Hiri Speakers Discuss ‘Green’ Topics, Trustworthiness

CHICAGO —Presentations at the Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI’s) fall conference held here Wednesday touched on some of the contradictions in the complex business of tracking consumer trends.

Consumers are time-starved, but they are watching prodigious amounts of television, speakers explained. The term “green” is one of the most commonly used words in marketing but also one of the most confusing. And while new media can open the door to a great breadth of information, there are far too many sources of misinformation in today’s world.

The HIRI event, which carried the theme of “Navigating a Demanding Home Improvement Industry,” began with a presentation by Walker Smith, president of the research firm Yankelovich. Referring to the concept of our modern, “time-starved” population, he said despite public perception, studies show people actually had less free time in the 1960s. Today, however, there exist thousands more things people want to do in their free time.

“Time-starved consumers want to spend more time buying your products, enjoying your products.” said Walker. But there’s a catch—most products that claim to save time don’t really make a noticeable difference in the amount of time available in a week. “Give them back time,” he suggested.

HIRI practiced its own version of time management, packing seven research-related presentations (and a lunch) into an eight-hour span at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza.

Speakers included John Ross, vp-advertising for Home Depot. “Change is an opportunity, if we can learn how to master it,” he told the HIRI membership. In his presentation titled “Retailing in an Increasingly Complex Environment,” he suggested that great retailers have always been great listeners.

For example, Ross explained green products are in demand to the extent that they provide cost savings or time savings. Home Depot’s Eco Options program, he said, reflects an effort to explain some of the benefits of green to those who are interested.

“By giving consumers options, we can grow the business,” he said.

A presentation from the NPD Group continued on the green topic.

“The word ‘green’ is probably the most used and most misunderstood out there right now,” said Mark Delaney, director of home improvement for NPD Group. NPD research showed home insulation and major appliances as the two product categories rated by consumers with the highest level of importance to being eco-friendly. Delaney also presented research showing that as consumers age, they generally become more concerned with green products. At the same time, he cautioned there is a level of skepticism among consumers around certain products merely claiming to be green.

“Trust represents an opportunity,” according to Smith, which found 88 percent of consumers said they felt that too many individuals voice opinions when they lack expertise on a given topic. Similarly, a majority of consumers—55 percent—said they felt it’s important to spend time with those who are both passionate and knowledgeable about those subjects that interest them most. This opens up an opportunity for trustworthy market leaders, Smith suggested.

Other companies presenting at the event were Zelman & Associates, Perception Research Services, TNS Retail Forward and International Communications Research (ICR).