New Opportunities in the New Year

Patricia Gaylor has a healthy perspective on today’s kitchen and bath market – the right outlook, and the right approach, for coping with a business environment that’s certain to present both challenges and opportunities in 2010.

A New Jersey designer who has navigated her business through ups and downs, Gaylor sees the New Year as a time for industry pros to take a collective breath, remain positive and focus on their core values – yet make the changes needed to flourish in a market that remains volatile, fast-changing and down markedly from past highs.

In other words, focus on the opportunities 2010 presents – not merely on the challenges.

Gaylor’s advice should be seriously considered. That’s because analysts are projecting, at best, only a modest rebound in the housing and remodeling markets this year – what’s likely the start of a long, uphill climb fueled by an improving economy, pent-up demand, a stabilization of house prices and positive affordability factors (see Forecast 2010, Page 36).

In the meantime, kitchen/bath design firms will no doubt be forced to slug it out again in 2010, coping with a market that’s presented a wide range of challenges, including revenue declines that have led, for many, to a downsizing of staff, showroom space, marketing outlays and other expenditures.

So what, exactly, are the opportunities?

One, of course, is the opportunity to rethink – and perhaps reinvent – your business to reflect the market’s new, and perhaps permanent, realities.

A growing number of dealers are reporting, for example, that they’ve adopted strategies focused on honing their management practices and financial controls, while placing a renewed emphasis on “up-selling” and customer service initiatives. Others are diversifying into new products, market niches and trading areas. Still others have retooled their offerings to include handyman services, prepackaged kitchens and baths, and partial renovations such as countertop replacement or tile work.

Critical to this is the recognition that the slumping economy has impacted consumers’ values and buying patterns. While many are deferring high-end, discretionary projects until conditions improve, a growing number are abandoning the “uncompromised” kitchens that marked the industry’s boom years. In contrast, emphasis now is on smaller spaces, accessibility, organization, Universal Design, and projects that focus on “green” – renewable materials that promote energy efficiency and provide environmental sustainability.

Design firms should seize these opportunities.

While marketing should not be cut to the bone – a common knee-jerk reaction to a downturn – design firms would be wise to examine their return on investment from traditional media, while focusing on grass roots marketing efforts such as home shows, open houses, seminars and cooking demonstrations. A similar effort should be made to garner new ideas by attending trade shows and networking with other industry professionals through social networks.

Perhaps it’s most important to remember, however, that while 2010 may signal a time for change, it’s also a time to remain consistent and strong in your commitment to quality, professionalism and integrity.

The kitchen and bath industry may never see the early-2000s boom ever again. But savvy professionals will prevail by adjusting as necessary, while never compromising who they are.

Cling to the core values that made you the success you are. Honesty, professionalism and integrity are still the most valuable commodities in business.

That will never change, regardless of the economy.