A couple of weeks ago, Canadian Contractor attended the Hardlines Conference in Toronto, an annual event that brings together home improvement store executives, independent hardware store owners and manufacturers.
It’s a good place to see how lumberyards and building supply stores are constantly trying to find ways to attract more business from contractors.
It’s well known in the industry that a lot of renovation contractors don’t like shopping at big boxes like Home Depot, Lowe’s, RONA and Kent (in the latter two cases, their big box stores, because RONA and Kent, which operates in Atlantic Canada, also have smaller store formats) because of the size of the stores, the lack of personal relationships with the owners and managers of corporate-owned outlets, the tendency of these stores to focus more on the homeowner and DIYer, and the lack of focus on the contractor customer.
Most of those store brands have said, at one time or another, that they intend to improve their offerings to contractors. At the Hardlines Conference, we heard the Home Depot version of that pitch.
The speaker was Jamal Hamad, director of commercial sales and tool rentals for Home Depot Canada.
The challenge for the Home Depot (and all retailers), Hamad said, was to “make an emotional connection with contractors.” And this is often difficult, he admitted, because “25 per cent of contractors, only, go to [our] pro desk. The other 75 per cent don’t. They shop in the aisles.”
The ways in which Home Depot is trying to connect with contractors is ever-expanding. The company is working on mobile phone apps where contractors can order everything they need, on-line, and get it delivered to the jobsite, Hamad revealed.
The company has also created an all-new outside sales team, to visit jobsites, over the past three years. It has tried to put more and more former- or retired-contractors in the aisles of its stores. It has introduced programs where homebuilders and renovators can have products direct shipped from manufacturers and suppliers to their jobsites, instead of having those products pass first through Home Depot stores (adding delays and costs).
Now, in Western Canada, Hamad said, Home Depot is offering a heavier selection of rental equipment. Heavier as in beginning to rent Bobcats, trenchers and backhoes at 18 stores throughout the West.
Home Depot also has a “premier group” among its various contractor credit card offerings, that “is like the black card for American Express” users, Hamad explained. Contractors who qualify for this level of credit can get volume rebates and cashback rebates on their purchases.