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Devoted: consumers have spoken: product brands matter.

Anecdotal evidence might suggest the emotional connection between consumers and product brands isn't as strong today as it once was. It's an understandable assumption considering consumers just weathered a tough recession; the Internet has given shoppers greater access to a wider range of products than ever; and consumers are constantly bombarded by advertising messages and product placements.

But without any cold, hard, empirical evidence to support this theory, the editors of Hardware Retailing decided to go directly to consumers to find out whether or not today's shoppers are as devoted to their favorite brands as they once were.

As it turns out, the theory that consumers are less loyal toward product brands today than in the past was dead wrong.

Brand loyalty isn't fading at all--especially in the home improvement industry. In fact, our research suggests today's consumers have strong affinities toward home improvement product brands, and this relationship appears to be on solid footing for years to come as research shows younger consumers are the most brand-loyal of all age groups.

The fact that younger consumers embrace home improvement product brands is just one of the interesting findings to come out of the NRHA 2013 Consumer Branding Study.

The findings of this study will help you, as a retailer, better understand why and how consumers are purchasing products, and how to leverage the trends to your advantage.

Women and Children

Among the many compelling findings revealed in the NRHA 2013 Branding Study, some of the most interesting trends involved two specific consumer demographics: gender and generations.

Marketers often define consumer trends by these demographics because consumption is tied to lifestyle, finances and the experiences consumers have with a product.

Consumption patterns differ between generations because of experiential and socioeconomic differences. The basic logic is that people of the same age are going through similar life experiences in similar environments and therefore share many common needs and preferences, which lead to similar consumption patterns.

Patterns also differ between genders. Two theories behind this difference are a distinct division of labor and women's and men's different access to resources.

In layman's terms, traditionally, women have access to less income and free time than men, which affects how and what they consume. However, women are involved in daily consumption, as they are often responsible for family shopping and home improvement purchase decisions. Women and men both consume, just differently.

Understanding the fact that different consumers purchase differently, let's explore what consumers are saying about home improvement product brands and how these trends affect retail businesses.

The Study

In March, NRHA surveyed more than 1,000 consumers nationwide, who were asked a series of questions about their brand preferences and the influences that affect their attractions to brand-name products versus generic alternatives.

When considering this data, it is important to note a paradox that researchers often face. In any sort of survey in which consumers are asked to describe their habits and beliefs, there is a general tendency for them to answer questions based on the way they feel and not necessarily on how they act.

Additionally, the definition of a brand is more clouded today than in the past. It may be very difficult for a consumer to tell the difference between a true national brand and a private label that may be marketed as a mainstream national brand.

For these reasons, this research is not necessarily meant to be a direct predictor of consumer actions. What research like this does do, however, is give retailers a glimpse into what consumers are thinking, how they would like to view themselves and what hot buttons may trigger a response from them.


Brand Loyalty Increases with D-I-Y Experience

In general (excluding the pro), the more experienced a consumer is in home improvement activity, the more a consumer prefers brand-name products. As many of the trends in this report suggest, consumers' affinities for brand-name products offer independents a competitive edge. Because independents have the flexibility to know which brands sell in their particular markets, they are better able to adjust their product mixes, where a big-box store is more likely to be restrained by a corporate contract, regardless of market.

1/3 of respondents said quality was the largest factor influencing their decisions to purchase brand-name home improvement products


Quality Has the Largest Influence on Brand-Name Product Purchases

For respondents in our study, the largest influence on whether a respondent chooses a brand-name product over a generic alternative is "the quality the name-brand represents."

Interestingly, this trend follows suit with the historic definition of branding. The concept of brands originated on ranches and farms where cows were marked to identify the ranch or farm where the cow was raised. The brand was its symbol of quality. Buyers would be confident of a cow's health once they saw its branding.

While other influences such as "personal references" and "manufacturers' reputations" affect a consumer's decision to choose a brand-name product, quality still ranks highest with consumers.

Brand Loyalty Increases with D-I-Y Experience

% of respondents by d-i-y levels who say they are "purchasing more
brand-name home improvement products today than they were 5 years


I hang pictures or do a little touch-up
painting around the house.


I take care of my own lawn, paint the
occasional room and can fix a leaky faucet.


Painting rooms, laying tile, installing a garbage
disposal are all things I'm comfortable doing.


I can build a deck, drywall a room or hang
a new door without much of a problem.

I'm purchasing fewer brand-name
products today than 5 years ago.

I haven't changed how I purchase
products in terms of brand in the
past 5 years.

I'm purchasing more brand-name
products today than 5 years ago.


On the Web

For more detailed charts,

Quality Has the Largest Influence on Brand-Name Product Purchases

% of respondents indicating
which influences have the
greatest effects on their
opinions of product brands
(Top 4 influences listed.)

* Lifestyle= The product
offers me the perceived
lifestyle I'm looking for.

* Quality= The product is
well made and durable.

* Long Lasting= The
product will last me a
long time.

* ROI= I believe I get the
best value for the price.

                Apparel &              Home
               Accessories   Food   Improvement   Electronics

Lifestyle          17%        9%         5%            7%
Quality            37%       47%        34%           39%
Long Lasting       22%        9%        26%           21%
ROI                10%       13%        14%           14%

Source: NRHA 2013
Product Branding Study

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Younger Generations Are Buying More Brand-Name Products

Many industry watchers argue that today's consumers opt for generic alternatives to brand-name products as a way to save some of their post-recession dollars.

Our research doesn't support this theory. Overall, consumers responding to our study seem to be unaffected by the experiences from the past five years, suggesting the economy alone wasn't enough to encourage consumers to change their shopping habits in terms of brand-name versus generic products.

Note that as respondents get younger, the number of brand-name product purchases goes up, with consumers between 25 and 34 purchasing the most brand-name products. This finding not only suggests a strong future for product brands but also suggests an opportunity for independent retailers. Many first-time homeowners fall within this age bracket.

Capitalize on the Trend

This research speaks to the importance of standing behind the products you sell. If a customer comes in asking for ABC brand because that's what her father suggested, but you don't stock ABC, what do you do?

This is your time to be a brand champion.

Show employees how this situation creates a selling opportunity if they explain to the consumer exactly why you don't source that particular brand (The brand you stock is comparable, represents a better value, etc.). To do this you first have to truly believe in your products; and second, train your staff on the benefits of the products you sell.

Keep in mind, while respondents were asked about brand-name products, many stores such as Target have created strong brand identities around captive-branded lines.

Influence Varies by Generations

While quality influences why consumers choose product brands the most, research also shows product experience has the second greatest influence on consumers' buying habits. Understandably, references from family and friends heavily influence younger DIYers, because younger consumers haven't had as much experience with their home improvement projects. It's also important to note how influential advertising was with consumers ages of 18 to 34.

Capitalize on the Trend

Quality, experience and reputation play important roles in influencing and maintaining consumers' brand loyalty, so use testimonials from customers online and in your store. Appealing to brand-loyal customers is all about emotions. Train employees to share positive information about the brand-name products you stock (awards, warranties or comparative statistics). This information should be available through the manufacturer or your wholesaler. Also encourage employees to use positive personal experiences about products.

Remember, consumers are looking for a lot more from the products they buy than in the past.

"Technology has created a conditioned buyer with new values (social and eco-sensitivity) set of expectations (speed, instant gratification and what's in it for me)," says Karen Post, international branding expert and author of "Brand Turnaround."

Today's Consumer is Forgiving

The majority of respondents in the survey say they would be open to trying a brand again even if they had a bad experience with the brand in the past, with consumers between the ages of 25 to 44 showing the most resiliency.

Capilalize on the Trend

Selling a product brand is about selling a relationship. Consumers view the overall brand experience as more than just a one-time thing.

"Consumers will forgive a brand that they have an emotional connection with, much like we do with people," says Jared Sawyer, owner of Sawyer's True Value in Dalles, Ore. The key is to sell the entire relationship. Play up value-added and community benefits that result from buying a brand (think Made in America).

Try hosting events featuring specific brand names, creating advertising showing consumers using the brands or giving away free branded merchandise, such as hats and T-shirts.

While consumers are forgiving, you don't want to give them a reason for a bad experience. Offer a return policy and train your employees to ask about the customers' projects so they can help customers get the right product the first time.

Younger Generations Are Buying More Brand-Name Products

% of respondents purchasing more brand-name home
products today than 5 years ago

Age: 18-24   17%
Age: 25-34   19%
Age: 35-44   15%
Age: 45-54   10%
Age: 55-64    4%
Age: 65+      6%

of overall respondents said
they are purchasing the
same number of, or more,
brand-name products today
than five years ago

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Influences Vary by Generations

% of consumers rating the top four influences--experience, reputation of brand, referrals, and advertising--on their opinion of a product brand.

Today's Consumer is Forgiving

% of consumers who say they would "maybe, probably, or definitely"
try a name-brand home improvement product again, even if they had
a bad experience

Age: 18-24   67%
Age: 25-34   72%
Age: 35-44   64%
Age: 45-54   60%
Age: 55-64   49%
Age: 65+     50%

of respondents ages 25-34
say they would "maybe,
probably or definitely" give
a name-brand product a
second chance

Source. NRHA 2013 Product
Branding Study

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Category Brand Loyalty Varies by Gender

When it comes to home improvement categories, paint, power tools, hand tools and pet products are extremely brand-sensitive with both men and women. Female respondents in our study, however, show a particular brand loyalty to power tools brands compared to other categories while male respondents show more loyalty to hand tools brands than other categories.

Capitalize on the Trend

Make sure your product mix in these key categories feature name-brand products in a prominent location. Focus on uniquely merchandising these products and promote these assortments front and center on your circulars or other advertising campaigns. Appeal to consumers' affinity for quality first and foremost. You can focus less on price, as respondents say they are willing to pay a slight premium for the brand names they trust. However, you still must be competitively priced on like-branded products within your market and online.

According to Post, you should pay particular attention to consistency of brands through graphics, mottoes and logos/marks.

"Organizations must win loyal customers from their product branding or company branding," Post says. "Companies achieve a good brand through your commitment to projecting a clear identity and message, consistent use and leveraging of branding assets, building equity through positive relationships and experiences and being relevant and doing what matters to the buyer."

For categories that particularly appeal to women, be generous with the lifestyle signage, bright lighting and clean aisles, as these tactics have traditionally attracted the female consumer.

For the male-sensitive categories, colors and graphics aren't as important as signage that helps direct the consumer to the product quickly and products merchandised outside of their packaging so he can touch and try out the product he is planning to buy.

Consumers Exercise Their Shopping Options

Up to one-third of respondents in some product categories say they are likely to go to another retail source if their preferred brand-name products aren't at the first store they shop. We used other product categories to help quantify the respondents relatively. In terms of desire for brands, the home improvement category was second only to electronics in consumers' views. So this means that when purchasing their home improvement products, consumers are more willing than they are in most other categories to specifically seek out ways to find their preferred brands. And while women in general are more likely to turn to another source for the brand they want across all categories, 22 percent of both male and female respondents said they would turn to another source if their first store choice didn't have the brand name they were looking for.

Capitalize on the Trend

With the ease of product sourcing online and more retailers branching out into hardlines offerings, it will be imperative to make sure you are up-to-date on your inventory controls.

The risk you face when you are out of stock on an item is far more than just a missed sale. You lose both the reputation for having the products the consumer demands and the potential sales the consumer made in your store then and in the future. If you spend a great deal of time and resources convincing customers you are the market resource for a particular brand, being out of stock or not having the latest products from that brand can ruin that reputation.

Also, try to think of nonlinear ways of promoting your product brands.

"People are burned out on traditional media. Social media allows brands to build their own platforms to spread their message and create loyalty rather than pay to use someone else's platform, such as TV or radio," Sawyer says.

Retailers can also leverage the fact that they have brand names online using custom-branded virtual storefronts. Integrating these online efforts in-store will also keep the dollars in your store. Have a kiosk in-store or even a service counter workstation where consumers can order and then have the product shipped to the store for free.

Category Brand Loyalty Varies by Gender

% of consumers self-described as being loyal to products in the
following home improvement categories (Top 9 categories included)

                                              Male     Female

Hand Tools (Hammer, Wrench, Screwdriver)         47%     28%
Hand Tools Accessories
 (Screwdriver Bits, Gloves, Tool Belt)           28%     16%
Power Tools (Drills, Saws)                       46%     29%
Power Tools Accessories (Blades, Drill Bits)     22%     15%
Electrical Consumer Consumables (Light Bulbs)    18%     17%
Paint (Paint, Primer, Stains)                    34%     34%
Lawn and Garden Consumables (Chemicals, Seeds)   20%     17%
Outdoor Power Equipment
 (Weed Trimmer, Power Washer, Lawn Mower)        23%     14%
Pet (Toys, Food, Medicine)                       25%     25%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Customers Exercise Their Shopping Options

% of consumers who said they would turn to another retail source
(online, etc.) to find a specific product brand if their first choice
of product brand in the following categories was not available

                         Male   Female

Apparel &  Accessories   20%     18%
Food                     16%     13%
Home Improvement         22%     22%
Personal Care            20%     22%
Electronics              26%     33%
Health/Medicine          18%     20%

Source. NRHA 2013 Product Branding Study

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Author:Koch, Jaime
Publication:Hardware Retailing
Date:May 1, 2013
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