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Drilling Down Into Home Improvement

Bracha Arnold
February 13, 2024
Drilling Down Into Home Improvement

When we last checked in with the home improvement category, high interest rates and a cooling housing market had impacted visits to retailers The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Tractor Supply. As 2024 gets underway, what might lie ahead for these chains? We take a look at the data to find out. 

Hammering Out The Visits

Home Depot and Lowe’s, two of the largest home improvement retailers in the country, command a significant share of the industry. The two chains experienced ups and downs over the past few years, from a pandemic-era spike in visits to a more recent slowdown as rising prices and slowing home sales led many would-be shoppers to rethink a renovation.

The turbulence in the Home Improvement space continued in 2023. In the first half of the year, foot traffic to The Home Depot and Lowe’s showed modest increases on a year-over-year (YoY) basis – but that momentum slowed into the years’ second half as home sales dropped to a six-month low

Visit performance to these retailers may well improve in 2024. Should home sales pick up  as mortgage rates continue on their expected downward trajectory, home improvement chains would likely see an increase in visits as new homeowners grab equipment for renovations.  

Nailed It: Median HHI Variances

Analyzing median household income (HHI) of visitors to The Home Depot and Lowe’s, segmented by potential and captured markets, may provide insights into The Home Depot's stronger year-over-year foot traffic performance. (A chain's potential market looks at the Census Block Groups (CBGs) where visitors to a chain originate, weighted according to the CBG’s population. In contrast, captured market visit data reflects figures weighted by the actual number of visits from each CBG.) 

The trade area median HHI tends to be higher for Home Depot than for Lowe’s in the chains’ potential markets – and the differences grow even more pronounced when analyzing the captured market. The Home Depot’s potential market median HHI stood at $71.5K/year – just slightly higher than Lowe’s $69.6K/year. But The Home Depot’s captured market median HHI was $74.3K/year in 2023 – around 4% higher than the chain’s potential market median HHI. Meanwhile, Lowe’s captured market median HHI of $69.0K/year was around 1% lower than its potential market median HHI.

The income disparity between the visitor bases of the two chains may provide context for The Home Depot’s foot traffic strength compared to Lowe’s – The Home Depot’s wealthier customers may be more insulated from the effects of inflation. And as inflation eases and demand for home renovations creeps up, Lowe’s may yet see visits tick up as its customers return to the chain. 

Ranching Out: Visits To Tractor Supply

Tractor Supply Co. – another major home improvement chain – also offers a variety of products geared toward farm and ranch living, including animal feed and farm equipment. The company was a surprising pandemic winner, seeing its sales and foot traffic grow significantly as people moved to the countryside.

The chain's popularity has remained strong even as the pandemic-induced migration trends subside and the influx of city-dwellers to rural areas slows down. Visits to Tractor Supply remained consistently high throughout 2023, with only two months experiencing YoY foot traffic lags. Tractor Supply visits also outpaced visits to the home improvement category as a whole, indicating sustained demand for farm products. 

Rural Renovations Rule

A deeper exploration of the three home improvement chains’ psychographic compositions indicates that Tractor Supply’s popularity with rural segments (as defined by the PersonaLive dataset) may be fueling some of its sustained visit success. 

All three chains saw a higher share of rural visitors in their captured market compared to their potential market – indicating that rural consumers are particularly interested in home improvement tools and products. And of the three chains, Tractor Supply served the largest share of rural visitors by far. The share of rural audience segments in Tractor Supply’s potential markets significantly exceeded the share of these segments in the trade areas of Lowe’s and The Home Depot’s, and the relative share of rural segments in Tractor Supply’s captured market was even more impressive. 

Lowe’s, which has bolstered its rural presence over the past year, had the second-highest percentage of rural segments in both its potential and captured markets – although its share of rural visitors was still considerably lower than Tractor Supply’s. 

Meanwhile, The Home Depot saw the smallest share of rural visitors across all rural segments analyzed. The company’s captured market had just slightly more Rural High Income and Rural Low Income visitors relative to its potential market, and there was no difference between its captured and potential market shares of Rural Average Income consumers.

The impressive over-representation of rural customers to Lowe’s and Tractor Supply suggest that the rural potential for home improvement chains is significant – and chains that tap into the segment may see further foot traffic to their stores. 

Renovations, Renewed

The home improvement space has seen plenty of variance over the past few years, from the pandemic-fueled DIY highs of 2020 and 2021 to the overall slowdown brought on by inflation in 2023. Will visits begin to pick up again into 2024? 

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