As hardware and other do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvement retailers and gardening supply stores begin to enter their busy season, they are already seeing an unexpected uptick in business from, of all things, the coronavirus pandemic.
Homeowners engaging in renovations and home repairs while stuck at home increased March sales by about 10% over the same month last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Lowe’s Home Improvement CEO Marvin Ellison said in a recent CNBC interview that his company is seeing an increase across nearly every store category as customers spending more time at home because of the coronavirus pandemic begin long-planned or new projects.
Here in the Cape Fear region, area hardware stores are also experiencing increased sales thanks to families hunkering down and starting interior projects like recaulking a shower, painting, and wallpapering or engaging in outside work like planting a garden, or building a deck.
“People seem to be working more on their own houses these days,” said Eric Korman, owner of Craft American Hardware. His store at 7002 Wrightsville Ave. has been seeing an influx of parents and children shopping together for tools and supplies.
“Parents are spending more time with kids, spending more time at home. More family time being had, more grandparents, grandchildren all together in the same house, friends and neighbors getting together helping each other out,” he said.
Big sellers include power tools, light bulbs for science projects, gardening supplies, hand sanitizer and firewood for backyard staycations.
Korman said since people are not traveling, they’re not spending money on trips but rather are spending it in a different way such as for DIY projects. He’s noticing that customers are not worrying as much about prices, presumably since they want to get in and get out rather than stand in line with a large number of people at a big-box store.
The “get in, get out” preference has led to Craft American Hardware offering curbside service, among other changes such as shortened hours to keep staff less stressed to better serve customers.
Other retailers are following suit with altered business practices, as states and local municipalities impose limits on the number of people allowed in stores. The Home Depot, for example, is eliminating major spring promotions to avoid driving large numbers of customers to stores. Lowe’s Home Improvement has developed a new app for associates’ handheld devices to monitor foot traffic and limit the number of people in a store based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local guidelines.
Teddy Davis, owner of Farmers Supply Co. at 2025 Oleander Drive, is also seeing an uptick in sales, and is especially thankful for his customers’ positive response to COVID-19 related changes in his operations. Davis and his team have been encouraging individuals at risk to come when the business first opens up or later in the day, when things are slowest, and is only allowing 10 people at a time into the store or garden center. Since his business is popular with customers who like to spend a lot of time browsing, he was worried about the potential for lines of people waiting at the door
“It’s been so great to see customers recognizing the need to come, get what they need, then get out so others can get what they need. I’m proud of them, and I’m proud of our team,” he said.
Farmers Supply Co. has been selling a lot of hand tools, rakes and shovels in addition to plants, fertilizer and plant food. He’s been seeing a lot of customers building gardens for the first time ever, whether because they are home with not much to do or due to the fact that they’d rather grow their own vegetables and fruit to avoid going to the store.
“Kids at home, getting them outside and into the garden is a good thing to do,” he said.
Getting outside with or without his four children has been a new daily routine for middle school teacher Brandon Wieland, who has been using his time at home to build a firepit in his backyard. His trips to and from his local home improvement store in Hampstead and time spent in the yard on his DIY project are providing distinct benefits.
“It’s helped keep me mentally healthy by giving me something to do other than be on a Chromebook,” he said.
In addition, Wieland said, before the pandemic, he would complain to his wife, Karin, that he just did not have the time and energy to build a firepit, trim hedges, fix a footbridge and pressure wash his fence line, among other things.
According to New Hanover County Health Director Phillip Tarte, this type of activity is a great way to positively channel stress, indulge in creativity and stay active. “Being active gives us more energy, puts us in a better mood and helps us sleep better while also decreasing risk for type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.”
For businesspeople like Korman, the ability to roll with the punches will be key as DIY projects end and sales ebb and flow.
“We’re going to watch everybody else to gauge how to get back to normal, see what nearby businesses are doing, look at the CDC website for the latest advice. Everybody is trying to do their best,” he said, adding, “It is what it is. We’re all ready for it to be over.”
Correction: This version has been changed to correct the spelling of Eric Korman's name.
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