Who's Getting a Boost From Downturn: Do-it-Yourselfers

DIY Spirit Pervading Numerous Categories Could Last for Years

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Consumers with less money in their pockets and more time on their hands because of the recession seem to present a big opportunity for do-it-yourself propositions of all kinds.

BRIGHT SPOTS
Opportunities for the marketing and media industries in an otherwise bleak year
Thom Blischok, president-consulting and innovation for Information Resources Inc., sees a cross-category DIY trend that could linger well into the next decade, one of several ritual changes produced by restrained consumer spending, which he said he expects to last four to eight years. Here are some of the brands and businesses already benefiting.

AUTOZONE
As the Dow Jones Industrial Average traded at an 11-year low last week, AutoZone hit an all-time high, above $155. With most retailers' sales down, AutoZone's fourth-quarter same-store sales rose 6%, and earnings per share rose 21%. Sales growth actually improved as the quarter progressed, as more people apparently were fixing or maintaining their own cars.

That left Chairman-CEO William Rhodes talking down expectations on a March 3 conference call with analysts. He noted that some of AutoZone's growth came from improved market share and that a decline in miles driven remained a headwind for the chain.

HOME HAIR CARE
As the recession worsens, sales of Procter & Gamble Co.'s Clairol have continued to rise about 6% so far this year, similar to 2008, according to IRI data from Deutsche Bank. And after years of volume declines for the hair-coloring category, volume was essentially flat last year and up 2.9% in the four weeks ended Feb. 22, though that was driven in part by heavy promotion, as category sales declined 1.6% for the period. Also helping: Clairol's Perfect 10 hair coloring, launched in 2007 at a roughly 50% premium on the rest of the Nice & Easy lineup.

The flight from salons also appears to be helping Alberto-Culver Co.'s Nexxus, despite prices rising to a stratosphere of near $20 for some products at mass retail. Nexxus had double-digit sales growth in the fourth quarter despite a hair-care category that was down overall on both a volume and a dollar basis year over year. Casey Keller, U.S. president of Alberto-Culver, said more people styling at their home and visiting salons less frequently may be a factor.

HOME COOKING (AND SOUP)
At Campbell Soup Co., food-service sales were down 7% last quarter, while sales of soup to retailers were up 4% as the recession saw more people eating at home -- and more cheaply. That retail number would have been about three percentage points higher if it weren't for recession-racked retailers cutting back inventories, particularly of condensed soup, according to Campbell. Consumer purchases of soup in all retail channels rose 8% in the second half of 2008, Chairman-CEO Doug Conant said on a Feb. 5 conference call with analysts.

Campbell rival Progresso appears to be doing better as well. General Mills Chairman-CEO Kendall Powell said on a December conference call that Progesso's market share was up 1.6 points through the first half of the company's fiscal year.

COOKING SCHOOLS
Of course, a lot of that trend toward home cooking involves a shift from precut, prepared meals assembled in a chain restaurant kitchen to precut, prepared meals heated in the home microwave. Yet NPR's Marketplace reports a boom in attendance at cooking schools for the culinarily challenged, citing rising attendance around Portland, Ore., including at a school run by a former Rand Corp. economist who saw which way the economy was headed.

WEBMD
The do-it-yourself trend appears to extend, perhaps ominously, to medical care. IRI's Mr. Blischok believes more consumers are visiting sites such as WebMD in lieu of going to the doctor.

Data from Compete appear to bear him out. They show a significant jump in U.S. traffic to WebMD starting in September, just as the collapse of the stock market and unemployment rates accelerated. In all, Compete shows WebMD traffic up more than 40% to 21.7 million from September to January.

A WebMD spokeswoman wasn't sure if that was linked to the economy. But in a conference call with analysts on fourth-quarter results, WebMD CEO Wayne Gattinella noted a 21% increase in traffic from a year ago to 54 million overall, adding that the company had spent "zero" on traffic-acquisition efforts.

HOWCAST
Howcast, a website launched earlier this year by two former Google executives and devoted to how-to videos, may also be benefiting from the DIY trend. After a flat-ish summer, Howcast's traffic surged starting in September as the economy worsened, more than doubling to 230,000 by January. Then again, the site's not all about saving money. The top search phrase driving traffic there is "how to have sex," per Compete.

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