Time to Broaden Your Offerings?

My friend Jeannine has always been fearless. A former New York City paramedic who has coolly waded into accident scenes, crime-ridden slums and even the Twin Towers during 9/11, she’s no stranger to stress. Yet she claims none of what she’s done at work has scared her half as much as her most recent foray into home remodeling.

After leaving the big city for a position at a small town college, she promptly bought her first house. Excited about the two-plus gorgeous acres of property, fabulous skylights and low taxes, she barely noticed the problems with the kitchen until she was moving in.

“I knew the cabinet and pantry doors were hand made, but didn’t realize they were crooked and badly constructed until I started putting dishes in…and the pantry door fell right off and broke in half!” she exclaimed. Likewise, she joked that the barely-seven-foot-high ceilings incited feelings of serious claustrophobia. The only upside was that she figured “this gave me the perfect excuse for a mini-kitchen remodel.”

A young, single woman on a budget, Jeannine figured the local home center was the best place to start. “I thought, ‘I can do it…they can help,’” she explained in a panicked, late-night phone call. “But either I can’t do it or they didn’t help enough, because the pantry door I bought won’t fit through my doorway, the cabinets were apparently installed on a slight angle so the new doors don’t fit right, and the dishwasher that they swore would fit into the existing space…doesn’t. Now I understand what the Y in DIY means…it means why on earth would anyone attempt to do this by themselves?”

I suggested a visit to her local kitchen dealer. Despite protests that she couldn’t afford “one of those places,” I convinced her to stop in, explain her needs and budget and see what they said.

She hired a designer the next day, and is now well on her way to having a kitchen she can be proud of.

Although she’s probably not the typical customer of many upscale kitchen dealers, Jeannine represents a new niche that many kitchen dealers are looking at more seriously. Small fixes, or mini remodels – replacing cabinet doors, changing out countertops or doing a ceiling punch out – constitute the fastest-growing segment of the kitchen remodeling market right now, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association. In fact, while actual dollars spent on kitchen remodels were down in 2007, the number of actual jobs was up, proving that even when the economy is iffy, people still want to upgrade their kitchens.

And while these mini remodels aren’t going to take the place of $40K-$100K kitchen projects, they can offer kitchen and bath professionals the opportunity to maintain a steady cash flow and keep busy between the bigger jobs (see Kitchens Lite). For those who find their job roster a bit lighter than last year, these types of jobs can help bring in some extra dollars without tying up staff for weeks or months at a time. They also can help design professionals stretch themselves creatively by learning to solve design challenges without breaking the bank.

Additionally, consumers doing mini-remodels today – whether they’re younger homeowners on a budget or more upscale consumers not yet ready to jump into an all out gut-and-replace remodel – may well be doing a full-scale remodel the next time around, so doing these smaller jobs for them now can be a great investment in gaining future business.

Indeed, in challenging times, kitchen and bath professionals need to consider broadening their businesses offerings all around, whether that means taking on smaller projects, expanding into other rooms such as outdoor kitchens or wine cellars (see Inside Today's Showroom) or offering consulting services to DIY customers who want some professional guidance.

The most successful businesses adapt with the times, and the kitchen and bath industry is no exception. So don’t be afraid to knock out that seven-foot ceiling…you might just find that the sky’s the limit.