Hardware stores cater to seniors

HELPING HAND Marilyn Weisman of Absecon Do it Best Hardware assists a customer.

The over-65 population is a strong and significant customer base in the home improvement industry—and it only promises to get stronger as the population ages in the next couple of decades. In fact, the Administration on Aging reports that by 2030, Americans 65 and older will make up 20 percent of the population, up from 12.4 percent in 2000.

Like other retailers, hardware stores are trying to hone in on this segment of the business, as older Americans have more money to spend and the homes to spend it on.

“I think addressing the baby boomer population—particularly as it ages—is a very important thing,” said Fred Miller, managing director of the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI). “How to cater to their needs is a little more complex, and this is something that retailers need to understand and address.”

According to the National Aging in Place Council, an overwhelming majority of older Americans want to remain in their homes for as long as possible, which opens up an opportunity to offer advice and services to allow them to do so.

Trader Horn is a chain of 10 hardware stores in western Pennsylvania, which boasts one of the largest senior populations in the United States. Owner Bob Greenberger, 71, carries a variety of senior-oriented products, including a selection of Invacare bath safety products like transfer chairs, walkers and shower chairs.

“I think most retailers are reacting to it. Even Wal-Mart is adjusting to the fact that customers are getting older,” Greenberger said.

Hardware stores around the nation are also trying to cultivate a relationship with the local senior population by holding workshops to address some general as well as specific needs.

Mazzone True Value in Brooklyn, N.Y., conducts about three senior workshops each year at the request of a local state-funded community development group, owner Matthew Mazzone said. The latest one, held in the latter part of June, focused on energy efficiency, and the staff addressed topics like energy efficient lighting, timers for air conditioners, programmable thermostats and weather stripping. Approximately 20 senior citizens attended the event.

“Many times we find seniors reluctant to change to the new-fangled contraptions, so we thought it would be a good idea to show some of these items to them so they can see the benefits and not be afraid to try something new,” Mazzone said.

Marilyn Weisman, owner of Absecon Do it Best Hardware in Absecon, N.J., has been conducting an annual workshop for a local senior citizens group. Usually, the event takes place in late fall or early winter, when people are preparing for the months of cold weather ahead. Topics include programmable thermostats, weather stripping and furnace filters, which store employees offer advice on how to install and use.

Absecon Do it Best also caters to the local senior population by offering in-home services (seminar attendees receive a card good for a free in-home consultation). Services include going to a customer’s house to inspect his furnace filter, windows and/or other areas—and making appropriate recommendations.

“In offering these services to seniors, we have picked up various home repair jobs,” Weisman said.

DickBeal, owner of Merritt Island Ace Hardware in Merritt Island, Fla., has also held special events aimed at different populations—including seniors. During these sessions, he sets up different stations around the store and assigns employees to give 15- to 20-minute demonstrations on subjects like rewiring a lamp, rebuilding a faucet and repairing a screen.

Beal’s pointers include the following: Offer free refreshments, give away door prizes and make sure your store’s name is on anything you hand out.

“I’ve had as many as 300 people attend this type of workshop,” he said.

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