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    Where DIYers Shop - Where They Buy - Home Depot, Lowe's Or Menards

    By John Cashmore
    As of the writing of this article, the trends are significant when do-it-yourself consumers tell us where they shop and where they actually make their purchases especially for larger ticket items relative to Home Depot, Lowes and Menards.

    Menards, a family owned Midwest chain of Big Box stores, continues to have the highest ratio of those consumers who indicate they not only shop the store, but also actually purchase the items they shopped for.

    When the other two giants in Big Box building materials retail, with more of a nationwide presence, customers are studied, it is clear Lowe's is the place shopped and Home Depot is the purchase venue.

    These trends were first uncovered about 8 years ago, and seem to be holding in the same trend more recently.

    There could be a number of reasons for the indicators, but presented are a glimpse of this author's newer on-site, in-store observations. Actual product estimate acquisition and shops were conducted for this process in the departments listed. All opinions expressed are those solely of this researcher and not statistically relevant, since not every location of each retailer was shopped. But, in this researcher's opinion, the shops further solidified the quantitative, statistically relevant trends gathered in previous studies. Shops were conducted from coast to coast over the past 9 months.

    1) The level of in-store customer service is higher in many visited Lowe's locations than in the same visited city Home Depot locations. When visiting those cities with all 3 retailers, including Menards, the people employed by Menards, especially in lumber and other building materials used in construction, were easier to find, more helpful and easier to ask questions of than both Home Depot and Lowe's. Wait times for help in this category were more favorable at Menards. Technical questions were answered more times correctly at Menards, then Lowe's, then Home Depot in the structural building materials category of goods.

    2) Merchandising and in-door procurement of structural building materials was better at Lowe's than either Home Depot or Menards, in this researcher's opinion. Adjacent displays for selling and finding related needed items to accompany the main purchase category was best at Lowe's, worse at Home Depot. The self serve yard at Menards for lumber and structural building materials is cumbersome, and the layout continues to be confusing.

    3) When it came to designing decks and supplying material lists to consumers, there seemed to be less help at Menards, but the process at all 3 retailers was cumbersome, even with deck designing software - used directly by consumers and / or provided by in-store personnel. In this researcher's opinion, the notion of folks making appointments to design decks or leaving construction lists behind and only being given a lump-sum price annoys potential customers.

    4) In the cabinetry area, Home Depot and Lowe's are similar in help and understanding of the customer's needs, however Home Depot seems to answer direct technical questions and understand lay out and design slightly better than Lowe's. Menards in this category seems to lag, both from an assortment and a "friendly, we can help you" position. Few designers were familiar with formaldehyde off gassing specifically as it related to their lines of cabinetry.

    5) The most knowledgeable sales associates for doors and windows are at Menards, then Lowe's, then Home Depot. Many technical questions were incorrectly answered by all three retailers at every store visited. Fenestration is an area where all three could use some training. Only in-stock or displayed items were tested in this category.

    As part of this series, the shops will continue into the future, with sporadic articles as they become available in all departments of all three Big Box retailers. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's opinions only and should not be construed as an endorsement of any retailer.

    John Cashmore is president of Market Resource Associates, Inc. A Minneapolis, Minnesota based full service market research and marketing consultancy specializing in the building materials, kitchen and bath and lawn and garden industries. john.cashmore@mraonline.com. Phone: 800-795-3056 from the US and Canada.
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