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Hearth & Home

Power in/the Purse

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Marketing expert Anne Obarski offers advice on attracting and retaining female customers.

Women are responsible for 85 percent of all consumer purchases today, according to retail strategist Anne Obarski, founder of the consulting firm Merchandise Concepts. That purchasing power will only increase as women are expected to control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the U.S. in the next decade.

“Boomer Women” – those born between 1946 and 1964 – wield the greatest influence over the purse strings. They have the most discretionary income, spend 2.5 times more than the national average, and are the primary purchasers of luxury goods and services such as cars, electronics and vacations.

“Indie Women” – age 27 and older, single, and without children at home – are another financial force to be reckoned with and are responsible for about half of all home purchases today, a fact that will continue to increase over the next decade as the rest of that Millennial cohort reaches the age of 27.

If you’re not doing enough to target women customers, Obarski recommends you rethink your marketing efforts. “Retailers need to find ways to bring women to their stores and keep them coming back,” she says. “If not, they’re doing themselves a disservice and missing out on a lot of business.”

Hearth & Home talked with Obarski, a retail veteran with 30 years of experience, to learn more about what makes women buyers tick and how specialty hearth, patio and barbecue retailers can more effectively tap into this important and influential group.

Hearth & Home: Why is it so important for specialty hearth, patio and barbecue dealers to market to women?

Anne Obarski: “Women are buying anything and everything needed for their homes – including the hearth and outdoor living products your (readers) are selling. They are also the primary decision makers regarding home renovations. But women make decisions differently than men, and retailers must be aware of that.”

How does their decision-making differ from that of men?

Obarski: “Women use their emotions and all their senses in decision-making. What they see, hear, smell, touch and taste influences their decision to shop in your store and buy. Also, statistically, women are twice as likely as men to read online reviews and testimonials about your business before shopping. They will make comparisons about how they feel when shopping in your store versus other stores. You must look at your business through a woman’s eyes.”

What do you mean by that?

Obarski: “Walk through your store as a woman would. Would she feel safe in your parking lot? Is it well lit, clean? How is the entry area of your store; is it welcoming? Has the snow been cleared? Are there fingerprints on the front door? Are the signs in the window and throughout the store professional-looking, or sloppily hand-written? What does the store smell like? Gen Y and Millennial women, especially, don’t like chemical smells; that would turn them off right away. Are there enticing aromas from burning fireplaces, stoves or grills?

“As for your service and installation technicians, it is very important that women feel comfortable with them in their home. Are they dressed professionally? Polite? Are they on time? Do they leave the work area neat and clean when finished?

“I’ve noticed there are not many women selling barbecue and hearth products; it might be helpful to include some women on your sales team to talk with female customers. It’s all about creating a positive experience for women.”

What type of in-store displays appeal to women?

Obarski: “Women are visual learners. It’s not effective to have a bunch of products lined up in rows. Instead, create vignettes that inspire them and spark ideas for their own homes. Have a flat screen TV going with images of well-designed hearths and outdoor living spaces. Offer unusual and beautiful indoor and outdoor accessories such as serving pieces, napkins, aprons, spices, cozy blanket throws, and decorative items as part of your sales mix, and incorporate them into vignettes.

“Female customers are drawn to well-merchandised displays, and see them as an entire entertaining package. Retailers can’t survive on a one-and-done purchase of a single item. You want to increase the sale and bring the customer back time and again. You could be leaving money on the table if you’re not selling décor and accessory items that appeal to women.”

Where can retailers get ideas for creating female-friendly merchandising displays?

Obarski: “Walk through stores such as Pottery Barn, Ikea and Williams Sonoma, and watch home-makeover shows on HGTV for inspiration. Check out Pinterest to see what people are posting on fireplace and outdoor living boards, and steal ideas for displays. (You can even search terms such as “Retail Displays” on Pinterest for creative visual merchandising ideas). It’s important to remember you’re selling the lifestyle and experience, not simply a grill or fireplace.”

Speaking of Pinterest, how can retailers use social media to connect with female customers?

Obarski: “Studies show women use social media more than men, so it’s critical for retailers to use multiple social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube to reach women. Social media is a good way to promote events, share photos of a fireplace or outdoor kitchen installation, and post recipes and food photos. You could perhaps even create a cooking show for YouTube with a guy and gal as co-hosts. Episodes could cover how to light the grill, clean it, and grill different types of foods.

“Just remember that, although social media is free, it requires time, a strategy and consistency for it to be successful. Retailers have so much on their plates already. If you can’t devote the time yourself, hire a local college kid. Likewise, hire a professional designer or design student to help create displays. I tell retailers to hire to their weakness. What might the increase in business be if you invested in this?”

Any final tips on marketing to women?

Obarski: “Shopping at your store needs to be an experience a woman would love and want to tell her friends about. It should be fun, with good things to taste, lovely smells, and beautifully merchandised displays that inspire her to buy the products to create that experience at home. Women form a very powerful customer base, so a female presence in the store is needed. If you’re not catering to women customers you’re leaving money on the table.”

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