Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional Remodeler. firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.603.4884
Recently, I found myself talking witha 20-something in the checkout line at a hardware store. In situations like these, I’m in the habit of striking up conversations with the people around me, so when I noticed he was holding a blister-packed single-pole outlet and a cover plate, I said in my most nonjudgmental tone, “I thought yours was the do-it-for-me generation. Where did you learn to wire an outlet?” He laughed and answered, “YouTube.”
Makes sense. You can watch a YouTube how-to video about almost anything, from replacing the latch on your microwave (you’ll need to buy a leak detector) to knee surgery to repair an ACL (a lot like carpentry, but in a sterile environment and not for the squeamish). This particular 20-something, however, may have been an exception among his Millennial cohort, most of whom have no interest in non-digital tools and are part of a trend called Do It For Me. Think of it as DIY with a twist: You buy all of the materials you need online and have them delivered, then—and this is the DIFM part—you invest a couple more clicks to find and hire someone to do the installation.
At the other end of the demographic spectrum are the Baby Boomers, who carried the Do-It-Yourself trend to the extreme as they (we, actually—I’m a Boomer myself) did with a lot of things. That’s changing, though, according to retailers such as The Home Depot, which keep an eye on trends like this. Home Depot expects that as Boomers get older, they will dump DIY and jump to DIFM.
A New Model
That means that for the next decade or so (maybe more, if Millennials never get the DIY bug), these two huge groups of remodeling prospects will be searching for remodelers whose business model is quite a bit different from what it’s been for as long as most of us can remember.
The traditional model builds margin by marking up labor, materials, and subcontractors. But as more consumers move from merely researching material and building-product prices online to actually buying those items online and having them delivered (maybe by drone via Amazon Air), that model becomes unsustainable.
I recently talked with some remodelers who have already started to restructure their pricing model in anticipation of more “labor-only” work. They haven’t lowered their price or reduced their margin, but they have rearranged the calculus to build more margin in labor and supervision and less in material and subcontractor markup.
High-end companies are not immune, either. Exotic and once hard-to-get items are now just a mouse-click away. Has anyone reading this not had a homeowner present them with a handmade sink or a pallet of tile or some other out-of-the-ordinary item that they absolutely had to have as part of their project?
And, frankly, why would a remodeler complain about a homeowner who wants to take on the responsibility of researching, ordering, and shipping a specialty product? The critical adjustment comes in settling on the cost to install (and warrant) something that is out of the ordinary. This requires some research and some guesswork, but homeowners, whether Boomers or Millennials, may haggle less about the price to install because they got a deal on the materials and they have little or no interest in doing the installation themselves, especially on higher-end projects.
This trend does, however, put a kink into processes like product selection. Remember that trick of convincing consumers that they control product selection by narrowing down their choices to three of your favorite products from long-time vendors? Forget it. Millennials will research a product to within an inch of its life, and when they find what they want, they accept no substitutes.
You can pretend that none of this is happening or that it won’t affect you, but I think it already has.