a home one day, even if it feels increasingly out of reach. In the meantime, perhaps some chickens?

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