Time to Head Back to School in 2011

With 2010 winding down and another New Year around the corner, it has become clear that we're facing an entirely new reality for the kitchen and bath industry...very different, and infinitely more challenging, than the market in which most design professionals cut their teeth.

That may be uncomfortable for many people, and difficult for others to accept - but it seems to be a cold-and-hard fact.

The industry's boom years, like those for housing, are clearly over - and unlikely to return any time soon. Consumers are no longer knocking down showroom doors as they charge, wallets wide open, into large-scale, luxury remodeling projects. Design professionals are no longer juggling a seemingly endless flow of profitable new work.

In contrast, the opposite is occurring.

Kitchen footprints, like home sizes and budgets, continue to shrink. Homeowner priorities, along with design and product preferences - and the very notion of "luxury" - have radically changed. Money is harder to come by, with credit often inaccessible and wealth losses in stocks and home equity reducing homeowner liquidity. Consumers, too, have changed; they're far more pragmatic, price-sensitive and risk-adverse than they were in the industry's halcyon days.

They're savers these days...not spenders.

Like it or not, 2011 promises more of the same: A market that, while recovering, presents new challenges, mandates new business paradigms, offers new opportunities and makes new demands.

Succeeding in 2011 will require design pros to think differently, design differently, market differently, sell differently, and manage their businesses differently than at any time in recent memory.

Similarly, it will require a keen understanding of the major forces reshaping today's market and today's consumer, as well as insights into new design and product trends, new buying patterns, new negotiating techniques, new sales strategies and new tactics for managing companies in the current business climate.

All of which leads to the dire need for education.

Kitchen & Bath Design News witnessed a recent surge in attendance for the eight-city seminar series KBDN produced in 2010 under the terms of separate alliances with the NKBA and the SEN Design Group - and thanks to the support of a dozen corporate sponsors, true champions of industry education.

That was encouraging. But it was only the beginning of another hoped-for new trend.

KBDN's 2010 educational initiative - aimed at increasing the design skills and business management acumen of dealers, designers and others - consisted of three separate one-day seminars: PROFITING BY DESIGN IN THE NEW ECONOMY, PROFITABLE SHOWROOM DESIGN and BUSINESS STRATEGIES FOR TODAY'S ECONOMY.

Two of those programs will be brought to the doorstep of the design trade in 2011, in cities that include Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Seattle, New York, Houston and Fort Myers, FL. An announcement with all of the details will made by KBDN next month.

Design professionals should give strong consideration to taking time out from their schedules, and stepping away from their businesses for one day in order to gain valuable insights that could last for years.

A new perspective is needed to cope with today's new reality. Dealers and designers should go back to school in order to attain the tools they need to remain viable in the months and years ahead.

In the meantime, here's wishing you all the best - health and happiness through the upcoming holiday season, and the best of luck in the New Year.