Springtime, and Recovery, in the Air

The first real signs of a springtime thaw are in the air, finally, across some parts of the country - a welcome respite from the heavy snow and deep freeze of a difficult winter some of us thought would never end.

At the same time, a growing number of signs are pointing toward an equally welcome thaw in the economic deep freeze that has crippled housing and hamstrung the kitchen and bath industry for what seems, to many, like a lifetime.

According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, for example, kitchen and bath dealers have embraced 2011 with a spring-like sense of optimism, sparked by a reported recent pickup in both showroom traffic and sales volume.

In fact, the NKBA's Kitchen & Bath Market Index, a quarterly survey that measures dealer confidence, is up significantly over previous quarters, providing a hopeful sign that the industry is on a path toward recovery.

Indeed, the NKBA's latest survey - involving some 150 kitchen/bath dealers across North America - revealed that showroom visits in the fourth quarter of 2010 rose 38% from the previous quarter, and 21% from the same three-month period the previous year. Even greater increases were reported for kitchen/bath remodeling sales volume and average project price points.

And, just as encouragingly, most surveyed dealers reported they anticipate additional increases as 2011 heats up…presumably along with the spring and summer selling seasons.

This palpable sense of growing optimism is consistent with dealers participating in Kitchen & Bath Design News' “Market Pulse” feature this month, as well as with forecasts from other leading industry sources.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, for instance, housing is expected to see gradual improvement this year, establishing momentum that will produce even more substantive gains in 2012. At the same time, existing-home sales - fueled by exceptional affordability conditions - are on a decided uptick, according to the National Association of Realtors. And the U.S. home improvement industry is poised for no less than a decade of growth, according to a new report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University (see Barometers).

Even consumers are apparently feeling better about things. According to a newly released research initiative by Better Homes & Gardens magazine, for example, consumers are starting to give themselves “permission to dream” about buying a new home again, and for the first time since the onset of the recession are considering houses that are slightly larger than their existing homes (see Consumer Buying Trends).

All of this paints an encouraging picture on the eve of the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), set for next month in Las Vegas - and highlighted in KBDN's special Pre-Show Guide.

The timing - of both the show and the industry's current sentiment - couldn't possibly be better.

Let's hope that KBIS is as upbeat as the latest round of forecasts, a turning point for the industry that's as welcome as the warmer weather.

Springtime has always been a season of bold possibilities; a time of renewal, dreams and new beginnings.

Let's hope that holds true for a kitchen and bath industry that's been battered and scarred through a long, hard winter of downturn and discontent.