Home Depot has spent years cultivating a customer base of baby boomers who relish the challenge and potential cost savings of renovating their own kitchen or tackling a bathroom repair.
But now, the big-box retailer says it must adapt to a key change among its core customers: These days, when it comes to home improvement, executives say baby boomers are less interested in do-it-yourself and more about do-it-for-me.
At a Tuesday conference with investors, executives of the big-box chain said they will increase their focus on catering to the professional contractor - anyone from an independent handyman to a small or mid-sized business - as older homeowners tire of taking on home improvement projects themselves.
"Their expectations of the Home Depot are changing," said Marc Powers, the chain's executive vice president of U.S. stores. "Now people like me have less time and less energy to do it myself like the Home Depot taught us to do. Now, I want someone to do it for me."
DIY-happy baby boomers have been a critically important demographic to Home Depot, the fourth-largest retailer in the world and one of few major chains that has consistently delivered robust quarterly sales growth in the last two years. The company said Tuesday that a majority of its non-professional customers are baby boomers, even as millennials now outnumber that generation. (A majority of their shoppers are also homeowners and about a quarter of them have incomes of more than $100,000 a year.)
With home prices climbing, and given that about 63 percent of the housing stock in the United States is more than 30 years old, Home Depot executives say they believe these boomers will still want to invest in improving their homes. But catering to them will increasingly be a different proposition.
It will mean being smarter about wooing the professionals whom boomers might hire to do these jobs for them.
"We serve all kinds of pros, but generally acted more like a 7-Eleven to the larger ones," said Bill Lennie, executive vice president of outside sales and services, in the investor presentation.
In other words, the chain has been more of a destination for a quick fill-in trip than a major purchase. Now, it will work to adapt its merchandise assortment and the order fulfillment capabilities for the needs of this type of customer.
Meanwhile, Home Depot is also trying to better connect with large-scale property managers, the ones who manage the apartment buildings and condominium communities that more and more people are moving to. As part of that effort, it earlier this year spent $1.6 billion to acquire Interline, a distributor and direct marketer of maintenance and repair products.
The Interline acquisition was also meant to better position Home Depot to capitalize on another trend in the housing landscape: that many millennials who are not yet embracing homeownership and are opting to live in multi-family housing.
Home Depot says it is confident that millennials will eventually take the plunge and buy a home, and that when they do, its research has found they will have the do-it-yourself ethos that their parents had in their younger years. For now, though, executives said they typically see their millennial customers spring for items such as paint and window treatments - the kinds of things that can spruce up a home without violating a rental agreement.
To connect with all of these customers, Home Depot is also looking to beef up its digital business, which today accounts for only 5.1 percent of its total sales. Like many of its brick-and-mortar counterparts, the chain is racing to open fulfillment centers so it can get orders to customers more quickly, and has moved to offer a much wider range of merchandise online than it can fit in its stores. It is also shifting its advertising strategy, with plans to spend more on digital marketing this year than on print and television.
Overall, it seems that the cautious consumer mindset that has been a drag for so many retailers has actually been something of a tail wind for Home Depot. Shoppers have been resisting impulse buys and instead have been putting their dollars toward planned, carefully researched purchases.