Long before the term “influencer” was coined, the home improvement industry had its own professional trendsetters. The pros, as we call them, are the backbone of the industry. We often emphasize the role of the homeowner as the primary consumer. But the DIY (do-it-yourself) market has a powerful sibling. The DIFM (do-it-for-me) market is led by the pros, and it’s just as lucrative and influential.
The home improvement pro is an umbrella title including everything from skilled tradespeople, such as contractors, builders, electricians, plumbers and landscapers, to the generalist handyman or handywoman. The size of a pro business is just as diverse, so a pro consumer can include everything from a guy and his truck to an enterprise organization. Such diversity makes the pro a complex but compelling target audience for home improvement brands.
The importance of the pro can’t be understated. According to experts, pros are one of the main reasons that The Home Depot leads the industry over Lowe’s. The Home Depot attributes 45% of sales to professional contracts compared to 20–25% at Lowe’s. Whereas Lowe’s has catered to the homeowner with consumer-oriented, entry-level, affordable brands, The Home Depot has integrated skilled and unskilled shoppers with a balance between high-quality and value products. The Home Depot not only sells the quality brands that pros prefer (the same brands that homeowners recognize and aspire to own), but they have also made it part of their business to promote professional services such as design and installation.
How do pros behave differently than homeowners?
So, if pros and homeowners are shopping side by side, what makes the pro so important? The answer to that question comes down to how pros differ from homeowners. First, there’s a big gap in product and project knowledge, with pros being specialists and homeowners as generalists. Pros are skilled experts, often trained and certified in a particular trade or area. They work on the same type of project across a wide range of properties, amassing deep experience and knowledge of project variables such as materials, conditions and techniques. Finally, because it’s their day job, pros rely on reputation, both theirs and that of their materials, which is why they develop hardcore preferences for brands.
In contrast, homeowners take on projects whenever their home requires it. They tend to have little direct experience with a particular project. As consumers, homeowners need more help finding products and making choices. They also need education, which can come from good customer service, knowledgeable sales associates, easy-to-use products or all of these. Whereas pros might have experience with a particular tool or material that gives them insight into quality, the average consumer associates quality with success and simplicity.
Another key difference between pro and homeowner consumers is their buying habits. Whereas homeowners tend to buy products one at a time and as needed, pros buy products repeatedly, in job lot quantities (JLQs) and often at a discount. If you’re a brand targeting both pro and consumer audiences, it’s easy to see the added ROI in advertising to pros. One loyal pro is worth many individual buyers.
There are even differences when it comes to value. Pros care less about price and more about quality, quantity and reliability. Remember that pros are able to pass costs onto their clients, so that price is only an issue as it impacts bidding. Homeowners, on the other hand, have a more direct, personal relationship to price.
What makes pros so influential?
One of the best ways to think about pros is that they are on the front line of the home improvement industry. As such, they are a key indicator for the industry. The volume and frequency of pro purchasing offers a lot of data in a short time, allowing us to see trends as they emerge.
Consider the COVID pandemic and quarantine period when the number of people and businesses that invested in outdoor living and entertaining spaces skyrocketed. The first people to see this trend were the pros being hired to do the work.
Pros are often the most sought-after field testers and reviewers of products. Likewise, where the pros go, so go many consumers. There is no better testimonial for a product than seeing your contractor, handyman, or other DIFM pro carry it in their tool belt or toolbox. When consumers see the pros trust a brand or product, they know it will do the job. Meanwhile, pros prefer brands that cater to their needs, especially the need for volume. Our client Berry Global knows this and has intentionally differentiated their Polyken brand of contractor tapes from their Nashua DIY tapes.
Pros’ most critical needs are easy access and reliable inventory. Pros were the first to feel the effects of supply chain disruption and were perhaps the hardest hit. When product availability is an issue, pros will choose project continuation over loyalty. Which is why, over the last year, many pros defected from established brands in favor of availability, shifting power from national brands to challenger brands and private label products. In fact, pros are often the secret weapon for private label products. That’s because pros are experts at comparing products and aren’t afraid to use a less expensive version if they know it comes from a national manufacturer.
Should you ramp up your pro marketing?
Certainly, the pro is an influential audience for many home improvement brands. But the extent to which you market to pros may differ. If your brand is targeting the homeowner, you may only want to get on the pro’s radar so that they are familiar with your product. On the other hand, if your brand is in a category where durability, reliability and reputation are important, you definitely need to extend your brand to the pro.
Pros are critical for brands that are established category leaders as well as those looking to challenge category leaders. It may be that the difference between the #1 and #2 spots can be reversed simply by changing pro preferences. The pro is also important for retailers looking to expand their private brands and manufacturers looking to position themselves as private brand suppliers. Lastly, because they are such hardcore users and trusted sources, pros are a must-have audience for brands seeking to transform or push innovation for a category.