It’s long been said that the Information Highway will forever change the way we do business – and in many ways, it certainly has. The Internet has dramatically altered the kitchen and bath landscape, allowing instant access to a plethora of information and making any-time communication as easy as typing up an e-mail and hitting the send button.
But while kitchen and bath professionals spend more time online than ever before communicating with clients, researching products, marketing their services and seeking out new business, the Internet is only one tool in an arsenal of many, dealers and designers agree. And while its use continues to grow, it is not the only – or even always the preferred – avenue for garnering product and other information in the kitchen and bath industry.
Rather, kitchen and bath professionals seem to be focusing on multiple channels for researching products and furthering their industry knowledge.
That’s according to an independent survey of kitchen and bath dealers and designers conducted by The Wayman Group, Inc., based in Cedarhurst, NY. The study polled some 567 National Kitchen & Bath Association members about their online usage, views on technology, favored methods for researching product information and more.
There’s no question that kitchen and bath professionals are spending more time online than ever before, using the Internet to conduct a wide variety of business activities. But while dealers and designers enjoy an increasingly high degree of technological savvy, communication is still the number one activity they use the Internet for.
Indeed, some 89% of those surveyed said they go online to communicate with clients, while 75% said they use the Internet to communicate with subcontractors and installers (see Graph 1).
Nearly two-thirds (66%) use the Internet to do market and product research, while 45% go online to read news updates and e-mail articles to colleagues. Marketing is also getting a high-tech spin, with 38% of those surveyed stating that they do their marketing online, while 33% search for new clients online and attend Webinars to further their education.
Less common, but still on the radar were live Webcasts/feeds, which were cited by 17% of those polled as an online activity they engage in to enhance their business knowledge.
Additionally, the growth of social networking sites has begun to make inroads into professional realms as well, with increasing numbers of kitchen and bath dealers and designers spending time on such sites as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. While many of these sites cater more to social needs rather than professional ones, a number of users combine professional and social networking, whether it’s “tweeting” about work-related topics, posting pictures of jobs in progress or sharing professional information with their contacts. Many of these sites also offer the capacity to share articles, and kitchen and bath professionals seem to be taking advantage of this, with 16% saying they share industry-related articles via social networking sites.
With so many functions that can be performed online, it should come as no surprise that kitchen and bath dealers and designers are going online multiple times a day. In fact, 29% of those polled go online 4-6 times per day, and another 22% go online 10-12 times per day (see Graph 2). By contrast, only 18% of those surveyed say they go online 1-3 times per day, while 19% go online 20 times a day or more.
One of the greatest benefits of the Internet is the ability to have instant access to a wealth of information. Since the kitchen and bath industry is so product driven, with new products coming out daily, it makes sense that dealers and designers enjoy researching products online so they can stay up-to-the-minute on what’s new and exciting.
Indeed, when asked to compare how much time they spend researching products online as compared to last year, 67% said they spend more time, 26% said they spend the same amount of time and only 7% said they spend less time (see Graph 3).
Nor does it look like this trend is waning any time soon. When asked how they expect their time online researching products this year to compare to how much time they anticipate spending online researching products next year, the majority (52%) said they expect that it will increase (see Graph 4). By contrast, only 5% anticipate spending less time, while 43% expect to spend the same amount of time.
But while the Internet is clearly a much-valued resource for product research, it’s certainly not the only one kitchen and bath dealers and designers rely on. In fact, when asked to cite what they see as the most useful resources for product information, the number one choice wasn’t the Internet at all. Of those polled, the most commonly noted source was kitchen and bath trade magazines, cited by 85% of those surveyed, compared to 76% who saw the Internet as a top production information source (see Graph 5).
Industry trade shows (62%) and manufacturers’ catalogues (60%) were also cited by the vast majority of respondents as top sources for product information. Nearly half of those polled (48%) noted sales reps as a key product information source, while 25% listed distributors and 22% noted general interest magazines as top product information sources.
A mere 7% viewed direct mail as a key source for product information, while 4% cited audio/ visual training tapes as an important product information source.
So what does all of this mean in the greater scheme of things? It’s clear from the survey results that the Internet is, and will continue to be, an essential resource for industry professionals. But it’s equally clear that kitchen and bath professionals recognize the importance of using multiple sources to meet their product and information needs, and will continue to do so into the future.