Tough Times Call for Creative Planning

What do cooking classes, gasoline cards, social networking and giant yellow kayaks have in common? While there aren’t many obvious similarities on the surface, all three are actually valuable tools that kitchen and bath dealers are using to promote their businesses in an increasingly challenging economy.

The financial crisis is a very real part of doing business today, and savvy kitchen and bath professionals have learned that in a tough market, it’s imperative to stand out. That may mean offering products that no one else has, providing educational opportunities that aren’t available elsewhere, creating one-of-a-kind signature pieces or coming up with stand-out marketing ideas that run the gamut from clever to downright zany.

As one designer recently told me, “No one is just walking in looking for a regular kitchen anymore. Even at the high end, the customers I see want to be given a reason to remodel their kitchen or bath, beyond just the desire for an upgrade. They want more value, and by value, I don’t mean a cheaper price. Rather, they’re looking for intangibles, something unique, whether that’s the product, the design or the experience.”

Interestingly, despite doom and gloom financial projections, the dealers and designers KBDN spoke with this month seemed to be tapping into a wealth of creative sales and promotional ideas, and as a result, many are seeing surprisingly positive results.

One example of this came in the form of a company that ran a promotion promising a free kayak with every kitchen purchase. The bright yellow kayaks made a big splash in the showroom, and on the road, where they sat prominently atop the firm’s vans, garnering notice and attention wherever they went (see Marketing Magic).

In a summer when soaring gas prices put the kibosh on travel for many homeowners, a time-sensitive promotion offering a $100 gas card to those buying a new kitchen revved up store traffic for another firm.

Then there’s the kitchen dealer who started up a special “Friends of Kitchen Living” group on the networking site in order to create a virtual discussion group for past and future clients, where group members could access everything from design tips to client references to a general discussion forum (see Internet Connections).

Of course, clever promotions and well-thought-out educational outreach are only part of the solution. Customer service is always of key importance, and in a tough market, superior service becomes more critical than ever, as consumers often require that psychological boost to push them over the edge so they can feel good about making a major purchase.

Remember, too, that selling kitchens and baths involves many hidden complexities, and as with any decision that plays to the psyche, disadvantages can sometimes be turned to advantages when shown in the right light.

Consider this: Historically speaking, fantasy has always been at its most appealing during tough times. Hollywood gained special prominence during the Great Depression. TV’s magic originally came from its ability to transport people to a safer, happier place. And people are most likely to escape into books, plays or other forms of fantasy entertainment when they need a release from the stresses of the day.

For that reason, it’s important to remember that a big part of what you sell is fantasy...and how you sell it can affect how large or small the impact of the economy on your sales. While products can be seen, touched and enjoyed, a kitchen or bath remodel is far more than the sum of its parts. Especially in tough times, consumers don’t buy products as much as they buy the comforts of home and family, the luxury of a private haven, and the magic of a safe space that speaks to who they are and who they hope to be.

In the end, those who sell just kitchens and baths may struggle, but the ones who sell dreams will be more likely to remain strong, now and into the future.