Easy does it: Offering how-to kits and in-aisle education, sundries manufacturers are making it easy to tackle projects

ROLLER DERBY According to the Paint and Decorators Retailers Association, sundries accounted for $3.1 billion in sales in 2006.

The paint sundries category is big, accounting for $3.1 billion in U.S. sales in 2006, according to the Paint and Decorators Retailers Association.

With those kinds of numbers, it’s no surprise that manufacturers and retailers are constantly looking to upgrade their assortments to reach new and existing customers—both professionals and DIYers alike.

Brushes are the dominant element of the sundries category, with more than $613 million in sales last year. Other big sellers in 2006 were roller covers, with $519 million in sales; caulks and sealants, with $454.6 million; and hand tools, with $434.6 million.

The innovation in the sundries category covers brushes and extends well beyond to areas including caulk and spackle, and even tape is seeing new developments and trends. One trend within the sundries category that has manufacturers excited involves kits: packages containing all the tools and materials needed to do complete household repair and faux finish projects.

Purdy now carries a four-piece painters kit, including a brush, roller, roller cover and pan.

“Painter kits are growing in popularity, and this product fills a large gap in the marketplace by combining premium, professional-quality tools into a single item at an attractive price,” said Tom Hatcher, senior product manager for Purdy. Hatcher said that consumers often purchase good quality paint and then use low quality applicators to finish the job. “Now, that same consumer can get professional-grade tools in a specially priced kit.”

Even the well-known “For Dummies” brand offers a wall and ceiling repair kit, complete with spackle, tools, tape, mesh and a how-to guide.

“I think it’s been a great way for manufacturers to slice and dice your product to help out consumers, but that’s only half the equation. It’s one thing to select the right tools for the consumer, but it’s another to provide the information on how to do it,” said Susan Moehl, director of new product development for Welco, the manufacturing company licensed to produce the “For Dummies” repair kits.

The “For Dummies” brand has been a publisher of how-to guides since 1991 with the release of its “DOS For Dummies” book. Welco negotiated the exclusive rights to use the “For Dummies” brand two years ago to bring the kits into the market. Moehl compared the pairing with the “For Dummies” brand as the equivalent of receiving the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval. “Only it’s more hip,” she said.

The company will be releasing two more kits into the market soon; “Complete Interior Paint Kit For Dummies” and “Trim and Tight Spots Paint Kit For Dummies.”

According to Hyde Tools, consumers are increasingly seeking more information about what type of paint applicator or tools are best for the job. Manufacturers and retailers have reacted by providing education materials as part of their in-store displays.

“There’s a growing interest in increasing sales at the point of sale,” said Karen Wilson, a spokeswoman for Hyde.

According to Wilson, more effort is being put into the sophistication of displays. Education, packaging and marketing is a huge and growing change in the market she said.

“The Home Improvement Research Institute and other market observers now consider in-aisle communications to be the number one vehicle for informing consumer purchase decisions,” Wilson said. “Of course people still read and use the Internet and ask friends for advice about products. But more and more, they rely on packaging, signs and store personnel to guide their choice of products; helpful aspects for the consumer.

“You’re going to see more and more kits and more and more merchandising,” said Wilson.

True Value, for example, has seen the importance of marketing sundries prominently. In a recently launched new store format, the co-op displayed colorful paint rollers prominently by size and kind, packaging paint tools alongside a centralized, up-front paint color center.

At newly revamped Benjamin Moore stores in Pennsylvania, paint tools and supplies—including all-in-one packages—were given an easy-to-find spot in the store. The stores included special signs designating “faux finishing products,” “tools & supplies” and “wallcovering supplies.”

Another new marketing angel, the “green” trend, is getting more and more attention in sundries.

“The drive toward sustainable products is a major corporate objective for retailers in every channel. Wal-Mart, for example, is serious about minimizing packaging and giving floor space (and advertising time) to sustainable products,” Wilson said.

Wilson said that Home Depot has recently started carrying Hyde’s PaintMiser, a new hand tool designed to help use up to 7 percent more paint per can by scraping it back into the can from around the edges and sides. While that may seem like a small amount for DIYers who paint once every few years, for contractors and professionals, the savings can add up fast.

Wilson said it will also reduce the amount of paint that ends up in landfills. “Discarded paint is the number one cause of household hazardous waste,” she said.

The sundries category is also seeing an increase in house brands and private label merchandise.

“Every one of the major retailers does it,” said Howard Soled of Allway Tools. “It’s a trend; it’s not one that we like. We and our competitors have worked very hard to build up our brand as one that people know and can depend on. We don’t like this trend, but we go along with it because it’s profitable.”

While private label has often been associated with low cost/low quality, Soled said there has been an increased interest by retailers to contract well-known manufacturers to offer higher-end house brands.

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