How Home Depot realized it should market to women

Home Depot changed its image.
Home Depot changed its image.
Image: AP Photo/LM Otero
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When Trish Mueller first joined Home Depot as Chief Marketing Officer, the brand was considered a women-repellant.

Its image was that of a hard-core hardware store, with power tools and fluorescent lighting, that would appeal only to bulky male contractors, or lumberjacks in plaid shirts. In stores, the company displayed a few, token, women-friendly products, but other than that, it largely ignored women as customers. “Before I came here,” Mueller says, “somebody thought pink power tools would be really fun.”

Skewed Data

One of Mueller’s first insights was that the data that led Home Depot to ignore women’s customers was flawed. “Everyone loves to quote that 80% to 90% of purchase decisions are made by women,” she says. A lot of surveys also conclude that more single women and single mothers are now heads of their household. But the Home Depot’s purchase data didn’t show that. It continued to show that its buyers were mostly men.

However, when the Home Depot started observing its customers at the tills, they understood the purchase data’s blind spot. “Often, even when women had made all the decisions in-store, the men would pay at check-out,” Mueller says. “So, the data showed a payment skew.”

In addition, the Home Depot’s data couldn’t identify “honey-do” purchases.

“My husband was at Home Depot today,” Mueller explains, “and I was like ‘Honey, you need to pick up the five-for-$10 herbs today. But you couldn’t rely on the payment data to show that, because it would come back skewed towards the men.”

Further research outside of the purchase data showed Home Depot customers were actually an equal split of men and women, according to Mueller.

Based on this key insight, the Home Depot realized it had to make a much bigger marketing push to women and to offer them the products they wanted.

Expanding marketing efforts

In 2013, the Home Depot’s core executive team had a strategy meeting about how the brand could appeal to more customers and markets—like women—and expand their product range. There were two women executives in the room: Mueller and Cara Kinzey (Senior Vice President, Technology). Trish and Cara suggested that the brand’s product range should be as wide as its name. Home Depot included the word “home,” after all, and could expand into product categories like cookware, small appliances, and kitchen accessories.

“Cara and I came at it from a women’s perspective,” Trish says, “without it being that overt.”

At the end of the meeting, the team decided to experiment with their product range at the annual Black Friday sale. They gave their merchants a broad mandate: “If it’s something you can conceive of using in your home, let’s have a conversation about it.”

Some of the home appliances and cookware options they tested proved so successful that they’re now kept long-term inside every store. The Home Depot also had some rather unexpected hits during their Black Friday sales, like a giant fluffy teddy bear that sold for $29.99. “Who would’ve ever thought to see that at Home Depot?,” Mueller says. “But we were sold out in ten minutes, the first year we carried them.”

After that, the Home Depot’s Black Friday sales began to break records, year after year. At the time we spoke to Mueller, the Home Depot had just had its fifth consecutive largest Black Friday sale in history. (Mueller recently left the company, though she says she still “bleeds orange.”)

Home Depot made other efforts to expand its marketing toward women as well. In 2010, the brand started D.I.Y. workshops for women (titled “Do-It-Herself”) which proved to be a smash hit. The Do-It-Herself workshops have huge turnouts, and the company now holds one workshop every month, in all their stores. Mueller says that sometimes women bring their husbands or other men in their lives.

Since the Home Depot began its mission to woo more women, it has attracted a wave of new customers, and rave reviews from everyone, including The New York Times. Its rebranding was so successful, that Forbes called it the brand’s “resurrection.”

And in 2017, the brand announced the highest quarterly sales and highest quarterly net earnings in their company’s history.

This article has been adapted from the book Untapped: How America’s Best Organizations Discover and Leverage the Genius of Women.

This story is part of How We’ll Win, a project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. Read more stories here.