Monday, December 15, 2008

Tapping Into the DIY Zeitgeist

One way homeowners are saving money is by doing more themselves. Whether it’s making improvements inside and outside their homes or fixing the things that are broken or don’t work right, it looks like many people are (re)discovering their handiness.

That said, many of us don’t feel very handy – we didn’t learn when we were growing up, and many of us have convinced ourselves that we’re too busy to do it, even if we had the skills.

The SF Chronicle recently reported that “buying hardware doesn’t have to be hard.” Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook magazine and asked thousands of local consumers to rate their hardware-store experience. Checkbook then did an exhaustive price survey of 170 area stores, both independents and chains.

Their results confirmed what we have seen in our own research with homeowners consistently all year, and as recently as last week:
  • Independents are best for advice - for people like me who don’t know what we’re doing or what we need to in order to accomplish it.
  • Big box stores are best for variety both within and across categories of merchandise
  • Independents can be competitive on price, but you have to work harder to make it pencil out – either buying enough to qualify for a discount or use their card or be in their program
People like the idea of supporting their local stores and appreciate the fact that their local, independent hardware store has folks working there who can answer questions and who know their stuff. Now that cheap is chic, the independents are having a particularly tough time. Stores like Ace Hardware and True Value are seen as less competitive on variety and on price, and fall lower down on customer’s list of places to go to get what they need.

The advice and help they offer may not be enough to make the independent store the first stop for most home improvement or repair shopping trips, but they are the only real advantage these stores offer as the economy has cratered. The growing popularity of doing-it-yourself may provide a ray of hope for independents, as events like the Maker Faires and sites like gain traction.

Maker Faire ( is a two-day, family-friendly event that celebrates the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset that is put on by O’Reilly Publishing, owner of Make Magazine. Over 65,000 people attended the Bay Area Maker Faire this year and the magazine has fans around the world, with a paid circulation of 100,000; its Web site gets 2.5 million visitors each month. The publisher held a second Faire in Austin, Tex., in October this year. Here’s what the NY Times reported was one attendee's take on the event’s appeal: “Things like Maker Faire give people hope. Creativity is the best expression of humanity.” ( is an online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade. According to Quantcast, traffic at Etsy was at an all-time high of almost 2.5 million unique visitors/month in November. Looks like giving homemade is “in” this holiday, even if it’s not made in our own homes!

Seems like the independents might be find a lifeline by connecting the dots here.

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