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Planning for 2021: Data on How Your Building Materials Audience Has Changed

Over the last several months, we’ve conducted research about the dramatic shifts currently occurring in the building materials market. After surveying over 2,000 DIYers and professionals, we’ve gained essential insights on how your products are being found and why they’re being purchased — and how to fix it if they aren’t.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, we talked with Grant Farnsworth of The Farnsworth Group about what the collected data from our research says: about the building materials industry, your customers and how your business can stay ahead of it all.

What We Found Out About Building Materials Customers This Year

Industry professionals, companies and customers have all experienced unprecedented change this year.

As a result, Venveo has partnered with The Farnsworth Group over the last several months, conducting research to put together a 2020 building products customer guide to help you successfully market and sell your building materials in this new normal.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about what’s going to change,” explains Beth. “We thought about how we set manufacturers up for success in this completely upside-down world, that will potentially stay upside down, maybe for a significant amount of time, when it comes to selling building materials.”

Manufacturers and building materials organizations need a way to navigate business decisions when things are upside down. Having data to back up your decisions makes that a little less daunting.

The data collected from over 1,000 DIYer and homeowners and almost 775 professionals provided some significant insights.

“We're certainly seeing some changes in behaviors right now,” says Grant. “They’re a little bit different than what we've seen in the last 10 years when we would’ve been in a healthy market.”

Here are some of the things we learned about brand, channel and media.

Customers Are Trying New Brands More Than Ever

108 Customers Are Trying New Brands More Than Ever

“This availability and supply chain issue right now is causing a lot of shift in every aspect of our industry,” says Grant.

So, it wasn't a surprise to Grant that a brand shift took place as a result. DIYers, homeowners and pros started finding new brands to buy from online.

“We saw all the respondents satisfied with the new brand that they tried for the first time compared to a brand that they've known, compared to a brand that they've used, and we didn't really see any category that was excluded,” explains Grant.

For Beth, this means that a historically inflexible industry is starting to become more flexible. If you are one of those smaller brands, the doors are opening.

“I'm really excited to see what happens as these smaller brands, these challenger brands, get a little bit of fire under them,” says Beth. “They're like, ‘This is it, guys. This is our year.’ People are used to change. We're going back to that builder, who we've called on a 100 times and have been rejected a 100 times. I'm going for 101.”

If you are one of those ubiquitous brands, the "Kleenex" in your product category, you are starting to probably feel the heat from some of the smaller brands.

“What are those things that the big brands need to do?” says Beth. “If you want to hold your spot, you need to make no assumptions. Take nothing for granted about what's coming for you in 2021 and get your innovation engines running.”

The brand shift is creating opportunities and giving your customers more options.

“Competition is good because there's room,” says Beth. “There's actually room for everyone to be successful.”

A True Manufacturer-Supplier Partnership Is Critical

The report on 2020 purchasing behavior also revealed some surprising insights about channel this year.

According to the data, the average number of suppliers used by both DIYers and pros has slightly declined during the pandemic. “What we saw this year is over 30% of DIYers and over 30% of pros have made some sort of channel shift just within the last six months,” says Grant.

What does that mean for building material manufacturers that need to sell their products? You need to think about the channels you’re using to sell, especially online.

“If 2020 has not changed the conversations and pressure you're getting about e-commerce and channel conflict, I think you have to flip the script,” says Beth.

Even if it means having difficulty conversions and working through channel conflict.

“We've always believed that rising tides lift all ships,” says Beth. “And if this isn't proof positive of that situation, I mean, I don't even know how to end that sentence because it just seems so transparent to me. I don't want to zoom over the nuance that has to go on there, but it feels clear like e-commerce should benefit everybody.”

The partnership between a manufacturer and a supplier has never been more crucial.

“So this expectation of, ‘Oh, we're just going to have this little blip on the screen for three to six months because people are at home and they're bored and it's all going to come to a screeching halt, go away.’ It’s not,” explains Grant. “It's not going away and it's not going to anytime soon.

“So the longer I think our manufacturers and suppliers wait to come together to figure this out together, the more opportunity they're going to miss out on,” he adds. “This isn't about e-commerce for us, this is about commerce. This is about the customer experience, and this is about sales. There is no online is here, in-store is here. It's all a part of one journey and it's about reducing that friction.”

Brands can partner with their suppliers by supporting them in a few ways.

“They likely have the platforms to complete these transactions to get the materials there,” says Grant. “But they need content. They need support. Just make sure your suppliers have the right SKUs, the right descriptors, the right specs, the right inventory levels, all that good stuff. Work together and everyone's going to win.”

Brands Are More Successful When They Deliver Value (Not Just Products)

Brands can create an engaging online shopping experience for their customers, even if their product isn’t in retail stores.

“There are things that brands can do if they can't be on the shelf right then and there,” says Grant. “We’re starting to kind of set a framework and great case study for how to manage through this climate, if you want to still maintain brand, share brand awareness, brand perception without physically being there right away.”

For some brands, that could mean changing their marketing and sales strategies to include more digital offerings for customers: offering downloadable media, automated email marketing, customer chat support or product configurators.

“There's new marketing that has to be done today,” says Zach. “We have to look at what the market’s doing because there's been such a big shift so quickly. We have to figure out how we want to be positioned in the market right now.”

When it comes to availability, it is a theme that is transcending across all areas of business and customer experience. It is also something that brands are hesitant to talk about.

One brand you can draw inspiration from outside the building materials space that addresses availability well is Nugget, a highly-sought-after modular play couch for kids.

108 Nuggets Website


Nugget is transparent about their lack of availability. “They lean into the scarcity of their product, they've actually basically created a cult following,” explains Beth.

“Instead of people being constantly annoyed that they're out of stock, it's actually the exact reverse where people treat it like midnight when Super Bowl Tickets go on sale,” she adds. “They are on their computers, frantically clicking 'buy now' hoping that they can purchase it. They actually have a lotto. That's how scarce it is...They are selling out their inventory 100% of the time.”

This experience is what many of today’s shoppers now expect when they’re browsing on an e-commerce site.

Marketing Building Materials in the New Now

How customers are finding products and making purchases for their home improvement projects has changed in 2020. “Right now, we've got data that says that half are buying the materials online, half are going in store. It's a pretty big online group.”

Customers are spending a considerable amount of time researching products online, and they’ve also had more time for DIY projects while staying at home this year. So it’s important for brands to invest further in their online presence and enhance their digital marketing in a way that helps their customers most.

Grant offers what brands need to consider when making improvements to their website, and suggested that they reflect on the following questions:

  • “How are you reaching those folks, knowing that you can't reiterate your brand message through point of purchase at the store?”
  • “What happens when they're no longer going to the store, or they're not going quite as often?”
  • “What if they're relying either on other suppliers or other methods to get information?”

One of the most successful online brands has been Home Depot. There are several digital marketing tactics they are using that makes the home improvement brand a top player in the game.

“They've got chat. They've got email. They've got texts. They've got a phone number you can call right away,” says Zach. “They’re also set up so that I can buy a product online, get it shipped to my house, or I can pick up my order at the store.”

It is about convenience, access to information and providing an experience that customers want and expect.

How Building Materials Brands Can Adapt

108 How Building Materials Brands Can Adapt

This year brought unexpected changes in how the building materials industry does business, from e-commerce to supply channels to product availability.

“It's a reminder to a lot of manufacturers and a lot of suppliers that the digital experience is critical when it comes to information capture on their customer,” says Grant. “It's two to three times more important than in-store.”

The in-store experience has become almost a validation or supplemental to what takes place before a customer even sets foot in a store.

The best thing building material manufacturers can do right now is to spend time understanding their customers, what information they’re after, and how they shop.

Want Even MORE Insight?

How is your brand preparing for the digital landscape of 2021?

“This is a critical time to really dig deep into customer behaviors, dig deep into brand, dig deep into your specific category, your customer, and your products … because they all don't behave the same,” Grant says.

For more data and insights on your customers, visit, to access the full building products customer guide that we talked about in this episode.

You’ll also be able to download the recording of the strategy workshop, where we break down the data to understand how customers are shopping, why the market has changed and how brands can adapt in 2021.