Home-improvement stores empower female customers.
By BETHANY CLOUGH
A smile as wide as a mother's watching her child's first steps springs to Donna Siler's face as she talks about her latest accomplishment.
But this one probably won't make it into the scrapbook: "I fixed the faucet in my bathroom," says Siler, of Fresno, Calif.
She is one example of a growing trend: women picking up drills and wrenches and muscling into what was once the male-dominated realm of home improvement.
They're refinishing cabinets, making mosaic tabletops and buying spackling.
And companies are noticing.
"Do-it-herself" workshops and tools made for smaller hands are showing up at home-improvement stores as they try to snag more female customers.
According to Home Depot, 55 percent of purchases at the stores are made by women.
In addition, women did 30 percent of projects in a 2003 study that asked families about undertakings such as remodeling a bathroom, painting a house or building a deck or patio, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute.
Women's shift into the home-improvement arena has been gradual, says Richard Johnston, a senior research analyst at the institute. "It's increasing, but it's been more evolutionary in nature."
The reasons vary why women are picking up tools, many for the first time. Eighteen percent of all homes sold in 2004 were sold to single women, according to the National Association of Realtors. Homeowners typically embark on home-improvement projects after buying their homes.
And even if there is a man in the house, that doesn't mean he'll want to do the work.
Stella Gonzalez's husband is a trucker and wasn't around to tile the entryway to their home, so she did it herself.
Loretta Bryce's husband doesn't mind the leaves in their driveway. But they drive her crazy, so she straps on the leaf blower and takes care of them herself.
It's getting easier to do jobs like that, she says: "The tools are easier to operate. A lot of them are more lightweight."
Men are actually doing less, with the percentage doing projects themselves dropping from 43 percent in 1999 to 38 percent in 2003, according to the institute. But that's probably because baby boomers are hiring professionals as they get older, not turning their tool belts over to their wives, Johnston says.
But even if women aren't doing the work, they're coming up with the project ideas. Women initiate more project ideas themselves than men: 43 percent compared with 38 percent.
Some women are inspired by the decorating and home-makeover shows that have exploded on cable television.
Denise Ferriera watches the DIY network, a channel with shows that range from how to build a log cabin to how to use a circular saw.
"They have everything," Ferriera says excitedly.
"They have all kinds of gardening and home-improvement shows. It gives you ideas about what might be possible and shows you how to do it yourself."
And even if the project goes on the husband's "honey-do" list, women are buying more of the supplies needed to do the projects.
From 2001 to 2003, women bought almost 4 percent more drills, screwdrivers and other products in a list of 223 studied by the institute.
"To me, that's significant," Johnston says.
Mary Winters probably bought some of them.
She stopped at Home Depot recently to buy fasteners so her husband could attach a screen to poles to keep dogs away from their RV.
"The husband sends you down to do the errands," she says.
"I come here a lot for him when he's in the middle of something, like if he's painting and he needs rollers."
If women are opening their wallets, stores will want them as customers.
Lowe's tries to snag female customers with wider aisles, brighter lighting, cleaner floors and designer brands such as Eddie Bauer paint.
But one thing is the same for both men and women, says Home Depot spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher: "The more knowledge the public is armed with, the better it is for the home-improvement business."
A few other companies are competing for customers such as Siler. A company called barbara k! markets its tools for women, paired with a sense of self-reliance and confidence.
The company was started by Barbara Kavovit, once the head of a New York construction firm, who saw a need for tools designed for women. The barbara k! tools have soft grips, ergonomic handles and are "lightweight but not light-duty."
How-to booklets and weekly projects on the Web site are touted along with the company's motto, "If I can do it so can you."
Tomboy Tools Inc., founded by three women, sells its products online and at tool parties much the same way that Tupperware and Mary Kay products are sold. The parties include demonstrations of home-improvement techniques such as basic woodworking, plumbing and tiling.
Tools are shaped to fit a smaller hand and are ergonomically designed, lightweight and "stylish," according to the company.
Marketing these tools toward women can mean walking a fine line between grabbing women's attention and insulting them. The Tomboy Tools Web site features a pink wrench crossed out with the words "no pink tools."