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Do it herself

Looking for that perfect gift for the woman in your life?

Try power tools.

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With women making up half of the residential customers at stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's, and with a home-remodeling market that reaps $125 billion a year, retailers, toolmakers and others are embracing the idea that women are a serious force in the home-improvement market.

Companies have stepped up their efforts to attract the female do-it-yourselfer, from True Value's Web site, where products for "handy-mom" share top billing with "gourmet-mom," to Rubbermaid's female-focused Tough Tools, which includes images of women showing men how to get the job done.

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Female hosts on home-improvement shows are legion, including Lynda Lyday on the call-in show Talk2DIY, Amy Devers on DIY to the Rescue and Jodi Marks on Home and Garden Television's Fix It Up!

Harry Harrison, host of HGTV's Help Around the House, generally works with female homeowners.

And magazines are popping up, such as the new Woodworking for Women, which promises "Woodworking ... It's not just for men!"

John Ferraiuolo, manager of the Lansdowne Home Depot store, said women work in every department of the store.

"I keep an eye on five to 10 industries. [Home improvement] is the second-most-advanced one," outdone only by financial-services companies in its marketing to women, said Martha Barletta, author of Marketing to Women (Dearborn, 2003) and chief executive of TrendSight, a marketing consulting firm in the Chicago area.

The industry, including retailers, manufacturers and television-show producers, is "doing back flips because it's suddenly becoming apparent that women are a much bigger factor in the home-improvement decision than they realized," Barletta said.

"Ace Hardware did a study and found that their women customers spent 50 percent more than their male customers," she said. "If women are half of the customers and they're spending 50 percent more, it doesn't take much to do the math."

Home Depot reports that 200,000 women have attended its Do-It-Herself remodeling workshops, initiated a year ago. Lowe's started addressing women's tastes in its store redesigns about 10 years ago.

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Ferraiuolo said 40 to 60 women typically attend each Do-It-Herself workshop at his store. The workshops are held quarterly and include catered vegetable platters, brownies and other snacks. Prizes such as drills, tool boxes and vacuum cleaners are raffled off after every session, of which four are held each night.

On the whole, the concept has been well received. "Women feel like it is theirs," Ferraiuolo said.

Kathy Miller attended the July 12 workshop at the Lansdowne Home Depot to learn how to tile a back splash and tabletop. Miller is working on tiling the back splash and countertop in her kitchen. It was her first remodeling workshop. She learned about it from her sister. Miller said her next project is a deck.

Jewel Savage, who also attended the workshop, has been going to the sessions for a year and has used nearly all the techniques. Savage said many women are intimidated by hardware stores but she believes the industry's effort to change that perception clearly has worked on her.

Kibby Rada has come to several Do-It-Herself workshops as well. At a previous session, Rada learned about gardening equipment maintenance. She attended the July workshop because she was interested in tiling her kitchen floor.

"There's always a project," Rada said in reference to her 100-year-old Catonsville home, where she currently is re-paving her walkway.

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Chris Ahearn, a Lowe's spokeswoman, said women make 85 percent of home-improvement decisions, which has led the company to light its new stores brightly with wide aisles and products within easy reach.

She said it makes a "shopping environment that's very attractive to women, and men don't mind either."

While many experts agree that Lowe's has excelled at gearing toward women, other retailers are "straddling the issue," Barletta said.

"Lowe's is saying, 'We know where the money is, we get it, we're fixing it,' " the marketing expert said.

While Home Depot has made strides, company executives make comments such as, "We don't want to alienate men, so we don't want to change [our stores] that much," Barletta said.

Ace Hardware has made some store design changes, but the company's Web site makes few references to women and tools.

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As an industry, "they're getting the idea. It doesn't mean there isn't more good stuff that they could do," Barletta said. "They don't have the marketing savvy of a retailer like Target. There's a lot more they could be doing in terms of promotions and services. They're still focused on product."

Ferraiuolo, the Lansdowne Home Depot manager, said the Do-It-Herself workshops could be held more frequently.

"Look at what the food network has done for men getting involved in the kitchen," said Lynda Lyday, co-host of Talk2DIY and a union contractor for 13 years. "Men aren't closet cooks anymore. ... It's become quite fashionable. That's starting to happen with women and tools."

A new generation of tools geared for women is emerging. Barbara Kavovit launched her Barbara K product line a year ago, selling her tool kit at Bloomingdale's, Macy's and at traditional hardware stores. The company pulled in $2.5 million in the second half of last year, she said.

"Women really want to be able to fix things around the house" she said. "They've taken on so many roles in the 21st century. They're career-oriented; they're heads of households. This was a natural extension."

Tomboy Tools Inc. is taking a different tack, selling its tools directly to women through home remodeling workshops. "We saw triple-digit growth for 2003," said Sue A. Wilson, president and chief executive of the 4-year-old company.

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Like the Barbara K and Rubbermaid products, Tomboy Tools are made with rubberized grips and ergonomic designs aimed at a woman's hand size.

Pink, by all accounts, is to be avoided. Originally, "the hardware industry really perceived that what women wanted were not serious tools," Wilson said.

"They didn't really understand that we as women homeowners are taking on serious home-repair projects," she said. "We need tools that will help us get those jobs done."

Sun staff writer Michelle Betton contributed to this article.

RESOURCES

BOOKS

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Dare to Repair: A Do-It- Herself Guide to Fixing (Almost) Anything in the Home by Julie Sussman, Stephanie Glakas-Tenet. Harper Resource. 272 pages. $14.95

The Savvy Woman's Guide to Owning a Home - How to Care for, Improve, and Maintain your Home by Kitty Werner. RSBPress. 256 pages. $14.95

Mrs. Fixit Home Repair by Terri McGraw. Pocket Books. 240 pages. $12.99

The Woman's Hands-On Home Repair Guide by Lyn Herrick. Storey Books. 208 pages. $17.95

TOOLS

www.barbarak.com Barbara K Tools (above) are designed specifically for women by Barbara Kavovit, former head of a New York construction firm.

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www.tomboytools.com Tomboy Tools are home improvement tools specifically made for women.

www. rubbermaidtoughtools.com Includes Rubbermaid's women-focused Tough Tools.


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