"Men wear the tool belts, but women decide when the house needs repairing and what brands of appliances, cabinets, faucets and carpet to buy." -- Robert Tillman, former CEO of Lowe's.
Mr. Tillman's theory, while it may have some validity, makes some very broad generalizations. That said, I've got a few flaws to report.
Flaw one: In my house, I wear the toolbelt. The only male entities are of the canine and feline varieties. (Though Carter Oosterhouse is welcome to fill that void anytime he'd like.)
Flaw two: Mr. Tillman's belief system clearly evaporated before some of the neanderthals were hired in the appliance department at a local Lowe's store.
I recently got an email from a very dear friend that left me shaking my head in disbelief. CP wrote: "Went to buy a fridge recently and they asked where my husband was. As I explained (not once, not twice, but three times) that my husband was not participating in the purchase, they just couldn't fathom me being there alone with money much less making a major purchase."
After I reassured myself that it was, in fact, 2008, I found her experience fascinating on several fronts. 1. I'm guessing that these guys aren't working on commission. 2. They probably weren't aware that their stores were redesigned in 2005 to specifically attract female shoppers. And 3, they clearly haven't seen stats like these:
*Women are responsible for 94 percent of home furnishings and 80 percent of do-it-yourself home improvement projects.
*A 2004 study found -- Thirty-eight percent of Gen X women (born between 1965 and 1976) are the home improvement decision-makers who do the work themselves, compared to 30 percent in 2000. Seventy-eight percent of Gen X women are in some way responsible for home improvement decisions (although they may not do the work).
*In 2003, Forbes magazine reported that women initiate 80 percent of all home-improvement purchase decisions, especially when it comes to big-ticket orders like kitchen cabinets, flooring and bathrooms.
*An article on Moneypit.com quotes a building contractor as saying that while old school remodelers were told "never to spend too much time on a customer unless both spouses were present and both confirmed the commitment to the project" that things have changed and "the best professionals are much more savvy these days." (Too bad that didn't apply to the jokers CP spoke with.)
*And from this 2005 Businessweek story, the bottom line: Retailers are helping to keep their own houses in order by recognizing that women, like men, are willing and able to learn -- and buy.
Luckily, I've never had this kind of experience with Lowe's or with their competitor, The Home Depot. Oh, I've had my feuds with Lowe's, only resolving a long-standing one earlier this year. They continue to win me over though by sending me cards with money off my next purchase. Can't say the same for The Home Depot. I still haven't forgiven them for last year's major flooring debacle. But anyone who does DIY projects, particularly on a regular basis, will have some disagreements with their local home improvement proprietor. Like death and taxes, it's inevitable.
What I found odder still is that CP pulled into an Ace Hardware and got the complete opposite in treatment. "It was nice to be talked to like I was a person, not a girl," she said. I, on the other hand, had an experience more like the one she had at Lowe's when I visited a local Ace Hardware last year. I spent about 10 minutes talking to a brash and condescending moron who insisted that the faucets in my kitchen were not brass, and kept trying to sell me a silver replacement part. (Really? And he's been in my kitchen how many times?) But, I've since found other employees in the same store to be helpful, friendly, and very respectful -- a credit to them that only the occasional neanderthal passes the HR screening.