When you’re looking to be successful in the residential building materials market, two big names jump out at you: Lowe’s and Home Depot. And for good reason: they represent the largest market share in the industry.
There are important things to consider if you are trying to get your product into one of these two giants (or, if they already stock you, how to be more successful).
One of the first things you should consider is the difference between Lowe’s and Home Depot. That single question can help point you in the right direction and ensure that you have the best opportunity to sell your products.
Big companies like these may seem slow to change, but in reality, they are quite nimble and changing all the time. They are constantly testing very innovative ways to market and sell. They learn from each test and then choose whether or not to adopt the approaches, products and brands that pass those tests.
The point I am making is that they are not static. Even if the logo doesn’t change, the Home Depot you see today will be a different Home Depot a year from now.
Home Depot vs. Lowe’s Customers
While both stores want to sell to the DIY and the Pro markets, there are distinctions you will notice just by walking through their establishments.
You might assume that Home Depot is trying to appeal primarily to the contractor and professional market. They have a true warehouse feel where builders and contractors can walk down the aisles and see a wide selection of tools and equipment they can use to get the job done. They also have more options for buying in bulk right off the shelf.
Other features of the stores give it an industrial feel. Using work lighting instead of retail lighting is one example, but there is also the fact that some products, aside from overstock, is stored on higher shelving and can only be retrieved by forklift.
If you walk into a Lowe’s, you might also assume that they built their brand more around the do-it-yourself market—the regular Joes that want to improve their home. They feature retail lighting; a finished, commercial look inside and an appearance and staff that is less intimidating for novices.
But you have to look past store interiors and your personal opinions to really understand these companies, since both stores are constantly changing. There are things that shift back and forth between Lowe’s and Home Depot, like:
Better in-store help
Cleaner, better organized stores
Focus on installed sales
Focus on Pro sales
Focus on DIY sales
Focus on a product category like appliances
Product sales vs. project sales
Private label or national brands
Focus on online sales
These can make a big difference when it comes to deciding which store should bring your product to market, and it requires you to sit back and figure out which store is a better fit for your product.
Here are some examples of how Lowe’s and Home Depot keep working to improve their approaches to the market.
A second area to consider is each store’s saturation of the business market. As it stands now, Home Depot is the clear winner, with hundreds of more stores, larger profits and a higher rate of growth.
Home Depot also has stores in China, a market that Lowe’s hasn’t tapped into yet. Depending on the scale you’re looking for, this could make a huge difference, given China’s soaring population.
Know Your Big Box Customer
Being familiar with something as simple as the difference between professional builders versus DIY weekend warriors is important, but even smaller things influence which stores customers decide to shop at.
While data on this is hard to come by, Lowe’s has a friendly and inviting atmosphere and appearance, even online, which has a significant influence on what type of person they attract. Whereas Home Depot projects a rustic look with darker, wood colors that suggest masculinity, Lowe’s focuses on areas that may not exactly scream masculinity.
These design differences have a tendency to cause a significant gender divide in retail. Market research suggests that darker colors attract men more so than women, while the lighter, whiter colors that Lowe’s favors (see their website for an example) tend to attract a larger female audience—or, at least, a broader mix of genders.
Perhaps gender doesn’t immediately stick out as a difference that matters for your product, but it’s an important area to consider when deciding which store to go after first.
And even if you feel that Lowe’s is more appealing to women, that can easily switch if Home Depot decides to pivot and offer a better in-store experience with more and better trained staff.
3 Ways to Prepare to Call on Lowe’s or Home Depot
- Spend a lot of time in both stores. Ideally, you should do this in different parts of the country. Visit the stores at different times of the day and on weekends. Get an overall perspective of the whole store. Who is shopping? What are they buying? What departments are the busiest?
Then focus in on your product category. What brands, models and price points do they carry? Are they featuring any products? Now, with your knowledge of the category, what are they doing wrong? What are they doing right? What changes should they make to increase sales?
Don’t focus on why your product is better than the competition. Simply having a customer buy your product instead of your competitor’s doesn’t help the big box.
- Set up a Google Alerts for both Home Depot and Lowe’s. Browse them once a week and you’ll get a sense of what they are doing and how they are changing.
- Every quarter, each company releases its financial results. You need to read these—there are comments from the CEO about the company’s results and what changes they plan to make to improve those results. Those changes could affect you or give you a way to make a stronger case that they need your products. Here’s a link for the financial reports of Home Depot and Lowe’s Click here for an example of the changing differences between Lowe’s and Home Depot based on the comments of their CEO’s.
Why Not Both Lowe’s and Home Depot?
Finally, it’s important to note that you should never restrict yourself to one or the other. While getting into either store can be rather difficult, finding your way into both stores allows you to capitalize their different audiences, which is by far the most ideal situation.
But by targeting one of the two first and getting your product in their inventory, you can begin to build your business profile. This will make your more appealing – and proposals much less challenging – when you try to get your product into other stores.
Click here to read 9 more of my most popular articles on selling to big boxes like Lowes and Home Depot.
Contact me if you’d like to discuss how to grow your big box sales.
Here’s my 2-minute video recap of the differences between Lowe’s and Home Depot.
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