Home Depot Can Teach You How to Use a Tape Measure

CC BY 2.0. Personal Creations

You know, in case you're like so many other Millennials who haven't learned basic life skills.

When my husband and I bought our first house, we realized with a shock that we needed to buy a whole range of tools with which to do things around the house -- a hammer and nails to hang paintings, a vacuum and mop to clean, and a lawnmower once the grass reached indecent heights. The challenges didn't end with the purchases, however; we then had to figure out how to use many of these tools, which usually meant phone calls to our fathers, both of whom embody the definition of 'handy.'

We are not the only ones. Millennials now represent the largest demographic in the United States. The biggest single age bracket is 26 years old, with 4.8 million of those youngsters roaming the nation. Many are not well-versed in the art of DIY (beyond Pinterest projects, that is), which has home improvement retailers in a tizzy.

The Wall Street Journal has written about the difference in marketing to "Wannabe Willies", as opposed to the "Eddie Experts" of bygone generations. There was a time when a person walked into a store like Home Depot and knew how to manipulate the vast majority of the tools on display, but that's not the case anymore.

Home Depot, in fact, has released a series of how-to videos aimed at Millennials, walking them through basic operating skills. And when they say basic, they mean very, very basic -- as in, how to use a tape measure. (Tutorials on power drills, circular saws, and nail guns are slightly more esoteric.) Even Home Depot's marketing executives were uncertain about how the DIY videos would be taken, worried that they seemed too condescending:

Lisa DeStefano, VP of marketing, initially hesitated looking over the list of proposed video lessons, chosen based on high-frequency online search queries. "Were we selling people short? Were these just too obvious?" she says she asked her team. On the tape-measure tutorial, "I said 'Come on, how many things can you say about it?'"

I watched the tape measure tutorial (below) and must say I learned a few things, such as how to add the case length to a wall measurement (I always fought to bend the tape to fit the full distance) and how to trace a perfect circle. I won't be admitting this to my carpenter father, though.

Home furnishings store West Elm now offers in-house service packages that will hang paintings, install TVs, even do plumbing and electrical work. J.C Penney has expanded into home services, including furnace and A/C repair and window coverings. Scotts Miracle-Gro teaches Millennials how to mow a lawn properly and that houseplants require adequate sunlight to survive.

It all sounds a bit stupid, but we're talking about an entire generation that has somehow failed to learn practical skills over the course of nearly three decades. (Or, one could ask, have they failed to be taught?) Says Jim King, VP of corporate affairs for Scotts:

"They grew up playing soccer, having dance recitals and playing an Xbox. They probably didn’t spend as much time helping mom and dad out in the yard as their predecessors."

What's unfortunate is that not expecting kids to do things around the house has resulted in a generation that's slower at achieving independence. When one lacks the skills to survive on one's own, it makes the world seem like a scary place.

"In 2016, just 24% of 25- to 34-year-olds had experienced all four of what the Census Bureau called major life milestones: having lived away from parents, having been married, having lived with a child and being in the labor force." (Compare that to 45 percent in 1975.)

Lack of skills notwithstanding, I find the retailers' concerns a bit difficult to understand. Why? Because Millennials like to spend money. They tend to have access to cheap credit and are driven by idealistic social media-worthy interiors when it comes to setting up their own spaces. They're far more likely to throw money at their homes to resolve any issues than previous generations were, so, really, retailers are poised to benefit far more than lose market share, as long as they can make the young snowflakes' transition to reality as smooth, fun, and Instagrammable as possible.