Finding Profits in the New Economy

2010 may well be marking the dawn of a new era for kitchen design, which has clearly transitioned from years of uncompromised, “more-is-better” luxury to reflect homeowner spending patterns and design preferences more in tune with the realities of today’s economy.

That premise should come as no surprise to seasoned industry professionals, who’ve long been aware that kitchen and bath design always changes with the tenor of the times. Nevertheless, it still bears noting as kitchen and bath specialists try to wrap their arms around a market that’s a far cry from what it was in the industry’s boom years – and, for many designers, far less profitable.

That, too, is certainly no surprise.

Clearly, the pendulum has swung. Consumers are more frugal than they’ve been in years. Confidence is shaky. Credit is tight. Budgets, and kitchen footprints, have been reduced. Values have been reset. Conspicuous consumption is no longer “cool.” Discretionary purchases are being re-examined and deferred. Design, style and product preferences have changed. So have client expectations. Homeowners are searching for designers who are creative, but equally mindful of budgets that have been pinched.

Kitchen/bath designers need to adapt to all of this.

That, in essence, is the underlying message of a newly launched series of one-day seminars being brought to key markets in 2010 by Kitchen & Bath Design News, the NKBA, and a bevy of corporate sponsors.

The program – entitled “Profiting by Design…in the New Economy,” and led by well-known design authority Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID – pinpoints the most significant recession-bred changes in the collective consumer mindset. It also pinpoints ways that kitchen and bath designers can enhance profits by understanding what consumers are seeking and respond by designing “smarter.”

Among the tips Cheever offers are the following:

  • Rethink your approach to the design process. The luxury consumer’s impetus used to come from how much money they could spend. Today, it’s more about how “smart” they can be when making a purchase. Frame proposals by emphasizing why the investment is a smart one for clients to make.
  • Be prepared to be challenged to discount your price or match a lower estimate. Develop negotiating skills and understand that negotiation is a process in which mutual interests are met through an agreement – rather than merely a series of compromises in which one party “wins” and the other one “loses.”
  • Work with the products and planning standards most familiar to you, while remaining focused on developing a solution that is unique, special and affordable. Present space-planning and product specifications in an “options” format, using a “stepped” approach that goes from the simplest solution to the most desirable.
  • Learn how to sell against new competitive threats, including e-commerce businesses, by truly connecting with the customer, developing a relationship, thoroughly explaining design and product benefits, and demonstrating the value of your expertise and guidance.
  • Strengthen your consultative design skills and understand that, often, consumers are not looking for the best possible choice – they’re simply trying to avoid making a poor choice. Presentations should focus, among other things, on limiting the risks involved in major kitchen/bath remodeling projects.

Design professionals would be well-advised to heed Cheever’s advice, and change with today’s times.

They’d be equally well-advised to attend one of Cheever’s all-day seminars, earn some valued CEU credits – and walk away armed with a briefcase full of ideas about how to generate profits in an economy that’s proving both challenging and promising.