Dealers Share Strategies for Surviving Tough Times

Kitchen & Bath Design News recently posed the question to dealers and designers in the kitchen and bath industry: “How are the tough economic times impacting your business?” Following are some of their responses:

“Obviously, what’s going on is affecting business negatively. We’re in a recession, whether it meets the parameters of a recession or not. It’s a time where we have to buckle down and tighten up everywhere we can.

The economy definitely changes what and how clients spend. The market is smaller than it was even nine months ago. New-home construction is almost non-existent, at least in metro West Boston.

We are doing a lot of reaching out from a marketing standpoint. We are using the Internet to generate leads, getting back to basics, using mailers. The second edition of our newsletter will go out this fall. We’re trying a lot of different modes, reaching out to our client base, referrals and past clients, which now is the strongest part of our business. New business is hard to come by.

Price points definitely are a bigger point of competition, but not as much in the higher-end marketplace as the lower end.

David Bartlett, CKD, owner
Kitchen Center of Framingham
Framingham, MA

“We haven’t felt a major impact yet. Our area of coverage might be a bit wider than what it used to be, and we’ll travel a little further for jobs, but word-of-mouth is critical. Satisfying the customer you have is highly important.

One reason the economic crisis isn’t hurting us as much is we’re catering to the middle upper end of the marketplace, which isn’t impacted as much. We’re a small dealership. What happens for many doesn’t necessarily happen for all. Our marketplace may change, but we’re such a small player, we haven’t felt it so far.

The economic climate will probably make a difference in what clients are spending, but so far, we’re not seeing it. They may make a decision before they come in to remodel instead of buying a new house, but we never saw the decision. They came in when they were ready to remodel.”

Mike McAllister, owner
Riverside Kitchen Center
Mount Vernon, WA

“The climate is different than it’s been the 30 years I’ve been in the business. I’ve seen some recessions before, but I haven’t seen it like this. The phone isn’t ringing like it was. People are getting more bids. They’re more careful with their decisions than they’ve ever been. Election years are almost always economic downtimes for the industry.

The economic climate is definitely making a difference in what clients spend. People are being careful with their investments. It’s a wait-and-see attitude. It’s a buyer’s market right now and people who are buying are taking advantage of it. There’s more competition. A lot of the businesses that were doing fine three years ago are gone. Lakeland is a small city and you have to have a good reputation. You establish yourself and continue on. It’s like everything else, if you do a good job, the cream rises to the top.

You do things with integrity. You treat clients like you want to be treated and you’ll stay open. This attitude is why we’re still here. Our country is going to live through this, but we must have things reaffirmed sometimes. We have to rekindle the flame of confidence in the American consumer.”

Glenn Bridges, owner
Florida Kitchen & Bath Designs
Lakeland, FL

“We’ve seen a little slowdown, but not anything major. I haven’t seen the high-end market hit in the Dallas area in a major way. We’re still getting the remodel business. With a higher-end client, we’re also getting some new-build jobs.

With certain things, people are shopping the market. However, somebody who is going in to buy a high-end car is going in with specifics in mind. It’s the same with cabinetry or appliances. They’re going to go in with those products in mind.

Others will be holding out to do a kitchen remodel. What they do is going to be based on their price point [to a large extent].
We’re battling this economy with customer service. If you’re looking at a higher-end client, they go in with the idea of being pampered and taken care of. If you expect to get certain things, you expect to pay for those things. In our market with our clientele, money and budget are always important. Nobody wants to throw money away. However, the person who walks in to pay for a high-end item is also expecting everything that goes along with paying top dollar for a luxury product.”

Alison Gillespie, Designe
The Kitchen Source
Dallas, TX

“The economy needs some positive mental input. There’s a tremendous impact that’s coming from people’s fears [of what might happen], which has nothing to do with the actual economy. It has to do with mental attitudes and people thinking it’s going to fail. You have to be very careful about buying into that, because if you don’t have a positive attitude, you’ll die. But if you know what you’re doing [and you keep doing your job well], the clients will spend the money with you. You have a choice whether or not to get sucked into the whirlwind of negativity.

Right now, the [media hype] is focusing only on the bad news. But we need to [focus on the positive]. My advice to design professionals is to stay positive and stay on course. Don’t let them rattle your chain. If you do that, you won’t sink.”

Bev Adams, CMKBD, President, CEO
Interior Intuitions Inc.
Denver, CO