We are witnesses to an exciting time. Even with the recent economic downturn, many changes are occurring in the way consumers participate in the kitchen and bath marketplace. Some of these include the way consumers access information, shop for products, desire to lead the purchase process and control more of the buying process. This trend will continue to affect how buying occurs.
For example, consumers are more autonomous than ever, pumping their own gas, being their own bank teller and utilizing the self-checkout feature offered at some stores. The group most interested in self-service is known as
“Generation Now.” At 84 million strong, these consumers – aged 13 to 32 – are now considering their first home purchase in their late twenties. Their name outlines their expectations: They want what they want and they want it now. This demand will drive change that must be addressed by each and every one of us. Specifically, they will look to retail to give them an “experience” of the products and services they will consider for their homes.
How will our industry address this imminent change? When and how will we make a meaningful connection to consumers? With these questions in mind, I recently had the opportunity to experience a noteworthy innovation during my travels abroad.
Know your Client
Blum, Inc., a worldwide market supplier of hinges, drawer and lift systems for the cabinet industry, is headquartered in Hoechst, Austria. Founded in 1952, this cutting-edge company has never let age and experience get in its way.
The leaders of Blum are fully invested in innovation, research, development and the consumer. This commitment ensures Blum’s position as a leader in creating new products that keep our industry vital for a world of cabinetry makers.
Six years ago, Blum’s innovation-based consumer research led to the creation of a unique consumer experience the company calls “Dynamic Space.” The concept represents 25 years of kitchen observation and two years studying the types of items consumers need to store in their kitchens, in hopes of learning more about their needs. From this research, Blum learned much about the planning zones within the kitchen – from the consumer’s view, not the designer’s rules – and what needs to be addressed in these zones.
The concept alone is intriguing, but what Blum has done with it provides a valuable lesson that dealers can incorporate into their own showrooms. The company, whose focus always has been function, has applied its knowledge to a consumer-centric “experience center,” located in its Dornbirn, Austria showroom.
What makes Blum’s showroom experience so noteworthy is the live and three-dimensional aspect of it. Operating on the premise that all consumers are interested in function, Blum has made it possible for them to create their kitchen and see for themselves how it would work – or not work.
At one end of the showroom, there is a 30'x30' wide-open space with 23 typically sized, well selling, white kitchen cabinets placed atop large casters so one person can move them easily. Aesthetic style is not a priority, however, since the focus here is function. All of the cabinetry, of course, is equipped with Blum’s precision hardware and interior storage and organization solutions, such as cutlery trays, spice racks and slide-outs. The best part is that everything is situated atop large-scale casters for ease in maneuverability, for a literal “test drive” experience.
Seeing it for myself, it occurred to me that the experience Blum offers is actually fun for consumers. They are encouraged to arrange the cabinet boxes on casters to re-create their floor plan and immediately – the demand of Generation Now – experience the kitchen. And since Blum does not sell directly to consumers, all this “play” is accomplished with very little sales pressure.
“Our intention is to learn what is important to the consumer, and this 3-D tool allows them to think out their problems through physical movements. We learn and they learn,” said Karl Ruedisser, president/CEO of Blum, Inc. “We still have to get to know more about the consumer and the kitchen user to provide the best product possible.”
Blum averages one consumer test drive per day. Most consumers come into the 3-D planning area with anything from a hand sketch to an official designer’s layout. Ruedisser says showroom visitors are pleased to be able to see physically what their plan looks like. They can understand the gaps that must be filled in, such as drawer clearances, adjacencies and cooking functionality.
The 2,000-sq.-ft. showroom also includes the typical areas – a reception area, a small waiting area with soft seating and a range of fully propped displays to explain products so the consumer can experience their features and benefits.
“The average time a consumer spends in our concept store is at least one hour,” Ruedisser said. “That is a lot of time thinking about function. And we know they leave intending to buy more and better than they thought they could have because their experience was meaningful to them.”
With more than 2,000 visitors the first year and 3,000 the second, the Dynamic Space experience has been a benefit for Blum. “We know it is working because of the referrals,” Ruedisser said. “Consumers are telling their friends and family, because we are seeing an increase in participation.”
The goal of Dynamic Space goes beyond increased sales. Blum hopes it will be a tool that can contribute to the industry. The idea is that by bringing greater meaning to the kitchen planning and purchasing process, we all become – and stay – more focused on the consumer.
As kitchen and bath professionals, it is in our best interest to consider breaking free from our traditional ways of doing business to stay relevant and competitive. Whether in the home or showroom, we must think of the kitchen as a space to be experienced.
Competition for consumers’ discretionary income is tough, but the opportunity for capturing more of those hard-earned dollars still exists. If this concept intrigues you, perhaps it is time to consider your own consumer experience center and how you can make it competitive and relevant to your consumer.