YONKERS, N.Y. (April 10, 2002) — It’s a night out for 51-year-old Pat Matfus and her sister, JoAnn Blanchard, 47, and what better way to spend it than learning how to lay ceramic tile?
To the delight of the Home Depot here in this New York City suburb, that’s just what the sisters — and a crowd of other women — were doing not long ago during a “Ladies Night” clinic at the store. Ms. Matfus, who by day is admissions director at a long-term care facility, and some others stepped up to spread mortar, place tiles and apply grout, while Ms. Blanchard, who is a wood-shop teacher’s aide, and the rest of the group watched. They all learned about wet saws for cutting tile, chalk lines for alignment, placing spacers between tiles to keep them even, and how to fix mistakes.
Some had epiphanies. “Is that why you get cracking? That’s what they did wrong installing my tile!” Ms. Matfus cried out.
It’s no secret that women have been purchasing and using tools and other home-improvement products for years. But they are now doing so in greater numbers. Both Home Depot Inc., the nation’s largest home-improvement chain, and Lowe’s Cos., No. 2 in the field, estimate that about half of all purchases made in their stores are by women and that women influence many additional buying decisions.
It’s a trend that is partly due to demographics: Single women make up the second-largest group of home buyers after couples, according to the National Association of Realtors. But it is also a response to increased marketing to women by retailers and tool manufacturers. Black & Decker Corp., for one, ran a novel commercial around Christmastime last year for its Navigator power saw that only at the end revealed the tool had been wielded by a white-haired woman in a housedress (and tool belt).
Currently, all Home Depot stores offer a variety of classes and clinics open to both men and women. The company says women-only classes began cropping up store by store several years ago as an alternative to “Monday Night Football.”
Last year, Home Depot required all of its stores to hold a women-only woodworking course that was “very successful,” says Kim McKesson, a merchandising executive for the chain, which is based in Atlanta. For now, the company doesn’t require all stores to hold special clinics for women on a regular basis but it seems to be heading in that direction, says Ms. McKesson.
Lowe’s has been working for some time to make its stores female-friendly but doesn’t hold special how-to clinics for women. However, the chain says it knows anecdotally that more women are attending its general classes.
The rationale behind Home Depot’s ladies’ nights is straightforward: “If you teach a woman to change a toilet, she feels a lot more confident about walking into a Home Depot and talking hammer and nails,” says Don Harrison, a spokesman for Home Depot.
A case in point: LaWanda Greene of Pensacola, Fla. Ms. Greene has had perfect attendance at “Ladies Night at the Depot,” which began at her local Home Depot last fall. Ms. Greene, 58 years old and divorced, used to hire a handyman when she needed minor work done on her home. Now, she can change faucets, fix toilets and use a power drill with impunity. “I’ve bought bits for my drill and some sawhorses,” says Ms. Greene, who is an executive secretary. “Some day I’m going to get a router. I’d like to get into cabinetry.”
Deeanna Enfinger, the Home Depot sales associate in Pensacola who pushed for women’s classes there, admits there was some concern it might be “politically incorrect” to shape a class for women, particularly since there already were well-attended, non-gender-specific classes.
“I said, being a military wife, I know there’s a need in the community for classes to help women,” says Ms. Enfinger, 25 years old. The first clinic at Pensacola, which has a big U.S. Navy base, was held a week after Sept. 11; the project involved using a scroll saw to cut out a plywood emblem in the shape of America. Subsequent classes taught the women how to install a toilet, hang wallpaper, patch holes in drywall and hang a door. A recent class centered on gardening.
When the lessons stop, the students often shop. After a class on how to use a power drill properly, Ms. Enfinger says the store sold five drills to participants: a Black & Decker basic model; two higher-priced DeWalt brands, also made by Black & Decker; and two medium-priced Ryobi drills, made by TechTronic Industries Co., Hong Kong.
Women say a major draw of the clinics and classes is working in a group. “Women look at projects very differently than men do,” says Ms. Matfus, one of the do-it-yourself sisters at the Yonkers class. “Men work alone, but women work in packs. We look to each other for support and encouragement,” adds Ms. Matfus. So the siblings dragged a friend to the class. “She called the next day and said she had so much fun she’s definitely going back for closet-organizing class,” says Ms. Blanchard.
While the women’s clinics at the store are expressly that, men sometimes show up. Among do-it-yourselfers attending the tile class in Yonkers were Cynthia Golding, 30, and her husband, Robert, 29. “Should I add an ‘a’ to the end of my name?” Mr. Golding asked as the sign-in sheet went around.
The Goldings plan to retile a bathroom in their apartment in nearby Scarsdale. Ms. Golding was down on her gloved hands and padded knees strenuously yet neatly pushing the 12-inch-by-12-inch tiles onto a section of prepared flooring. She deftly inserted rubber spacers between the tiles. Her husband, taking notes in the back row, said, “I can see who’s going to be running this job. I’ll make lunch.”