Spring is 'Back to School' Time

There's something about April that always reminds me of "back to school." Sure, the weather is getting warmer, not colder, and flowers are blooming rather than leaves falling. But there's a rebirth that occurs in spring, not only in nature, but in our industry, as we celebrate the start of the spring remodeling season and the launch of so many new and exciting products. It's a chance for new beginnings, new fashion, new product offerings and new learning opportunities.

In the kitchen and bath industry, spring is also a time for major trade shows. From the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) and ISH to smaller shows like the Architectural Digest Home Design Show, there's a plethora of opportunities to go "back to school," whether it be by attending seminars, learning about new trends and technologies or establishing new relationships and industry partnerships.

But for all the newness that this time of year brings, it's also a good time to get back to basics. And while fashion, technology and even the economic climate seem to be perpetually in flex, the basics really don't change all that much.

This point was driven home in Mary Jo Peterson's "Planning & Design" column this month, where she shared her insights about the Museum of Modern Art's 1920s Frankfurt Kitchen display. As dated as the tiny kitchen space is, it still offers some surprisingly relevant lessons about functionality (see Planning & Design).

"Back to school" also seemed to be the theme of Ellen Cheever's "Designers' Notebook" story this month, which looked at Bath Ergonomics 101. As designers are increasingly asked to create "dream baths" working with more limited budget and space constraints, it's good to have a primer to review some basic planning issues, taking into account human anatomy considerations, safety tips, space-saving design details and more.

Universal Design was also the topic of a recent panel discussion that included designers Florence Perchuk and Mary Jo Peterson, among others. They addressed attendees at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show about both the fashion and function of Universal Design.

But as much as spring seems like a time for celebrating design, it's also a time to review financial issues. For a lot of us, simply filing our tax forms is a good reminder that our take-home isn't what it used to be - and that becoming more profitable is critical going forward. For many designers, that means enhancing their overall business skills and, specifically, reevaluating their profit margins.

Of course it's not easy to keep profit margins up when consumers are convinced that there are "deals to be had." And it doesn't help that many firms are encouraging this new "bargain-hungry" consumer by trying to undercut all the competition - even if it means accepting profit margins that make no financial sense whatsoever.

In his "Bettering Your Bottom Line" column, Ken Peterson offers scripts to help address client objections relating to competitors' price-cutting strategies.

One of his key suggestions - to use your expertise to make yourself a trusted adviser and consultant to your clients - was clearly taken to heart by Susan and Armand Rocco of The Kitchenworks Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The husband-and-wife design team parlayed their firm's appliance expertise into an online appliance magazine that has earned the firm national recognition - and customers - at a time when appliance sales were sagging (see Industry Profile).

While it's been a long, cold winter for many of us, there's no question that spring is finally in the air. And whether you're attending KBIS or ISH, reexamining your product mix, rethinking your showroom or just going over your financials with your accountant, remember that spring is a great time to get "back to school" and review the basics of good design - and good business.

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