Is 2009 the Year of the Bath?

Shopping has always been a passion of mine, so none of my friends were particularly surprised when I began 2009 by announcing, “I’ve decided not to participate in the recession this year.” I was joking…sort of…but the truth is, I’m tired of not shopping. I’m tired of doing household chores on my vacation instead of actually going somewhere fun. And I’m sick to death of living with a leaky oil burner because “it’s a bad time to spend money.”

Like everyone else, I’m feeling the squeeze, worried about the economy, the rising unemployment rate and the fact that I’m probably not going to be able to retire until I’m 90.

Now, I’m practical enough to know that my dream vacation to Hawaii isn’t going to be happening any time soon. But the truth is, spending money makes me feel good (and it’s not just me: There’s science to support the chemical changes in your brain that happen when you shop, i.e. shopping = increased dopamine = feelings of happiness). So even if I have to downsize from a week in the tropics to a long weekend at a bed and breakfast in Vermont, I’m no longer willing to live on a perpetual austerity budget.

Fortunately for our industry, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, designers seem to be increasingly seeing a surge in bath projects (see related story, Page 50). That’s because even consumers who are watching their budgets more carefully still want the rush that comes with investing in something that makes them feel good. And a new bath is the perfect budget- conscious indulgence. A new bath offers a sense of luxury, serenity, calm. It provides a much needed retreat in an increasingly stressful time. It not only has resale value, it has here-and-now value.

And unlike a kitchen remodel, it usually involves a smaller space, which means it can generally be done with less money – without compromising on the use of luxury materials that provide “feel-good value.”

But aren’t people put off by the idea of spending any money in these difficult times? Well, they might be, if buying were strictly a rational decision. But a three-year, $7 million “neuromarketing” study has shown that, regardless of what they tell you, consumers make almost all buying decisions emotionally, not rationally (see related story, Page 32). And they make those decisions fast – if you can hit the right buttons.

So what does this mean to kitchen and bath dealers and designers? First off, it means it might be a good time to start focusing your efforts on your bath sales as an affordable luxury alternative to a pricier kitchen remodel (that can always come next year!).

Second, it’s a good idea to look at how you’re selling your bath projects to make sure you’re targeting the emotional aspect of the sale, not just the standard FABs.

So how do you do this? One way to appeal to a prospect’s emotions is to tie the sale to an evocative experience or ritual. For instance, bathrooms are where the ritual of “preparing for battle” takes place, wherein homeowners shower or bathe, brush their teeth, shave, groom themselves and get ready for the day ahead. By creating a beautiful, functional haven for this, you are empowering them to take control so they can meet the challenges of the day head on.

Another idea is to be sure your displays offer an experience, not just products. Since consumers are highly receptive to sensory stimulation, and that is enhanced dramatically when scent is added into the equation, showcasing completely accessorized bath displays with running water, scented soaps and beautifully appointed details can really bring the bath to life for them – and dramatically increase their desire to have such a bathing space for their own.
I’m not the only one with a passion for shopping, but these days, it may take a bit more “activation energy” to close the deal. The bottom line is that, if you want to win clients in these challenging times, you need to give them a reason not to participate in the recession.