One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Can Anyone Direct Me to the Perfume Aisle?

If there is any one retail outlet more intimidating than the local giant home improvement warehouse hardware mecca, point it out, please. You can get lost just locating a shopping cart. One thing is certain: the target audience of these emporiums is heavily male. Now imagine you are asked to consult on a new brand of uber-spacious hardware paradise, this one targeting women. List at least twenty ideas to make the local oversized hardware warehouse appeal to a female demographic

Three Stories

I live in the Netherlands, and I can speak enough Dutch to manage most forms of shopping. Some years ago I went into the local hardware store, I knew exactly what I wanted, only I didn’t know what it was called because growing up I could just wander into my Dad’s workshop and pick up whatever tool or supply I needed. So I didn’t have the right vocabulary to even look stuff up in Dutch, I had to draw the thing I wanted, much to amusement of the sales guy. I wasn’t intimidated, but I have never felt so aware of “secret men’s business” as I did in that moment.

I was at a conference about branding and marketing, and the keynote speaker summed up marketing to women as “pink it and shrink it”.

Decades ago when I was deciding what to study an engineering recruiter pointed out that women who sew their own clothes, as I do, should be good at engineering since they’re already thinking about how to make flat surfaces (fabric) into three dimensional shapes (clothes).

I tell these stories to show that I recognise the male-bias in hardware stores, but I don’t want to solve it by the sexist cop-out of painting everything pink, and I think women have existing skills that make them capable of undertaking DIY projects.

My List

  1. Hire women. I was tempted to just repeat this 20 times. I don’t go to hardware stores all that often but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a woman working in one.
  2. Provide a creche, and a supervised playground. For a large emporium this is just good business, women will stay longer and buy more.
  3. Develop a visual glossary, a bit like the old “Point it” books for travellers, to help women find the tools and supplies they’re looking for without having to know all the specific vocabulary.
  4. Use the visual glossary on signs alongside words to make specific tools more recognizable.
  5. An app based on the visual glossary from which I can create a shopping list before I come to the store so that I can research and check what I want.
  6. A range of tool sizes – it’s much easier to swing a hammer that’s the right size for your hands.
  7. Offer DIY kits with step by step instructions, think IKEA and make it simple and visual.
  8. Offer beginner’s classes for specific build projects eg; “build a bookshelf in a day” and let these classes have a social element. Women who are into craft often enjoy crafting together.
  9. Provide tools and supplies for advanced projects – don’t assume all women are beginners
  10. Promote women-based DIY businesses to customers.
  11. Offer trade discounts to women working in DIY comparable to other mega-hardware stores.
  12. Create a community online where your customers can talk about their projects and share their progress and results, refer to for examples.
  13. Train all your staff that women are becoming experts in DIY. If a man and a woman are shopping together, don’t assume that it’s the man doing the project and speak only to him.
  14. Trolleys that are ergonomically fit for women to use.
  15. Hire women experts to demonstrate how tools work, how to complete projects.
  16. Profile successful customer projects on your site/app.
  17. Carry a range of work clothes that fit women, from gloves to overalls, with lots of pockets. Have a range of colours – not all pink.
  18. Keep shelving at a reasonable height, adjust shelves so that 80% of women can reach them.
  19. Hire women. It’s worth repeating.
  20. Good coffee.

This was easier than I expected, perhaps because I’ve been reading reviews of Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez about how the world is often built from a male perspective and the impact on women ranges from inconvenient (public toilets) to dangerous (medical diagnostics). As psychologists would say, I was slightly primed for this task.

It was still a fun and creative, but something else occurred to me, many of these steps would just be good for business.

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