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The Case for Staying off the Sidelines

Just over 10 years ago, the home improvement industry was at a bit of a crossroads. We were in the middle of the “great housing crisis” and economic conditions had caused a slowdown in home repair and remodeling we hadn’t seen in years.

Back then, my message to the industry’s vendor community was,“Now is not the time to cut back on your marketing efforts.” I tried to emphasize that companies who continued their marketing efforts during difficult times often positioned themselves to be in a stronger position when challenges abated.

But, of course, as the publisher of an industry magazine, I’m sure most people assumed I would say such a thing. So, it should come as no surprise NOW that I will repeat this familiar message, and in case my thoughts aren’t clear I will put it in all caps—NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO STOP MARKETING YOUR BRAND!


The situation our industry faces today is vastly different than the one it did over a decade ago. Consumer spending, housing prices, home sales and access to cash are not the problem today. No, today, the problem our industry faces is access to products. 


The supply chain is in knots and manufacturers and distributors are struggling to produce enough product to meet consumer demand. So, the common refrain I hear today is, “I don’t want to market my product when I’m having enough problems meeting current needs.”

Here’s the problem with that logic, however. First, it assumes that all marketing is built around “moving product”. While the ultimate goal is often to sell merchandise, skilled marketing is about the long-game, not just the quick sale.

We hear from retailers throughout the channel who tell us they haven’t stopped reaching out to their customers, they are just changing their messaging. Instead of advertising hundreds of products in a promotion, they are switching to messages about brand and community support and how their operations are different from the competition.

Why? Because they want to remain relevant and top of mind within their markets, regardless of the current challenge of just keeping their shelves full. 

So, why wouldn’t the industry’s vendors take that same tack? 


Now, more than ever, retailers also tell us they are less brand loyal when it comes to the suppliers they do business with. This is out of necessity. If they can’t get product from Brand A, they will try Brand B or C. 


If I were the marketing manager for Brand A, I would certainly want to make sure my customers continued to understand the value of my product.

Also, consider this, a new study from Nielsen about marketing during the pandemic. According to the Nielsen Annual Marketing Report, “companies that stopped advertising in the second half of last year (2020) could see revenue declines of up to 11 percent this year.”

The report goes on to say that, “There is never a good time to stop advertising. When budgets are limited, marketers should focus on engaging with existing customers in the short term. As consumer behaviors shift, brands need to position themselves for future growth.”

Don’t just take it from me. I’m just delivering the same message as one of the most trusted media resources out there—Nielsen. 

And lastly, if you are still thinking, “Of course, Dan, would say these things. He runs a media organization,” I’ll stop you right there. Hardware Retailing and Paint & Decorating Retailer are indeed media outlets. But there is a big difference between these media brands and any others serving this industry.

These media brands are run by the industry’s association, NHPA. Our first duty in running this association is NOT to build profitable media empires, drive shareholder value or even maximize profits. Our singular mission as the industry’s association is to help independent home improvement and paint retailers run better, more profitable operations.

It is in our best interest and our members’ best interest that the retail, distribution and manufacturing partners in this industry remain connected, regardless of the challenges in the market. The more our retail members know about new products, programs and services available to them, the better decisions they can make about running their operations.

So, as you sit down to think about your marketing strategies for the coming months, I implore you to do what’s best for your company and the industry—GET BACK TO BUSINESS AS USUAL AND MARKET YOUR BRANDS!!

Author avatar

Dan Tratensek

In his position as executive vice president of publishing of Hardware Retailing magazine, Dan has the opportunity to visit with independent retailers of all types and sizes and use these visits to shape the editorial direction of the magazine to meet the needs of the independent hardware retail market. Dan also oversees NHPA’s other publishing projects, which include a range of special interest publications, contract publishing titles, online content and more. Dan formerly worked as an editor and reporter for Hardware Retailing and has been involved in business journalism and news reporting for the past two decades.

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