Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Renewed Hope

Today I drove down South Robert to visit the triumvirate of big box home stores: Menards, Lowe's & Home Depot (from north to south, respectively). My aim was to see how eco-friendly their product selection is. I also visited Natural Built Home on Minnehaha & 40th which, when I learned of it last week, sounded like it might be the exact same idea as we have for our Uptown green store.

Here's what I found:

Menards & Lowe's were pretty similar in offering virtually no green products, aside from compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Neither of them offered low VOC paint or dual flush toilets or recycled countertops or eco-friendly flooring or sustainable wood. And if they did, it was not noticeable to my discerning eye. Each had a little insulation that was friendlier than pink owens corning fiberglass, but they each had far more of the classic pink panther insulatino than any alternative. They had zero marketing that touted any products as eco-friendly. Not sure if I'm surprised or not and I'm curious to know what their target markets are. Menards seems to want to be a low-cost leader, so that kinda makes sense. I'd never been in a Lowe's before but had heard how their stores are nicer, so I guess I expected that they might be slightly more upscale than Menards. But I don't really know. Do you? I'll ask around.

Home Depot was slightly different, but in only one regard that I could find. When I asked someone to point me towards their insulation, the gentleman who helped me immediately offered up that they were no longer carrying the fiberglass blown-in type, opting instead for the cellulose because it's more green. He mentioned, without me asking, that HD is trying to go more green, so I asked him about low VOC paint. He said they used to offer some from Behr, but it was thin and low-quality and Behr has pulled it (or HD pulled it). But they still had none of the other benchmarks I was looking for.

Next I drove to Natural Built Home in Mpls, almost fearing what I might find. It exists in an unattractive storefront on a nice stretch of Minnehaha which blends a quality neighborhood with decent traffic flow. Decent location, but not optimal. As I entered, I was immediately struck by the presence of customers. Two groups of customers were working with the two salespeople on staff, and another person was milling around. However, I was also struck by the simplicity of the store. It is a pretty simple and small (1200 sq ft?), containing floor samples, cabinet samples, countertop samples, some low VOC paint and a couple dual flush toilets. The employees seemed very knowledgable as they were explaining the different products to the customers, but this store offered a different vibe from what we are envisioning in our Uptown store. No linens, no glassware, purely a place to order cabinetry, countertops, flooring, etc.

I returned home with a renewed hope that our store will be able to differentiate itself.

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