Hardware stores ‘gaining momentum,' says NPD study

Consumer research from Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group indicates that the home improvement industry grew 2% in the 12 months ended September 2011 compared with 2010. Specialty retailers and online shopping are making significant gains, and hardware stores are also “gaining sales momentum,” the research showed.

Home improvement, as tracked by The NPD Group, includes categories in hand tools, power tools, outdoor power equipment, storage and organization, faucets and shower heads, lighting and electrical, fans, and caulk/glue/adhesives.

Specialty retailers increased 18% across the home improvement categories tracked by NPD in 2011 versus 2010 dollars. The categories with the most noteworthy increases in the specialty channel -- storage and organization, and lawn and garden products -- both experienced strong double-digit growth over the past two years.

Hardware stores increased 4% on a dollar basis, compared with the 12 months ended September 2011. While other channels, like warehouse home centers and warehouse clubs showed modest growth in the 12 months ended September 2011, it wasn’t enough to keep up with specialty and hardware store growth, the study said.

Online shopping has also seen significant growth, with dollar sales up 24% over 2010. Online now represents 5% of all home improvement sales, but it is even more important in the specialty channel, representing 20% of those sales, with kitchen and bath specialty stores leading the way in the 12 months ended September 2011. Though still accounting for the lion’s share of the market, home improvement brick-and-mortar sales are down over the last two years.

According to The NPD Group’s consumer tracking service, while price continues to be the top factor in selecting a retailer, a quarter of home improvement consumers now tell NPD their primary reason for shopping at a given retailer is that it is close to their home. And, for consumers shopping in specialty stores, selection and availability are more important than proximity to their homes.

“Since the start of the economic downturn we’ve entered a new mind-set as consumers,” said Kevin Gilbert, director, The NPD Group. “People are getting back to their roots and putting an emphasis on supporting local, homegrown businesses. The aging population is becoming disinterested in traveling outside their home town to a large store, especially with rising gas prices.”